Millennium Post

Eyeing the National Capital

Eyeing the National Capital

As rallies by contending political parties intensify in the National Capital, manifestos have been released, projecting each party's vision for governance ahead of Assembly polls on Saturday. Manifestos play central to each party's approach. Campaigns and rallies generate excitement but it is the manifesto which gives for the promises that these parties make — promises that can be pointed out during a party's governance for the five years. The more these promises are towards the implementation side, the better it is. Not everything is straightaway delivered from the manifesto, yet the document is crucial to highlight the party approach. With AAP's manifesto released yesterday, all the three parties in contention for the Delhi Assembly mantle have rounded up their promises. Bharatiya Janta Party, being the first to release its manifesto, paid heavy focus on mitigating air and water pollution. Party's Delhi chief asserted during the release that the ambition was to bring a corruption-free transparent government for Delhi. It is rather contrasting to see BJP manifesto explore a set of promises that have not featured prominently in their rallies. With BJP campaigners choosing to speak on Shaheen Bagh more, amidst expected attempts to discredit rivals, the manifesto talk about cleaning the Yamuna and mitigating air pollution — that usually chokes the city with adverse air quality — seems secondary. While there is no problem in treating manifesto promises secondary, addressing one thing and endorsing something else does not sit well with voter perception. BJP made a very heavy dent when its campaigners like MoS Anurag Thakur and MP Pravesh Verma gave disturbing comments — for which the Election Commission temporarily banned them from campaigning. Even UP Chief Minister did not spare the pressing issue of anti-CAA protests that have been active for nearly two months now. With its manifesto in one direction and party rallies in other, BJP appears to be ambiguous regarding its own focus. Drawing sharp contrast to BJP's split focus, the incumbent Aam Aadmi Party has focused on local issues of welfare from the very first day of campaigns. Preceding their manifesto, the 10-point guarantee card released by Kejriwal only elaborated on issues that the party addressed in all its rallies. Education, electricity, water and health — central to residents, primarily the lower and middle class — were the talking points, with five-year governance as an example of AAP's vision for the National Capital. Door-step delivery of ration, a pilot project for 24-hour markets, free pilgrimage to 10 lakh senior citizens, etc., were part of promises made by the party with Arvind Kejriwal being the chief-ministerial candidate in all likelihood. BJP's lack of chief-ministerial candidate is where the party loses brownie points as this is a similar circumstance to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections where the incumbent Narendra Modi's face for PM-candidate can be said to be one of the propellents for a pro-BJP mandate. While AAP focussed on local issues from the beginning, BJP cut in to include those in the last leg while primarily focussing on issues of national relevance. For a party structuring its campaign on its success at the Centre and in mass-leader Modi, BJP's Delhi campaigns appear as an extension of their national ones from last year. While BJP indeed had the last laugh with all the seven Lok Sabha seats in the National Capital going in their lap, it is important to note that the mandate was not for Delhi but the Centre — where AAP was diminutive. While BJP and AAP seem to be competing with the other for the Capital's mantle, Congress is also an option for residents of Delhi and their campaign has been largely built on their unprecedented 15-year governance in the Union Territory when the late Shiela Dixit was at the helm. With free electricity up to 300 units, monthly unemployment allowance, a quarter of Delhi's annual budget dedicated to combatting pollution and improving transportation, Congress has not failed to include relevant points in its manifesto. However, the only downside is that whatever Congress has to offer appears more or less inclusive in the AAP manifesto. Congress appears irrelevant in the high-intensity battle between BJP and AAP but it nevertheless remains an alternative to residents who may not be in favour of either AAP or BJP.

With parties completing their last leg of campaigns, the choices are well laid out before the voters. Manifestos, rallies, statements, approach, etc., all will play their part in the mandate but what provides AAP and edge over its competitors is the lack of anti-incumbency. Independent India has recorded a maximum number of regime changes in elections over anti-incumbency. The most relevant and classic example may be BJP outstanding victory back in 2014 that came following high-office corruption in incumbent Congress-led UPA II that sharply shifted public mandate in former's favour. Voter sentiment will reflect in the results on February 11 and apart from the outcome of the day, it will also showcase how instrumental party rhetorics have been in the run-up to the Assembly polls.

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