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A Party That Didn’t Sweep the Streets for 10 Years Has Swept the MCD Polls Again. Here’s Why

Despite its legendary non-performance, the BJP has zoomed ahead in the MCD polls by turning it into a popularity contest between Kejriwal and Modi.

Voters show their finger and voter ID card after casting their vote during the MCD elections. Credit: PTI

I had my Ola wisdom on the eve of Delhi Municipal Council (MCD) elections. We had taken a taxi on our way back from the last informal meeting on the day before polling. As he dropped us, the driver asked us if I was from a political party as he vaguely recalled my face. It didn’t matter, I said, and asked him what he thought of the MCD election. It turned out that he was a traditional Congress voter who had for the first time shifted to the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. However, he switched to Arvind Kejriwal in February 2015. And this time? He did not recall the names of local candidates in his ward but he was sure he was going to vote for Modi.

I asked him what he thought of the way MCD had functioned. “Kuchh kaam nahin kiya” (They didn’t do a thing), he said firmly. I reminded him that the BJP had been running the MCD for the last ten years. He feigned ignorance, but this information did not seem to make a difference to him. Why not stay with Jhhadu, I persisted. “Kejriwal ne to dhokha diya” (Kejriwal has betrayed us), he replied. He said now his hopes are pinned on Modiji: “He has given a good chief minister like Yogiji in Uttar Pradesh, he will ensure a good government in Delhi as well.” I was speechless and horrified. The Ola driver had taught me something about politics.

The counting of votes for MCD elections began on Wednesday morning and the outcome is along predicted lines. The voting pattern followed by the Ola driver appears to have been replicated all over Delhi. A massive yet silent shift of votes in favour of BJP was quite evident towards the end of the campaign. I was fully involved in the campaign for my party, Swaraj India and missed no opportunity to draw attention to BJP’s misdeeds in Delhi’s three municipalities. Yet, it was clear that the voters were not focusing on the performance of the MCD. They were more attentive to my criticism of the AAP government in Delhi. Exit polls merely confirmed the subjective impression of many observers that the BJP had established a huge lead on the polling day. Exit polls estimated that BJP’s lead over its nearest rival to be a staggering 20% plus and the actual vote seems to mirror that finding. Such a lead has naturally translated into a complete and clean sweep in terms of seats.

The outcome is intriguing as well as tragic. Delhi’s three municipal corporations are likely among the worst run municipalities in the country. A visit to the outer and eastern peripheries of Delhi – which now house nearly half of the city – reveals an urban infrastructure no better than that in the towns of UP and Bihar. Even a casual visitor to the city cannot help but notice the garbage dumps, dirty water and stench all over the city. In the last one year, Delhi has been through a chikungunya and dengue epidemic and its air pollution has crossed all danger marks.

There is no doubt about who the culprit is: the municipal corporations in Delhi run by the BJP for the last ten years. In popular lexicon, these are known as the ‘most corrupt departments.’ The only time you notice the MCD is when its inspector arrives to demand a bribe to turn a blind eye to any building activity. These municipalities are a textbook example of how urban governments ought not to be. True, they have been starved of resources by the Delhi government, but they have done little to generate massive revenues that they could through parking, advertisements and toll tax. If the BJP looks set to come back to power in the MCDs, it is nothing short of a democratic scandal.

Why did the people of Delhi vote for a non-performing ruling party? Clearly, the answer does not lie in EVM tampering. Instead of making such rash and irresponsible allegations, BJP’s political opponents like myself acknowledge the fact that BJP is winning because the people are voting for it.

Clearly, those who voted for the BJP did not think they were rewarding the non-performing MCDs. The BJP managed to detach this election from the difficult municipal issues. Instead, it distracted the voters and the media into discussing nationalism, Kashmir, cow slaughter and national security – issues that have no bearing on the MCDs. It also managed to deflect popular anger against its sitting councillors by deciding not to re-nominate any of them. The Aam Aadmi Party also contributed to this decoupling of the elections from the real municipal issues by making it a personality contest. The AAP campaign was all about turning this election into a personal referendum for Kejriwal. Some of the hoardings did not even carry the name of his own party. Smaller players like Swaraj India, constrained by lack of resources and media attention, tried to bring the debate to municipal issues, but with very limited success.

