By bagging an unbelievable 67 out of the 70 seats in the Delhi state assembly, the less-than-two-years-old Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), led by the stop-at-nothing Arvind Kejriwal, left the Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) coalition with just three and gave a strong reason for the Narendra Modi-led Union government to reflect and quickly re-earn its spurs.
The Congress, stumbling from one electoral drubbing to another, drew a blank in what brought further ignominy to the party that had ruled the state for an uninterrupted 15 years till 2013 and warranted serious soul-searching.
To keep the BJP juggernaut from receiving further body blows, Modi would now require to focus with renewed vigour on fulfilling his tall electoral promises like rejuvenating the economy, improving governance, fast-tracking infrastructure projects and creating millions of decent-paying jobs, analysts said. They, however, doubted the economic rationality as well as the feasibility of AAP’s populist promises like subsidised power and water to the capital’s 11-million-plus population.
While Kejriwal had promised audits of the financials of Delhi’s power distribution companies, he would have to work in coordination with the Centre to fulfil the promise of reducing the cost of power to the capital’s consumers.
Getting power from less expensive plants is one option, given that outstanding dues (regulatory assets) to Delhi discoms are around Rs 20,000 crore.
Kejriwal, who was elected leader of the AAP legislature party later in the day, will be sworn in as CM on February 14, exactly a year to the date he stepped down after 49 days in office. Addressing his supporters at the party headquarters, Kejriwal exhorted them against getting arrogant, and warned that if humility is forsaken, AAP could also get punished in the next election.
Showing grace, Modi spoke to Kejriwal in the morning and congratulated him on his victory and assured him of the Centre’s support for development in Delhi.
AAP’s feat, coming as it does ahead of the Budget to be presented by finance minister Arun Jaitley on February 28 and the assembly elections in Bihar, West Bengal and Kerala, is likely to prompt the Modi government to shift from its largely incremental and cautious approach to reform to a bolder yet socially more inclusive one, according to think-tankers and political observers.
AAP’s victory also makes it incumbent on Modi to contain the hardline Hindutva elements in his party and its saffron affiliates to stem the alienation of the minorities and the “secular” groups, especially given the sporadic communal clashes in some parts of the country and attacks on churches in the capital after he assumed office.
Given that left-of-the-centre outfits like Trinamool Congress, JD(U) and RJD as well as the communists have welcomed Kejriwal’s triumph, the BJP’s top brass, including Modi and party president Amit Shah, will need to strategise and pre-empt AAP emerging as the pole of a formidable anti-BJP alliance.
BJP leaders accepted the defeat as a “setback” but pleaded against the Tuesday’s poll results being touted as reflection on Modi government’s performance. Party spokesman GVL Narasimha Rao said the Delhi election was a local poll and in no way reflected the BJP’s strength in the rest of India. “This is not a referendum on the central government,” he said.
Industry bodies hailed AAP’s victory and hoped the decisive mandate would help create a positive environment for growth of businesses in the state. Assocham chief Rana Kapoor said the AAP’s victory proved “it had caught the imagination of the neglected aspirational class which wants basic necessities of life like water, electricity, roads and safety”. Chairman of CII’s northern region Zubin Irani said the industry is confident the new government would be industry-friendly and strengthen Delhi’s position economically and socially.
Since it assumed office, the Modi government has been in the throes of reviving the economy from the trough it had fallen into in the UPA regime. It fast-tracked projects, made the land acquisition law more industry-friendly by doing away with consent and social impact clauses in case of a large number of projects and promptly commenced the process to reallocate coal mines cancelled by the Supreme Court.
Considering that the BJP-led coalition is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha, it would however be a tough task for it to get the relevant laws (now ordinances) approved by Parliament. And with the AAP’s victory in Delhi, the BJP could now look more vulnerable.
Recently, the Central Statistics Office revised the economic data thanks to the change in the way the GDP is measured, and the real economic expansion for the current fiscal is therefore seen at an impressive 7.4%, much higher than the previous official projections by the government and the Reserve Bank of India. However, the size of the economy has been revised downwards since the new base year 2011-12 was adopted and the downward revision in nominal GDP in the current fiscal year would steeper spending cuts than assumed earlier to hit fiscal deficit target of 4.1% of GDP.
In terms of vote share, AAP doubled it since 2013 assembly elections to a phenomenal 54.3% whereas the BJP’s share dipped by 1 point to 32.2%. Congress’ vote share slid sharply to 9.7% from 24.5% in the last assembly polls.
Kejriwal won the New Delhi seat by a margin of over 31,500 votes, defeating the nearest BJP rival. Kiran Bedi, BJP’s CM candidate, lost in the party’s stronghold Krishna Nagar by over 2,000 votes. Congress CM candidate Ajay Maken was defeated by some 50,000 votes in the Sadar Bazar constituency.