As the national capital, Delhi has always attracted interest disproportionate to its size. Even so, there is more than the usual excitement around the Assembly elections this time, because of the entry of a feisty newcomer, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led by Arvind Kejriwal. The new party’s chutzpah and daring are evident enough. Indeed, Mr. Kejriwal has already announced that he will be forming the next government, much to the annoyance of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which find themselves suddenly having to deal with an unforeseen rival. Delhi had its first full-fledged Assembly election as recently as 1993, following the upgradation of its territorial status, with its own Legislative Assembly and Council of Ministers. Though the BJP pulled off a sensational first victory in 1993, it has since been in the wilderness, having lost to the Congress three consecutive elections. The BJP’s failure was at least in part due to its inability to produce a leader capable of taking on the redoubtable Sheila Dikshit. Under Chief Minister Dikshit, Delhi has been transformed from an urban village to a sprawling, glitzy metropolis boasting a fine network of roads and flyovers, not to mention a metro rail service that has become the lifeline of the city.
In the last 15 years, an entire generation has grown up that has no personal knowledge of the power outages and traffic congestion that once defined Delhi. Yet it is entirely the fault of the Congress that today there are few takers for Delhi’s fantastic growth story. Instead, the most compelling election issues are corruption and inflation, which are seen as the primary legacy of a government increasingly viewed as self-serving and arrogant, with little interest in the welfare of the people. In 1998, the BJP lost to the Congress because of runaway onion prices. In 2013, it is the Congress’s turn to feel the heat on high food inflation. But just when it seemed that the BJP will finally have its revenge on the Congress, entered the untested AAP with its claim to root out money power and deliver clean and efficient governance. Sceptics have naturally questioned the AAP’s bagful of promises which include 700 litres of free water for every household, reduction of power tariffs by half, and decentralisation by devolving power to mohalla sabhas or local neighbourhoods. But more than all this, what explains the visible voter interest in the AAP is its idealism, which is in fact its USP. Whatever the ultimate fate of the new entity, it has undoubtedly livened up the election run-up — and queered the pitch for the Congress and the BJP.