In the end, the MCD polls became a simple popularity contest between Arvind Kejriwal and Narendra Modi and the people of Delhi appear to have chosen the PM over the CM. This cannot be explained by the ‘magical Modi wave’ sweeping across the country. We just need to remember that the Modi wave was no less strong in 2015 when the BJP bit the dust in the Delhi assembly elections. If anything, the PM’s popularity was a shade higher at that point, having scored an unprecedented victory in Maharashtra and Haryana following his Lok Sabha success. Unlike now, his party did not face any local anti-incumbency either. The Congress and the AAP were the prior incumbents then. We cannot escape the difficult question: Why did the Modi wave fail to work in 2015 and appears to be working in 2017?

The difference lies in Delhi’s experience with the AAP government since February 2015. Within a few months of coming to power, AAP lost its moral sheen. Its promise of good governance also turned hollow as the government had little to show for its track record except a partial reduction in electricity bills and additional funds for school education. Instead, the government has been busy playing blame games against the Central government and its representative, the lieutenant governor. No doubt some of these complaints are valid. But an over-reliance on this blame game has left the people of Delhi – like my Ola driver – sick and tired. The personality cult of Kejriwal is beginning to boomerang as he loses this personal referendum. The AAP’s meteoric rise now threatens to turn into a meteoric fall.

One can only hope that the party has the capacity to learn some lessons. The MCD election in Delhi has completed one phase of BJP’s rise as the hegemon in Indian politics. If oppositional politics does not come to terms with reality even now, it might be too late.

Yogendra Yadav is a political activist and psephologist, and founder of Swaraj Abhiyan.

An earlier version of this article appeared in The Tribune.

  • kanshabati

    We want to congratulate Yogendra-ji for his valiant efforts to focus on the real issues (as opposed to personalities). It is also terrible that post-UP elections the non-BJP opposition has not tried to join hands in a maha-gath-bandhan. If the bickering and ego-clashes persist BJP will then start scoring 50% of votes (as opposed to 40% now) and all opposition will be ground into dust.

    • subhasis ghosh

      The people of Delhi did listen to whatever issues Mr Yadav and his party might have raised. That is the reality.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    If ever there was a reason for voters to vote out an incumbent, then Delhiites had that reason.
    As a long term resident of Delhi, I know from painful personal experience how we spend the months of August, September and October EVERY YEAR in a state of fingers-crossed panic, as the fear of dengue, malaria and chikengunya hang over the city like a miasma, thousands get afflicted and there are many deaths. How the roads become waterlogged EVERY YEAR during the monsoon, leading to terrible traffic jams and hardship to all.
    And yet – the BJP is voted back to lead the MCD the third time in a row! Incredible.
    If Delhiites really got distracted by cow slaughter and nationalism, ignoring local realities, well – then we truly got what we deserve. Lets keep the Odomos and anti-mosquito patch ready!
    Kudos to the BJP, though – they have been spot-on in their reading of Indian mass psychology.

    • amit singh

      Spot on mr gonsalvis. We delhites deserve the worst. Both fekus head on head blasting citizens harder and harder.

  • Nitin

    This seems like a post to promote Ola more than anything else!

  • Rohini

    this is a telling story of how the AAP has failed to focus on the right issues. As the author says, the focus of the campaign was not on local civic issues at all.
    in fact, AAP should have taken the lead in hitting hard on the non performance of the incumbents. Instead, they made the cardinal error of making too much noise around EVMs …in that clamour, nothing else from then was audible. The din bubble of Fault evms stuck to them, and voters saw nothing else. Just a repeat of the anarchy of Kejriwal and his tactics.
    one of the earliest cardinal errors he made was to remove the credible faces in his party soon after coming to power..yogendra yadav and Prashant bhushan ..in the best stalinist manner possible. For what? For questioning. Giganormous Error no. 1. This was followed by many more. The people were watching.

