In Delhi, Kejriwal’s pro-poor policies strike a chord with voters

AAP’s development agenda gets a thumbs up, as voters seem to have rejected right-wing BJP’s divisive politics.

Incumbent Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, center left, and Aam Aadmi Party, or "common man''s" party leader Manish Sisodia, second right, wave as they leave after a visit to Hanuman temple follow
AAP's Arvind Kejriwal, centre (left), and Manish Sisodia, (second right), wave as they leave after a visit to Hanuman temple following their party's victory in New Delhi [Altaf Qadri/AP]

New Delhi, India – Rajesh Kumar, a 50-year-old property dealer in the Indian capital, says although he voted for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in national elections held barely nine months ago, he chose his archrival Arvind Kejriwal in the Delhi assembly polls.

Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party or AAP) on Tuesday registered a stunning victory in New Delhi by winning 62 seats in the 70-member assembly, stopping Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at eight seats.

For AAP, an upstart political party formed in 2012, the victory gave its chief Kejriwal, 51, his third-straight term as chief minister of the capital.

“Residents of Delhi, I love you,” said Kejriwal while addressing AAP workers at the party headquarters amid loud applause from his supporters.

Supporters of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal throw colour in air as they dance outside their party headquarters after winning the elections on February 11, 2020 in Delhi, India. The rulin
AAP supporters dance outside party headquarters in New Delhi [Yawar Nazir/Getty Images]

‘Kejriwal in Delhi, Modi at centre’

Many voters in New Delhi told Al Jazeera they like the arrangement of having Hindu nationalist Modi as their prime minister at the centre, and a “pro-poor” politician in the city government.

“During the national elections, we chose Modi and his BJP, but we want Kejriwal to work for us at the local level. He has done a lot of good work and that is why we voted for him,” said Kumar, who lives in southern quarters of Delhi.

“We benefitted from Kejriwal’s pro-people policies – subsidised electricity, water, and the free bus service for women,” he said.

The AAP increased its vote share to an impressive 53 percent from 18 percent in the 2019 general elections that saw Modi’s BJP winning by a landslide.

AAP’s focus on development issues during its campaigning seems to have been well-received by the voters in the city.

The BJP, which was accused of running one of the most religiously polarising election campaigns in India, also managed to get nearly 40 percent of the votes but could not translate them into seats.

Similarly, Vijanderi, a 45-year-old homemaker, said she voted for Modi’s BJP in 2019, but on Saturday, preferred to choose AAP because “it works for the poor”.

“AAP stands for issues that concern us, be it healthcare or improving the condition of government-run schools in Delhi,” she said.

Many said Kejriwal and other AAP leaders are easily accessible to them and solve their problems.

“If we approach him [Kejriwal] or his leaders even during the night hours, they will listen to our problem but that is not the case with BJP or Congress leaders,” said Vijanderi.

‘People voted for freebies’

However, many BJP supporters believe AAP wooed voters in New Delhi by offering what they called “freebies”.

“People became greedy and voted for AAP after the party announced freebies,” said Kunwar Pal, 55, who drives an autorickshaw for a living.

“Kejriwal wants to make everything free. He wants to give people free electricity, water, bus service. But how would the country run if we make everything free?” he asked.

Political analysts also said the development work AAP did in the last few years and its populist initiatives helped it win the public mandate.

“AAP government has delivered on certain segments such as providing subsidised electricity and water, improving the condition of government schools and health clinics,” said Rahul Verma, a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research.

“There is positive perception of the performance of the government and that is why despite some of these people voting for PM Modi during the 2019 national elections, preferred AAP in state elections.”

A child dressed as incumbent Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal cries as she is raised by supporters at Aam Aadmi Party, or
A child dressed as Arvind Kejriwal cries as she is raised by AAP supporters at party headquarters [Manish Swarup/AP]

BJP’s divisive campaign rejected

Kamlesh Kumari, 48, from south Delhi’s Saket area told Al Jazeera that people rejected the BJP for what she called the “Hindu-Muslim politics”, referring to the party’s pandering to its core Hindu base by raising polarising issues.

“BJP tried its best to make an issue out of Shaheen Bagh and play Hindu-Muslim politics but couldn’t win the election. Had they focused on real issues, maybe they could have won more seats,” she said.

Shaheen Bagh is a working-class Muslim neighbourhood in New Delhi where women have been holding a sit-in against India’s new citizenship law for nearly two months.

The protest site has emerged as the epicentre of the nationwide protests, in which nearly 30 people have been killed since the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed on December 11.

Mohammad Alam, 30, sells mobile accessories near a metro station in southern Delhi. He said Tuesday’s election verdict was an “answer to those who want to win elections on hate and divisive politics.

“This is the beginning of a new India. People are becoming alert and don’t want to cast their votes on Hindu-Muslim issues but on development and employment. Those who work for public will be voted into power,” he said.

Analyst Verma, however, said he would not consider the poll result a rejection of BJP’s ideological plank.

“Even among AAP voters, there would be support for BJP’s ideology. So this vote is a positive appreciation for the work done by AAP in the state but not a rejection of BJP’s or PM Modi’s politics,” he added.

Sanjay Kumar, director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Studies, told Al Jazeera that Indian voters make a distinction between the state and the national election.

But he argued that the BJP’s polarised campaign did not backfire. “Vote share of BJP increased. This is only because of its polarised campaign,” he said.

But AAP spokesman Ankit Lal said his party’s victory proves that people will stand up against anybody who wants to “divide our society and country”.

“We feel this is an emphatic win for us and a recognition of the work we have done in various sectors, especially in education and healthcare in Delhi,” Lal told Al Jazeera.

“But it was the BJP which made it all about CAA and NRC.”

Despite repeated attempts, Al Jazeera could not reach a BJP spokesperson for a comment.

Source: Al Jazeera