The unprecedented media coverage around the MCD elections is happening for more than one reason. For Arvind Kejriwal, this election is a litmus test for his performance as chief minister after a resounding mandate in 2015. After the drubbing in Goa and Punjab, AAP desperately needs a victory in the only state where it has an incumbent government. A loss in the MCD election would be a big blow to the party's expansion plans.
For BJP, this election is not only about retaining its control over the three Municipal Corporations but to announce itself as the strongest contender for the next assembly election in the state. For the grand old Congress party, which stands on the verge of extinction from the political map of this country, it is a matter of survival. If it fails to increase its vote share, it could be reduced to a marginal player in the city for long. Many believe that the party is still in contest primarily because of the positive recall and legacy of its 15 year old rule. Who wins and who loses will be known on 26th April, when EVMs will be opened.
However, at present, the following factors clearly indicate that BJP is set to get a third consecutive term in MCD:
Perception of Poor Governance:
Politics is about perception, and currently it is heavily loaded against the AAP. Continued tussle with the lieutenant governor since Kejriwal took oath, charges of corruption against top ministers and lack of progress on key election promises like free Wi-Fi and CCTV cameras are likely to adversely affect the party's performance.
The enthusiasm that Kejriwal managed to build around the Odd Even Scheme was short lived as the policy dumped due to ineffectiveness. The party still lags behind its promise of starting Mohalla Clinics and its performance on health was overshadowed by mismanagement during the Dengue outbreak last year. The absence of Kejriwal and his cabinet ministers from the city during such an outbreak made many Delhites furious with the party.
The party's liberal advertisement spending does not seem to have gone down well with the voters. Continuous involvement of Kejriwal and his party in elections across the country and national political messageing has made a section of the Delhi electorate wonder if he really cares about the city and its people.
Arvind Kejriwal's own Actions:
If one looks at Kejriwal's campaign carefully, he has cleverly tried to change the discourse towards non issues like EVM tampering. He was trying to fuel public anger against the central government. Such moves never help a party/leader and are bound to back fire. Kejriwal ended up creating a perception that he had nothing to talk about with respect to his own work and needed excuses for explaining the impending defeat.
The Modi Factor:
One may like it or not, but Modi factor cannot be ignored, not even in a local body election. There seems to be evident dissatisfaction amongst voters with both BJP led MCD and AAP led Delhi Government. But what surely seems to be working in favour of the BJP is high satisfaction rating with the Modi led central government. The Prime Minister may not have personally participated in campaigning but his photos, hoardings and name has been used more than enough by his party. The party definitely realizes the vote drawing ability of the Prime minister.
The 'Naye Chehre' Experiment working well:
Through such a bold gamble, BJP has successfully managed to change the discourse of this election, which otherwise could have been fought on bad governance of BJP led MCD. By denying tickets to sitting councillors, the BJP seemed to have successfully positioned itself as the challenger rather than the incumbent in the election.
Infighting in the Congress: After being, marginalized in the city in 2015, one would have expected Congress to put up a united front in this election. On the contrary, infighting seems to have again marred the party's prospects in the city. Some prominent faces of Delhi Congress; Arvinder Singh Lovely (who recently joined the BJP), A.K. Walia and Barkha Singh have been miffed with Ajay Maken's leadership. On multiple occasions, these leaders have publicly communicated their displeasure with him. This clearly indicates that Congress has hardly gained anything post 2015.
The Momentum Factor:
On the backdrop of resounding victories for the BJP in the recent assembly polls, and huge setback for AAP in Goa and Punjab, the overall momentum clearly seems to be in favour of the BJP. This band wagon effect is likely to affect the MCD election and help the BJP.
These factors clearly indicate that the BJP has a clear edge in this election. However, what remains to be seen is how much does the Congress improve as compared to 2015. One should not be surprised, if there is a close fight between AAP and Congress for the second spot. As far as the BJP is concerned it would get a comfortable majority in all three MCDs. Will the party manage to cross 200 mark? This question surely makes this an election to watch out for.
(The author is managing partner at Ranniti Consulting and Research LLP. He tweets @mehtanitin1807)