    this election was kejriwal’s to lose…in 2015, in spite of a Modi wave and no anti incumbency for the BJP in Delhi, Kejriwal ran with the prize, leaving the BJP coughing in his dust.
    This time, though, even with massive anti incumbency factor against the BJP, Kejriwal flopped. What changed in two years?
    we all know where the AAP has gone wrong..in all the promises it held out to the people..of clean, clear, strong governance..an alternative.
    we didn’t expect the alternative to be high decibel, near constant anti-establishmentarian tamasha with a huge dose of corruption as exposed in the shunglu report. Coupled with a few crores presented to us as legal fees for personal crimes AND a greed to be PM almost too soon.
    I think the voter has seen through the muffler man.

    • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

      I agree with Yogendra Yadav’s and your analysis of the Delhi civic elections. Wrong issues, silly noise about EVMs, Kejriwal’s personal hubris – all these negatives more than cancelled out the BJP’s negatives. I get that. I would also add what Mr Yadav mentioned – distraction due to the discourse on cow slaughter, nationalism and national security have also put the wind in the BJP’s sails. Fine.
      What I DONT get is what happens to ACCOUNTABILITY in this process? The Delhi municipal corporation is an established non-performer for years, the last 10 of them being under BJP control. “Mosquito Terrorism” is merely the most visible and tragic aspect of that non-performance. It LITERALLY affects every Delhiite YEAR AFTER YEAR, putting him/her at risk of serious long term illness and even death during those post-monsoon months. And yet, those who are responsible for this monumental (and unconscionable) failure are not held accountable, and instead given a THIRD chance?
      How does one reconcile this lack of accountability with the notion of a working democracy?
      And sadly, the answer is that it doesn’t. A working democracy needs a strong opposition, and we have none to speak of at this moment. Accountability is dead when there’s no opposition. Politics becomes the dance of the hegemon.
      The last sentence of Mr Yadav’s article is of great relevance – I hope he pays heed to his own warning!

      • Rohini

        Accountability collapses when there is no opposition? No, I think accountability collapses because we as citizens DO NOT demand it. These issues you speak of – we have grown up with them under different govts…I have lived in all four metros + Bengaluru. Malaria, Chikungunya, dengue + air pollution – common place and citizens have lost their minds about what to do.
        Add to that dirty water leading to jaundice, rotovirus, dysentery leading to high healthcare costs for the most vulnerable and deaths of children from uncovered drains and open defecation, dog shit, rubbish piled up….we see no end to our civic woes. In Additon, we have the issue of unhygenic food…(see my posts on the meat abbatoirs and their chut down, which I supported)..we ahve a death trap in Indian cities.

        All I can say is that AAP was seen as a beacon of hope by many of us…the destruction of that dream has left us with no alternatives.

        • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

          Madam, ultimately in a working democracy citizens “demand” accountability by voting the guilty party out, right? Delhiites chose NOT to do so. Why? Because as you yourself explained, the opposition (AAP) is incompetent (that’s only part of the reason, but I wont go into that). So the notion of accountability collapsed due to the weakness of the opposition. THAT was my point.

          • Rohini

            Not really – just voting in and out is not enough. What is the point of voting out without speaking out? Such behaviour by the citizens just shows politicians that they ccan enjoy the fruits of power for 5 years without a stick of work, and they make money, Then, the worst that happens is they lose power BU for 5 years they have made money, at ot expense.
            Sorry, I so not believe that my only duty is voting in or out. Speaking up loudly is also my duty – which is what I do.

          • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

            Have you lived in Delhi at a stretch over the last 15 years or so? If so, then you would know that Delhi ticked the “PROTEST” box long ago (I am talking about a time before the days of the #tag, when protests were more conventional).
            It got two chances to tick the “KICK THEM OUT” box, yet didnt do so.
            Ignorance (maybe wilful)? Apathy? Opposition incompetence?
            Whatever.
            It kicked out accountability instead.
            Thats why I said “ultimately” – Delhi got two chances of “ultimately” demanding accountability and chose not to take them.

