Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is all set to sweep to power in India’s capital, Delhi, returning him to office for the third time in a row. But it would be misleading to read this verdict as a vote against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Rather than being seen as a vote against the BJP, Mr Kejriwal’s comfortable win owes more to the triumph of welfarism and effective governance – revamping state-run schools and health clinics, and providing cheap water and electricity.
The BJP has been out of power in Delhi for more than two decades, and it was up against a party which had delivered on its promises. In the early days of the campaign, it tried to puncture Mr Kejriwal’s claims of good governance without success. Mr Modi’s party then embarked on a coarse and polarising campaign around a controversial new citizenship law, the stripping of Kashmir’s autonomy and building a grand new Hindu temple. Party leaders freely indulged in hate speech and were censured by poll authorities: a junior minister actually egged on a campaign meeting to shout slogans about “gunning down traitors”, a not-so veiled reference to political rivals.
Mr Modi’s party possibly felt this would work. At the very least, the take-no-prisoners campaign would prevent a debacle in Delhi – like in 2015, when the BJP won just three seats. After all, a similar hardline campaign had helped the BJP sweep all seven Delhi seats in last year’s general election, and pick up more than half of the popular vote.