By Owen Jollie
Legislative Assembly elections are set to commence February 7 in India’s National Capital Territory of Delhi. 70 districts will elect representatives to the assembly with the party winning a majority of seats placing Delhi’s chief minister. For Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), this election is a crucial step toward consolidating power both in state assemblies and in the Rajya Sabha, as well as the repute from controlling the nation’s capital.
A year ago, BJP took 31 of 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly, but was unable to form a government as they failed to win an outright majority. The second highest seat winner, Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), took 28 seats and formed a government with outside support from the incumbent Indian National Congress (INC), which contributed eight seats and agreed to make Kejriwal chief minister. Kejriwal’s government abruptly ended 49 days into its term when Kejriwal himself resigned after the assembly failed to take up his signature anti-corruption Jan Lokpal bill. In addition to the issue of corruption, the 2013 Delhi election focused on local issues of water, electricity, and women’s safety, all three of which remain important issues in this year’s election.
Now that Delhi is back on the table, the usual contenders are again fighting for power, but the stakes have changed. Since the last Delhi election, Modi’s BJP has won an outright majority in the Lok Sabha, and a string of state elections. While AAP took a large hit in their public image after the fallout surrounding Arvind Kejriwal’s resignation, the party has recently rebounded, and is favored in election polls. While these polls are not historically trustworthy, they play a role in drumming up competition. INC is projected to win far fewer seats than either BJP or AAP, but may prove a spoiler if they are able to steal enough seats to preclude an outright majority for one of the two frontrunners.
For Modi and the BJP, this election is important for two reasons: it could enhance their prospective bid for a majority in the Rajya Sabha and allow them to capture control of the final piece of India’s Arc of Industry.
Members of the Rajya Sabha are appointed by state legislative assemblies. The BJP currently holds less than 20 percent of Rajya Sabha seats; if the BJP plans to gain a majority in the upper house of parliament over time, it will have to win more state assemblies. In Delhi’s case, all three Rajya Sabha seats are set to open in 2018, and a BJP victory could help the party secure a portion of those seats three years down the road.
The Delhi election also presents an opportunity for the BJP to come to power in another key industrial center and seize full control of the country’s Arc of Industry– the productive stretch of states that runs from Delhi to Maharashtra, and is the future home of the “Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC).” The BJP has so far been quite successful in efforts to consolidate power at the state level and especially in states that are the most economically robust. In the last eighteen months the BJP has won majorities in Haryana, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan. The BJP is already dominant in the other link of this chain, Mr. Modi’s home state of Gujarat, where the BJP has been in power since 1995.
The results from the election are due to be announced by February 10. For Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party, this election could be a second chance at governing in Delhi. On the other side, for Modi and the BJP, this election presents a critical opportunity to secure further support for their signature infrastructure project and expand their political power.