Insights and Analysis

Delhi Elections: Women’s Security, Air Pollution, Corruption Top Concerns

February 4, 2015

By Mandakini Devasher Surie

On February 7, Delhi residents head to the polls for a second time in less than two years to select 70 new members to the Delhi Legislative Assembly. The election is critical because the capital has been without a functioning government since February 2014, when the previous government resigned unexpectedly. Over the past few months, political parties have been gearing up their voter outreach and election campaigns through large public rallies, radio jingles, and newspaper, television, and social media advertisements. Political commentators and pundits are closely watching the elections, with speculation flying high over who will form Delhi’s new government.

Delhi Elections

Over the past few months, political parties have been gearing up their voter outreach and election campaigns. Above, a rickshaw driver advertises a campaign poster for AAP’s leader, Arvind Kejriwal. Photo/Mandakini Devasher Surie

The contest is being widely projected as a two-cornered race between the veteran Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and relative new kid on the block, the Aam Admi Party (AAP). While the Congress Party has a track record of leadership in Delhi under former Chief Minister Shiela Dixit, it isn’t being seen as a real contender in this election. Riding high on the Modi victory in last year’s national elections and subsequent wins in other state elections, the BJP has been pulling out all the stops, roping in party heavyweights like Arjun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, and Amit Shah to ensure that the party wins a full majority in the capital. While the BJP is widely predicted to win, the AAP has been putting up a good fight and is fast emerging as the dark horse in the race.

AAP’s leader, Arvind Kejriwal, has his work cut out to prove himself in this election. The former bureaucrat turned social activist was catapulted into the limelight in December 2013, when under his leadership the AAP swept 28 seats in the state assembly elections. Fatigued by a series of corruption scandals and poor governance, the Delhi electorate was captivated by the AAP and its image as a new urban political formation that promised a corruption-free, pro-people, and participatory form of government. But only 49 days into power, Kejriwal resigned when the AAP failed to get support for an anti-corruption bill in the state assembly. The move was widely criticized and alienated a large segment of Delhi’s electorate, particularly poorer residents like auto rickshaw drivers, street vendors, and city sweepers who formed a major segment of the AAP’s voter base. Public perception weighed heavily that the AAP should have stayed the course in Delhi rather than jumping to contest national elections, where the party had a very poor showing. But the party appears to have learned from its mistakes. Over the past year, the AAP launched a “Delhi Dialogue” series to encourage public debate on critical issues such as health, sanitation, education, employment, and women’s security and to develop a blueprint for the city’s development. Reflecting the party’s style of operating, the AAP reached out to different constituent groups in the city ranging from youth, women, traders, businesses, entrepreneurs, villages, unauthorized colonies, and resident welfare associations to promote a collaborative style of government and politics. A recent snap pre-poll conducted by ABP News-Nielsen projects that Kejriwal has the edge, with nearly 50 percent of those polled indicating they would vote for the AAP.

To counter Kejriwal’s resurgence in Delhi, the BJP – rather late – roped in former AAP leader Kiran Bedi as their chief ministerial candidate. Bedi is a well-known figure in the capital, having served as India’s first woman police officer and with a reputation for being tough on crime. But in the weeks following her selection, Bedi’s popularity has flagged in the wake of unrest within certain factions of the BJP over her sudden elevation and a series of controversial public statements and social media comments made by her. Many feel that she was brought in too late in the electoral game to make a lasting impression on the public. The BJP is now banking on Prime Minister Modi’s mass appeal and his track record in government to win over the Delhi electorate.

As the seat of political power, the capital has fared far better than a number of other Indian cities. In terms of infrastructure, roads, flyovers, and facilities, Delhi has always received the lion’s share. But like any other megapolis, it has some serious issues. By far one of its most pressing concerns is public safety, particularly for women and girls. Ever since the brutal gang rape of a young medical student in December 2012, instances and reports of sexual violence and crime against women have increased. In 2014, Delhi saw an 18.3 percent rise in crimes against women and a 31 percent jump in reported cases of rape. More recently, the assault of a woman taking an Uber taxi further underscored the serious law-and-order crisis.

Another major concern is corruption and poor governance, due to overlapping and often contradictory mandates between different government, private, and public sector entities. The quality of life is also high on the agenda of Delhi’s residents where, according to the WHO, air pollution is the worst in the world. On the socio-economic front, urban unemployment, growing income inequality, and wage disparity between social groups as well as limited affordable housing, primary and secondary education, and health care facilities are key challenges.

The results of this year’s elections will be announced on February 10. By all accounts it’s going to be a close call for the BJP and AAP. But whichever party comes out ahead, the hope for the capital’s citizens is for a stable government – one that isn’t hamstrung by a lack of seats to take decisive decisions, and one that is capable at least for the next five years to steer Delhi in the direction of sustainable and equitable development.

Mandakini Devasher Surie is The Asia Foundation’s senior program officer in India. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.


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