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Delhi: In Municipal Elections, BJP Fighting to Defend 15 Years of Rule

Subodh Varma |
In Sunday’s voting, BJP is pinning its hopes on PM Modi’s image to carry it through.
BJP carries the unenviable baggage of 15 years of rule marked with mismanagement of many basic functions, especially sanitation and garbage disposal. (Image: Bhalaswa Landfill)

BJP carries the unenviable baggage of 15 years of rule marked with mismanagement of many basic functions, especially sanitation and garbage disposal. (Image: Bhalaswa Landfill)

Polling for a heated and bitter battle for control of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) takes place today (December 4). The BJP has been running the local body for the past 15 years, through its three-way split in 2012 and now it is making a bid for the unified body again. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has been running the state government for the past nine years, is again making a bid to dislodge the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). And, the Congress, once the undisputed king of Delhi, is yet again trying to redeem itself having lost support of the Capital’s residents at all levels of political power.

The tangle of worms in the chart below shows the chaotic electoral swings that have marked Delhi’s electoral politics in the past decade. Vote shares of each of the three main contestants are shown across three Assembly elections (2013, 2015 and 2020), two Lok Sabha elections (2014 and 2019) and the 2017 MCD election (which is actually the sum of the trifurcated body).



Apart from the evident swings in the fortunes of the three parties across the years, a closer look at these vote shares, shows the following notable features:

  • The earlier two-party dominance by the BJP-Congress duo was decisively broken after 2013, driven by the decline of Congress and the rise of AAP.

  • But Delhi voters have been showing a consistent trend of voting overwhelmingly for BJP in the Lok Sabha elections (47% in 2014 and 57% in 2019) while the swing is decisively in favour of AAP in the Delhi Assembly elections (29% in 2013, and 54% in 2015 and 2020). Perhaps they prefer a national-level party for the Central government but favour the populist AAP for local affairs. But there is a wrinkle in the schemata.

  • When it comes to absolute local matters, as would be governed by the Municipal Corporation, voters have again preferred BJP. In fact, in the last MCD polls of 2017, the Congress to revived a bit by getting 26% votes, compared with AAP’s 21% and BJP’s 36%.

MCD Electoral History

The chart below shows the electoral history of MCD elections in terms of vote share received by BJP, Congress and AAP. BJP has won three straight MCD elections – 2007, 2012 and 2017 – giving it an uninterrupted 15-year rule. Remarkably, its vote share has remained practically unchanged over this period, as shown in the chart below.



The Congress last won the MCD elections in 2002, getting a high vote share of 46% to BJP’s 30%. But since then, it declined to around 29-31% in the next two elections, finally reducing to just 21% in the last elections in 2017. This was the year when AAP contested the MCD elections for the first time – it had not existed in 2012. AAP managed to get 26% votes, more than Congress but still 10 percentage points behind BJP.

Which way Will Delhi go now?

BJP is carrying the unenviable baggage of 15 years of rule that has been marked with mismanagement of many basic functions of the local body, especially sanitation, garbage disposal, disease prevention, primary education and building construction regulation. The party unit has been riven with deep factionalism, exacerbated by its losses in three successive Assembly elections, the last two particularly humiliating.

Read Also: MCD Elections: Education, a Key Issue, is Missing in Poll Discourse

BJP can draw solace from being able to win the Lok Sabha seats in 2014 and 2019 general elections, but, as we saw above, that has had no effect on its performance in lower-level elections – it lost the Assembly elections and its vote share remained the same in MCD elections. So, from past record, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal as a vote catcher doesn’t work at this level.

The BJP’s desperation to win this election became evident when they merged the three municipal corporations, which had been trifurcated in 2012 with the party’s support. The merger has changed the number and contours of municipal wards in the run-up to the current elections.

Read Also: MCD Election: Purnima Sethi Multi-Speciality Hospital in Sorry State, Only OPD Available  

But since BJP has nothing much to say, and not much of a record to boast about, it has been willy-nilly forced to go for the only weapon in its armoury – PM Modi. The thrust of BJP campaign in this election was either thanking PM Modi for every small thing or promising various work under his guidance.

The barely hidden message is short and simple – vote for Modi in this MCD elections.

This is not just a tragic state of affairs for the ruling party – that it has nobody else to turn to – but it is ominous too. If the BJP loses, surely PM Modi cannot be blamed for it! But that’s the way the game has been set up by BJP, presumably with the sanction of the top brass.

The Congress is hoping to revive a little more, drawing some hope from its previous 2017 election performance. But since then, one must remember, its vote share in the Assembly dipped to rock bottom – just 4%. The only thing working for them could be the fact that it has not been in power either in the MCD, or the state and, of course, nor in the Centre. So, it can hope to become the lightning rod for any discontent with both AAP and BJP. However, their decrepit organisation on the ground and the discredited local leaders do not indicate much hope for this hope to become reality.

AAP is perhaps the main rival of BJP and the leading claimant to defeat them. They are a bit hamstrung recently because of involvement in the Gujarat elections, especially Kejriwal’s own preoccupation there. Also, the charges of corruption brought against them by the BJP government at the Centre may take away some of the shine.

Read Also: Delhi’s Contractual Workers Wait for Regularisation Even as Kejriwal Makes Similar Promises in Other States

AAP will also have to contend with some amount of discontent with their state government with the way it has dealt with the working people of Delhi, blocking basic rights like minimum wage implementation and reneging on the promise to do away with the contract system of employment. But Delhi voters more often than not are keen enough to make the distinction between various levels of government.

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