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February 11, 2020

Defeat on the horizon for Modi's party in key Delhi election as AAP rules


Tue, Feb 11, 2020
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) workers dance as they celebrate their winning in the early results in the Delhi Assembly election 2020 in Amritsar, India, February 11, 2020. AFP/Narinder Nanu

NEW DELHI: Followers of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — or Common Man Party, an upstart Indian group — danced in the streets Tuesday as the count from a key election in the capital showed they were inflicting a crushing defeat on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

AAP supporters cavorted to bhangra music and set off fireworks in expectation they would get a landslide victory in the New Delhi regional assembly.

Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had launched an aggressive campaign to win the city of 20 million people from the AAP, using the election to rally support for a controversial nationality law which opponents say is anti-Muslim.

But the AAP, which swept to power in 2015 after being launched three years earlier by former tax officer Arvind Kejriwal, was poised to retain control. With a third of votes counted, the AAP — or common man party — was on course for at least 60 of the 70 seats on offer.

An average of nine exit polls showed Kejriwal's party was likely to win 52 out of 70 seats.

Kejriwal fought the election on local issues such as subsidised water and electricity, as well as the safety of women. "This win has given birth to a new type of politics — the politics of work," he told cheering supporters at party headquarters.

"This is the type of politics that will take the country forward in the 21st century."

Manish Sisodia, the deputy chief minister of Delhi, tweeted: "We are winning by a huge margin."

Yogendra Yadav, an academic who was a member of the AAP executive until 2015 and now has his own party, said the result was a clear rejection of Modi and his party's angry campaign.

"The BJP indulged in one of the most vitriolic, communal hate-mongering campaigns as a desperate electoral gamble," he told AFP. "If this succeeded, it would have become a template for everyone else to follow."

Final official results were not expected until late Tuesday.

'Vitriolic, communal hate-mongering'

The BJP had won a huge majority in national elections last year but Delhi adds to six regional elections the Hindu nationalists have lost in the last two years.

Federal Home Minister Amit Shah, who had campaigned vigorously for BJP highlighting his tough stance on national security, called a meeting of party members late Saturday.

Earlier in the day, long lines had formed outside New Delhi polling stations amid heavy security as a weeks-old protest by women against a new citizenship law took centrestage.

In an often vitriolic election campaign, Modi and other BJP leaders had slammed opponents of the law who deem it anti-Muslim. The BJP had been seeking to oust Kejriwal, the capital's chief minister whose party took a record 67 of 70 Delhi assembly seats in 2015.

While Kejriwal focused on local issues, BJP leaders sought to turn the vote into a referendum on the women's protest.

Hundreds have been blocking a main road through Shaheen Bagh district since December 15 in protest against legislation that offers a fast-track to Indian nationality for persecuted religious minorities from neighbouring countries but excludes Muslims.

On the eve of the elections, the BJP sent out messages telling people to vote for the party if they wanted an end to the Shaheen Bagh demonstration.

With the BJP on the back foot after failing in recent state elections in Maharashtra and Jharkhand, analysts said the Delhi result will be a key test of opinion on national issues.

Protest referendum

Near the women's protest site, food company senior executive Maroof Ahmad said the "BJP has only two agendas — Shaheen Bagh and Pakistan. They have nothing else to talk about."

"GDP is falling, the economy is in a mess and they are only bothered about temples and mosques," he added.

But others lined up behind the prime minister.

In the affluent Jangpura neighbourhood, flower garlands and balloons decorated the polling station as financial consultant Vinod Kumar came to vote.

"I am not biased towards any political party but I don't endorse the Shaheen Bagh protest. Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru believed in and supported the citizenship law," he said referring to India's revered independence leaders.

Thousands of extra security officers were on duty for the election with a large contingent at five polling stations near the Shaheen Bagh protest.

Women's safety has increasingly become an issue in Delhi since a 2012 gang rape murder made international headlines.

In a bid to persuade more females to vote, authorities set up dozens of women-only "pink polling booths" across the capital.

"I still don't feel safe in Delhi, a lot more must be done," said Shweta Laxmi.

More than 14 million people were eligible to take part in Saturday's vote. The results will be announced Tuesday.