On February 8th, the Delhi union territory of India held an election for all 70 seats in their Legislative Assembly, a unicameral state level legislature. According to the Electoral Commission of India, after winning 53.6% of the total vote, the Aam Aadmi Party, or the Common Man’s Party won 62 of the 70 available seats (Suri, 2020). This landslide hands the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal another term and further confirms what issues seem to be most important to voters. After coming into power in 2013, Kejriwal has led a campaign that values the wellbeing of his citizens like access to food, clothes and electricity, especially in the poorer region of New Delhi. Kejriwal’s economy-based campaign has seemed to reach voters much more effectively in the region than the incumbent Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (Suri, 2020). In this most recent election, the BJP earned eight seats which is three more than the previous election in 2015 but his main goal was to gain political clout in India’s capital and not a single third party had any success (Suri, 2020). These results demonstrated the voters’ complete ignorance of the controversial campaign of the current Prime Minister and their general disapproval on his current politics. Despite a slightly decreased voter turnout, voters decided that support for the poor was much more important than the controversial and borderline hate speech that the BJP viewed as central to its platform (Suri, 2020).
Conflict between India’s current ruling party, the BJP and the most commonly known as a state level party, the AAP was most generally rooted in the controversy over the importance of social and religious policy in comparison to economic policy (Ellis-Petersen, 2019). The drastic differences between the two campaigns reveal the true opinions of the voters and clearly emphasize what seems to be most important, especially in the country’s capital. The BJP has been focused on a more national campaign and is attempting to push a divisive citizenship law known as the Citizenship Amendment Act through India’s consistently recognized and established secular government. This law will allow for thousands of immigrants who align with Hindu, Christian, Buddhist and other faiths from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to apply and earn Indian citizenship (Ellis-Petersen, 2019). This law is thought to directly exclude Muslims and has drastically increased electoral violence. The party has publicly denied any discrimination but opposition to the party claimed the legislation attempts to divide the secular country along religious lines (Ellis-Petersen, 2019). Even despite Modi’s decision to support this law, his party has generally dominated Indian politics and most recently had landslide victories in the most recent national elections. Despite Modi’s dominance, BJP was never predicted to win the election but was expected to take much more control over the region (Suri, 2020).
The shocking election in Delhi has emphasized the role of electoral violence and the role of second and third parties in First Past the Post systems. Since the beginning of the protests in response to Modi’s push for Hindu related nationalism, over 20 people have died in election related violence (Suri, 2020). In India, the prime minister serves five-year terms and Modi was recently reelected in 2019 (Suri, 2020). These protests in response to Modi’s policies emphasize the importance of accountability, diversity of representation, and how electoral violence in response to an incumbent can actually lead to a more successful opposition in the long run. In terms of election violence in India, the protests against the CAA have caused intense conflict between citizens and the police. The evident Islamophobia of the police and other political leaders involved supports the BJP’s mission to pursue a pro-Hindu agenda (Agrawal, 2020). In a First Past the Post System, the candidate with the most votes wins, which typically causes voters to have to choose between two major parties and commonly leads to the dominance of a single party (Reynolds, Reilly and Ellis, 2005). In this early state election, two main parties earned all of the seats, limiting the impact of previously dominant parties like the Congress party (Suri, 2020). This particular state election highlights the importance of keeping the current leader accountable throughout his term, rather than just at the end when he is up for reelection. Essentially, Kejriwal continued to address Delhi’s new economic concerns since the rise of Modi and India’s increasing unemployment, while Modi ignored these issues in order to focus on initiating construction on Hindu temples. This defeat for Modi proves that the citizens of Delhi are keeping the prime minister accountable and making sure that the he is recognizing the needs of his people.
Due to the results of this almost shocking election, some important questions to ask are what policies and aspects of a campaign actually matter to different people and why do they matter? Also, would shortening term limits for the prime minister in national elections or chief minister and holding elections more often increase accountability? As one of the most authoritarian of the large democratic countries, India continues to increase the separation between state and federal elections and look to maintain accountability in all levels of government. Essentially, how could minimizing the gap between federal and state accountability impact elections in India as a whole?
Agrawal, Ravi. “Does Modi’s Election Loss in Delhi Matter?” Foreign Policy, 11 Feb. 2020, foreignpolicy.com/2020/02/11/delhi-state-elections-aam-aadmi-aap-narendra-modi-loss-india-south-asia/. Accessed 14 Feb. 2020.
Election Commission of India. General Election to Vidhan Sabha: Trends and Result Feb 2020. Accessed 14 Feb. 2020.
Ellis-Petersen, Hannah. “India Clamps down on Citizenship Law Protests.” The Guardian, 18 Dec. 2019, www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/18/india-clamps-down-against-citizenship-law-protests. Accessed 13 Feb. 2020.
International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Electoral System
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Suri, Manveena. “Modi’s Party Concedes Defeat in Delhi after Polarizing Campaign.” The Guardian, 11 Feb. 2020, www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/11/india-modi-ruling-party-poised-to-lose-delhi-election-after-polarising-campaign. Accessed 13 Feb. 2020.
Suri, Manveena. “Delhi Election Results: Narendra Modi’s BJP Suffers Big Loss in New Delhi Elections.” CNN, 12 Feb. 2020. CNN, www.cnn.com/2020/02/12/asia/india-delhi-elections-bjp-intl-hnk/index.html. Accessed 13 Feb. 2020.
Suri, Manveena. “Protests and a Weakening Economy Spell a Rocky Road Ahead for India’s Narendra Modi.” CNN, 16 Jan. 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/01/16/asia/modi-protests-india-analysis-intl-hnk/index.html. Accessed 13 Feb. 2020.