For weeks now, Delhi has been centre-stage for the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). And ahead of the Delhi assembly elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hoping the issue of nationalism will help them in coming to power in Delhi. But despite the party’s massive win on all seven Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that starts as the clear frontrunner in the assembly elections. Data suggests that high levels of satisfaction with the incumbent state government and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal's own popularity have bolstered AAP's re-election prospects in Delhi. Further, the lack of state-level leadership within the BJP and the salience of local issues seem to have kept it on the backfoot.

Since the 2013 assembly elections, like elsewhere in India, the Delhi electorate has voted differently in national and state elections. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, for instance, Delhi voted overwhelmingly in favour of the BJP with the party sweeping all seven seats with substantial margins. But less than a year after the BJP's mammoth victory, AAP secured a famous victory by winning 67 of the 70 assembly seats. The rise of AAP has also meant that Congress is now a marginal player in Delhi’s politics and that is likely to continue again in these elections. Congress may have stood second in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections but its performance in this election essentially hinges on how senior leaders perform in their respective seats.

AAP's hopes of achieving a similar swing from between Lok Sabha and Assembly elections have been bolstered by the endorsement it has received on its performance in office. In a survey conducted by the Lokniti research programme at the Center for Study of Developing Societies (Lokniti-CSDS) between November-December 2019, more than eight out of ten respondents (86%) said that they were satisfied with the state government's performance. Specifically, a substantial proportion of these respondents appreciated steps taken by the AAP government for health and education.

Other areas of major satisfaction were electricity and water. Ahead of the 2015 Assembly elections, the AAP promised to reduce electricity and water bills. In a post-poll survey conducted during the 2015 election, most respondents had mentioned this as the most important issue while voting. And in the 2019 survey, 79% and 71% of respondents reported that there had been a decrease in their electricity and water bills in the last few years. Though three-fourth of the respondents (74%) also reported being satisfied with the work done by the Modi government, the BJP may not benefit from this. Last year’s survey suggested that Delhi voters, like other states, seemed to be focused on the state government’s performance when deciding their vote in assembly elections. In the 2019 survey, two-third respondents (66%) said they would look at Kejriwal’s work rather than Modi’s while voting in this election.

And like Modi for the BJP in national elections, Kejriwal’s individual appeal has helped the AAP in expanding its support base. In the 2015 post-poll survey, 43% AAP voters said they may have voted differently if he was not the party’s chief ministerial candidate. Further, almost a third of all respondents (32%) said that the Chief Ministerial candidate, more than the party, was the most important consideration while voting. The 2019 survey indicates that Kejriwal remains the city’s foremost choice for the Chief Minister’s position. More than half of the respondents (58%) wanted to see him as the next CM.

The absence of a popular leader to take on Kejriwal has been a major handicap for the BJP in Delhi. The 2019 survey suggests that ‘Modi for PM, Kejriwal for CM’ encapsulates the mood of the Delhi voter. In the survey, 90% of respondents viewed Kejriwal favourably while 79% felt the same for Modi.

It remains to be seen if events over the last two months have led to a change in this sentiment and national issues have gained prominence. Realizing that salience of national issues in state elections works to the BJP’s advantage, AAP leadership has been careful in its criticism on this. Whether AAP succeeds in keeping the election ‘localized’ could determine if Delhi continues with its recent trend of sharp one-sided verdicts.

Sanjay Kumar is a Professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and a Political Analyst. Pranav Gupta is a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, US.

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