NEW DELHI – The anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led by its populist chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Tuesday registered a landslide victory over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party in Indian capital Delhi’s key regional elections, regaining power in a city of nearly 15 million voters.
The AAP, which had contested the elections highlighting its government’s populist policies in the city – including subsidized basic services and improved healthcare and education – was leading or winning in 63 of the total 70 seats in Delhi state assembly, according to the latest results released by the election commission of India.
“I thank all Delhi residents from the bottom of my heart. This is not just my victory (…) it is the victory of each family which has got round-the-clock electricity, good education, quality treatment in Delhi hospitals,” Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a televised message.
The BJP, which has been out of power in Delhi for two decades, was leading in the remaining seven seats in a bipolar election on Saturday.
“I accept the mandate of people of Delhi and congratulate Kejriwal. We could not perform well, we will evaluate this,” BJP Delhi State President Manoj Tiwari said in a press conference after the results became clear.
In the run-up to the elections, the BJP had sought to mobilize nationalist sentiments among its Hindu right-wing support base targeting ongoing protests in the city against an amendment in the citizenship law perceived as discriminatory by Muslims, a minority community.
However, the AAP, a party formed by an anti-corruption movement in 2012 that surprised political analysts with its landslide victory in 2015, had been expected to repeat its performance in most pre-election surveys.
The party gained popularity by providing certain amounts of free electricity and water to the residents as well as establishing neighborhood clinics for free medical treatment and improving the city’s government schools.
The BJP, which stepped up its campaign in recent weeks by pressing more than 200 lawmakers and ministers into the campaign, had accused Kejriwal of inciting protests and road blockades against the Citizenship Amendment Act, approved by parliament on 12 December.
The new law guarantees Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians who have fled religious persecution in neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, specifically excluding Muslims.
Along with a proposed nationwide census to identify citizens, it has sparked concern and nationwide protests among India’s roughly 200 million Muslims – many of whom fear being treated as second-class citizens – and secular parties, which argue the law goes against the secular spirit of the constitution.
The Delhi election results have come as another blow to Modi’s popularity, at a time when the Indian government is battling an economic downslide and the BJP has failed to repeat its dominant performance in May 2019 national elections at provincial levels.