Lalit Mann, a sales executive from Sangam Vihar, names just one factor to decide which way he is voting on Saturday in Delhi’s high-stakes assembly election: water.

The piped water line, which his unauthorized South Delhi colony got about a year ago, is a key decider for the 32-year-old. As to which way he will vote, it’s a no-brainer.

“Water and electricity are key issues in this election. Inconsistent water supply had troubled residents for decades and that has been taken care of by this state government. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal does good work for people of Delhi. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) does good work at the Centre, but for state elections local issues are more important," Mann said.

He is referring to the work done by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi where a prestige battle is underway for 70 assembly seats. Results will be out on Tuesday.

AAP has pinned its campaign on the development work done by its state government in the past five years. The key bragging points are provision of free water, electricity, quality education and affordable healthcare. As it looks to form a government for the third time (including a truncated first stint), the campaign is also focused on the chief minister and AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal.

That’s something that eludes the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Having contested two assembly elections, AAP has cemented its position as an alternative in Delhi—and one with a known face. However, in this election, the party faces a BJP that is banking on national issues—primarily the question of nationalism—along with the fact that it won all seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi in the general election last year. The Congress, meanwhile, is looking for a revival.

On Thursday, the development-versus-nationalism campaign came to an end. “We have gone into this election banking on our work. That is the focus of our campaign. It is a very positive campaign," a senior AAP leader said. “The party has a strong leader which the Opposition parties have failed to project in this election. They instead had to bring senior cabinet ministers to come and campaign for them," he added.

In the 2015 elections, the AAP came to power with a brute majority after winning 67 of the 70 seats. The party fancies its chances in Delhi again as it offers an alternative to what had traditionally been a two-cornered fight between the Congress and the BJP.

However, having established itself in the state, the party has higher stakes in this election.

For a start, Delhi is only the second state to go to polls since Parliament passed the controversial citizenship law—the first, in Jharkhand, was won by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-led alliance. Protests in the national capital, in particular the women-led sit-in at Shaheen Bagh, have figured repeatedly in the election campaign. And, opinion on this is divided.

“There is no reason for opposition against CAA. The government has come out with clear guidelines which need to be followed," Suresh Singh, a plumber from Kalkaji said. “People are suffering because of the protests. Delhi will only benefit if the policies of the central government are in line with that of the state government. The AAP government made more noise, and less work was actually done on the ground."

Unauthorized colonies, which account for approximately four million residents, are a key voter base. The AAP government claims to have spent 8,000 crore in development work in these areas. Meanwhile, the central government has announced a scheme to regularize them.

Sangam Vihar and Deoli are among the 1,731 unauthorized colonies, which were approved by the central government for regularisation. In January, the government under the PM-UDAY (Unauthorized Colonies in Delhi Awas Adhikar Yojna) handed over the registration papers and conveyance deeds of houses to 20 residents.

“Ahead of elections, all governments make promises, but the AAP government has done some of what they said they would do. The local legislator is also very approachable," Ajis Aseem, 50, a trader from Deoli constituency said.

“The unauthorized colony scheme (of the central government) was just a fake promise. We are yet to see anything on the ground. We have only seen it on posters, but there is nothing more than that," Asim added.

In addition, the five years have seen AAP weighed down by internal trouble. The term of the state government started with the exit of several founding-members. The party also had to scale back expansion plans. Having failed to make an impact in the 2019 general elections, it currently has one member in the Lok Sabha. It came third in five of the seven Lok Sabha constituencies in Delhi. However, it is the leading opposition party in the Punjab legislative assembly.

Its five-year-term has seen a constant tussle with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre over various issues, including bureaucratic appointments. Delhi is a special state, wherein certain matters, including land and law and order, come under the central government. The constant tussle has led to discontentment among a section of voters.

But it’s the development-versus-nationalism narrative that this election is all about. And, there’s lot hanging on it, said analysts. “The run-up to the assembly election has seen a lot of verbal violence being unleashed. This election will be a litmus test," said Abhay Kumar Dubey, political analyst and faculty member at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

“Voters will have to decide between development or distorted nationalism. Congress has not been able to perform. The election results will also play a role in Opposition morale," he added.

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