The much-awaited Delhi Assembly polls are here.Polling booths open for 1.47 crore voters to either re-elect the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party government or opt for a change. Delhi will have polling on all 70 seats with the primary contest being between AAP and BJP.
The polls are held in the backdrop of simmering tensions in the national capital following months of unrest over the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens. The campaign saw communally-charged rhetoric as well as promises of an expansive welfare state for Delhiites.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal led his new-found party to a sweeping victory in 2015 by winning 67 out of 70 seats. He is fighting the election to retain his position. On the other hand, BJP has not named a chief ministerial candidate, something the party usually does in state polls. Former BJP chief Amit Shah had been carrying the baton to campaign for his party.
The campaign has seen a head-to-head contest between Kejriwal and Shah. Both have challenged each other to a debate on a host of issues, although that never materialized. The elections hold significance for Shah as it comes amid anti-CAA agitation and heightened student activism on the streets of Delhi. He has come under fire from critics for the way Delhi Police, which comes under his authority, handled the agitations.
AAP is banking its re-election pitch on public approval to a host of welfare initiatives of the government. From slashing electricity and water bills to providing free bus rides to women, AAP dolled out wide-ranging welfare schemes for the middle class. It has set the theme of its campaign on a continual of such initiatives and even greater expansion.
BJP has also latched on to this and has promised "five times more" freebies, as stated by Manoj Tiwari, to win the election. The party has cited the welfare initiatives of the Modi government to drive its message. Although, lately, the campaign has shifted focus to sentimental issues like nationalism and the Shaheen Bagh protests.
Among the key features of this election is the manner in which anti-CAA protests at two locations – Shaheen Bagh and Jamia Millia Islamia University – shaped the narrative. Shaheen Bagh, a working-class neighbourhood in southeast Delhi has hosted daily sit-in protest against the CAA and NRC since December. The BJP has left no stone unturned to tag the agitation as a "Pakistan sponsored" and "money guzzling" movement. The AAP has treaded the matter cautiously and has expressed sympathy and support for Shaheen Bagh's cause.
On the other hand, Jamia University witnessed incidents of violence since January. Two cases of firing were reported within weeks. Near-daily demonstrations in the campus grabbed national headlines. BJP leaders like Union Minister Anurag Thakur have come under fire for making provocative statements that are alleged to have incited such acts of violence. AAP has put the onus of the issue to the Centre saying law and order are under its purview.
The Election Commission has made tight security arrangements at both the locations to ensure smooth and tension-free voting.
Although Congress was in power for 15 years in the city-state before AAP took over in 2015, the party has led a pretty lackluster campaign. Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi were seen campaigning together only once in the final days of campaigning. The party has been nothing but missing from the picture of long roadshows and large rallies. The party's virtual disappearance from an otherwise feisty campaign season has left many wondering does it have any hunger left to take on the AAP and BJP.