AAP wins Bawana bypoll: another BJP plot against Kejriwal foiled
Aam Aadmi Party's victory in by-poll to Delhi's Bawana Assembly constituency will come in as a mood-uplifting whiff of fresh air for the party. Prior to this, the party had faced four rounds of massive disappointment on the trot. AAP lost the previous by-poll in Rajouri Garden Assembly constituency, managed to debut in Punjab Assembly only as runner up and failed to open its account in Goa assembly polls and, most recently it was defeated in the Delhi municipal elections.
The Bawana by-poll had been necessitated following ex-AAP MLA Ved Parkash's decision to resign from the Assembly and the party to join BJP. By winning the seat back, with a margin of 24,000 votes, AAP has thwarted BJP's attempted coup conclusively. It may be recalled that Parkash had switched sides months ago at a time when BJP was trying to orchestrate a major split within AAP.
Parkash's desertion and Karawal Nagar MLA Kapil Mishra's rebellion were the only visible wounds that BJP succeeded in inflicting in that round. In Bawana, AAP has managed to successfully reverse one of those setbacks. Mishra is yet to either give up the seat or resign from AAP in spite of berating Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his associates incessantly. The Bawana result has prompted AAP supporters to challenge Mishra to resign and face the electorate.
Dalits, Jats, Muslims, Purvanchalis: Unbeatable combo for AAP
AAP's Ram Chander secured 45.4% of the total votes polled. The lukewarm turn-out in itself, lowest in 19 years, was an indicator of sorts that Bawana voters weren't too enthusiastic about having been forced to vote twice in 2 years. Voters appeared to have rejected Ved Parkash outright, sending him to a distant second spot with only 27.2% votes. Congress's Surender Kumar, a former 3-time local MLA, finished close, with 24.2% votes.
The lead that AAP has got indicates that the electorate decided to express thumping support for AAP in the city-state where the party was born. Bawana is a constituency reserved for Scheduled Castes, so this victory can also be interpreted as evidence of continuance of AAP's popularity among Dalits. Apart from Dalits, the other community with a sizeable presence in Bawana is that of Jats, turning the verdict into an indicator of continuance of Jats' anger with the BJP.
Purvanchalis (voters from eastern Uttar Pradesh) also reside in Bawana in large numbers, which makes the result also a negation of BJP's outreach strategy to woo Dalits and Purvanchalis. The party had appointed North East Delhi MP Manoj Tiwari as the chief of the state unit in December 2016 in a bid to attract the Purvanchali vote, since he is originally from Bihar and a popular Bhojpuri actor. This result is also a personal setback for him.
Muslims also have a significant presence in the constituency and AAP pushing Congress to the third position means that the Muslim vote may be conclusively shifting from the Grand Old Party to the brand new party. Ahead of the polls, a controversial poster had surfaced in Bawana that showed AAP minister Imran Hussain and Kejriwal purportedly appealing to the area's Muslims to vote for AAP. AAP called the poster fake and lodged an FIR urging police to find out who the culprits were.
What worked for AAP
Parkash's switch to BJP had left AAP shaken initially. Kejriwal had then said that the party had no idea of Parkash's move, as the latter had been requesting the CM to visit the constituency till just an evening prior to his resignation. However, the party got down to business soon and carried out a reverse coup against the BJP, by getting its former MLA from Bawana, Gugan Singh, to join AAP.
Singh, a former MLA, joined unconditionally as AAP had already announced Chander as its candidate by then. Singh reportedly wields considerable influence in the area and his presence is quite likely to have made a significant impact in favor of AAP.
Bawana is a rural constituency and the AAP government has announced several measures for Delhi's rural areas in the last two years. These include a sharp hike in compensation to farmers for crop damage as well as rise in circle rate of farmland. Additionally, Najafgarh MLA Kailash Gehlot was appointed a minister in Kejriwal's cabinet in May also with an eye on the rural vote.
The AAP-government also launched several infrastructure projects in Bawana recently, with Delhi convenor Gopal Rai announcing that government has allocated Rs 208 crore for the constituency.
AAP also left no stone unturned in campaigning, with Kejriwal himself traveling across the seat on foot seeking votes and promising development. Many feel that AAP was also benefited by the non-confrontational profile that Kejriwal has adopted in the last few months, desisting from his trademark attacks on BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Instead the party appears to have focused on showcasing its own performance in Delhi.
Whatever might be the case, it is clear that AAP deployed a multi-pronged strategy in the run up to the by-poll and it seems to have served the party well.