After the current round of Assembly polls, the Aam Aadmi Party's next big test will be the elections to the three municipal bodies in Delhi.
After the party won a mind-boggling 67 out of 70 seats in the 2015 Assembly polls, there have been many suggestions that the only way the party can go is down. That's why AAP needs to win the polls, or at least grab a large number of Delhi's 272 wards.
And that's where the entry of Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) in the fray has skewed the picture for AAP.
JD(U)'s history in Delhi
JD(U) has decided to contest the polls, likely to be held in April 2017, and its national president Nitish was in the national capital over the weekend to build up momentum for the party.
While this is certainly not the first time JD(U) will be contesting these polls, what is different this time is the overall political scenario. There was a time, in 2007, when the party had even contested in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party, when both parties were members of the National Democratic Alliance. It had fielded candidates on only 27 seats then.
In 2012, it went alone, and tried its luck on all 272 seats.
This time, the party is yet to declare any details. But what is surprising is how, by contesting alone, it will be pitting itself against AAP, whom it has looked upon as a friendly party so far. The JD(U) did not contest the Punjab elections, and party sources had confirmed to Catch that this was because it did not want to damage AAP's prospects in the state.
So is the JD(U) now indicating that the equation between the parties has changed?
JD(U) General Secretary KC Tyagi told Catch that the party indeed will be contesting, but it doesn't look at it as a contest against AAP. He explained that this decision was taken on the appeals by various associations of Delhiites hailing from Bihar, since they were unhappy about the Delhi government's performance on fronts like the upkeep of Chhath Puja ghats in the capital.
He also said that details like the number of seats on which the JD(U) will contest were yet to be worked out.
Tyagi's statement does make it clear that the objective behind the move is to expand the JD(U)'s footprint in the capital, where “about one-third of the population comprises people hailing from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh”, by his own estimation. What it doesn't clarify is that how does the party not see it as a possible setback for AAP.
Trouble mounting for AAP
The BJP has been in power for about a decade and a half, first in the undivided Municipal Corporation of Delhi, and then, after its trifurcation, in the North, South and East Delhi Municipal Corporations.
The principal Opposition party is the Congress, which means AAP, which was only launched after the last elections to the unified MCD in 2012, will have to fight a tough round against these two.
Yogendra Yadav's Swaraj Abhiyan is an additional adversary for AAP, and it will only muddy the waters, as its support base has been carved directly out of AAP's.
In these circumstances, JD(U)'s entry will further split the vote, and that won't benefit AAP in any way. A defeat for Arvind Kejriwal's party in these polls will help the BJP as well as the Congress in projecting that AAP is fast losing support in its home ground, which is the source of all its political power.
How does that match Nitish's purported goal of establishing a large non-Congress and non-BJP grouping for 2019?
AAP is quietly watching the developments for now. The party has just begun preparing for the polls, and is not entirely sure of its prospects at this point of time.
The polls are still some distance away, and AAP might be seeing some hope in the tentativeness of the JD(U)'s decision.
All eyes will be on the next stage of announcements on questions like how many candidates will the JD(U) field, and if will fight alone, or as part of an alliance.