          • Rohini

            Er..YES…I happen to have lived in delhi ‘at a stretch’ over the ‘last 15 years or so’.
            In fact, I am able to speak bout history even BEFORE the last two times, as you call it. Because I have lived there across govts 🙂 Central, state and local. But I am not talking ONLY about Delhi. These issues are common across large cities in India – Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata. All of whom I happen to have lived in, ‘at a stretch as you say.
            Most importantly, I would ask – when do YOU take responsibility for the state of your city? You as in ‘citizen’. Indians have the poorest civic mindedness I have seen – peeing, pooing, throwing, spitting, parking, cutting signals, speeding, riding on the pavements, etc just anywhere, rules be damned. Give Indians a clean toilet with marble and the best fittings in a railway station – and go back a week later to see the status. See the status of airplane toilets in a flights which has Indians mostly. filthy.
            PLEASE lets stop about how govts can work magic. The Indian mindet must chang

          • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

            Niiiiiiice pivot! Reminded me of the amazing Kellyanne Conway! 🙂
            Anyway..personal accountability in the context of civic sense is absolutely essential and yet sadly missing in us. I am with you on that.
            But city corporations have responsibilities that on the one hand go beyond the civic duties of the citizenry (e.g. desilting of stormwater drains before the monsoon to prevent waterlogging), and compensate for the absence of collective civic sense on the other (e.g. rigorously checking construction sites for stagnant water storage and penalizing them). The Delhi municipal corporation has failed miserably in the execution of these responsibilities year after year, and yet not been held accountable – whatever be the reasons. That’s the tragic outcome of this election.
            Now lets bring this discussion to a close, if you don’t mind. No one else is listening anyway! 🙂
            Pleasure as always.

          • Rohini

            You seem uncomfortable being called out on your civic duties. You are perturbed when I challenge your victim narrative. When that happens, you find comfort in Conway.
            I take it as a compliment because it means you have no logical response in that thread.
            adieu, au revoir. Namaste, till we meet again 🙂

          • Rohini

            Not really – just voting in and out is not enough. What is the point of voting out without speaking out? Such behaviour by the citizens just shows politicians that they ccan enjoy the fruits of power for 5 years without a stick of work, and they make money, Then, the worst that happens is they lose power BU for 5 years they have made money, at ot expense.
            Sorry, I so not believe that my only duty is voting in or out. Speaking up loudly is also my duty – which is what I do.

  • S.N.Iyer

    There is no doubt that the MCD votes for BJP are based on Modi’s popularity. But that is only half the battle. The coucillors elected have their work cut out. If Modi can hinder the functioning of Delhi Govt, one has to see how his influence works on MCD. It is more than apparent that one cannot work on Modi’s charisma if like the BJP ruled States, some elements are engaging in activities that are counter to good governance.

    • AmarKanth

      What good gobernance? All you get to hear from BJP ruled states is lynching, cow politics, communalism, pseudo nationalism, kashimir and other things which have no significant impact. And they are doing fine. Their vote bank is increasing. So why should they worry about good gobernance? They are content with cow politics. People are loving it.

  • K SHESHU BABU

    Will the mainstream opposition learn some lessons? Are they prepared to sink their differences? …. That is the question???

  • subhasis ghosh

    Ever since Mr Yadav joined AAP and more so now in Swaraj India, he ceased to be a psephologist and became a politician. Please get his introduction correct.

  • AmarKanth

    If Yadav is looking to take up the role of the sly wolf who waits for blood when the goats head on head, then the outcome won’t be great. For the wolf gets killed when he tires to greedily lick the blood coming in between the goats. As for his party, it would be best for him to throw away his ego and support AAP to stop the dangerous BJP builtup.

  • AmarKanth

    Well said. But YY now uses lame excuses like not having funds and prime time of TV.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    No offence taken, sir. But you need to get your facts straight, boring as they are.
    There are storm-water drains and sewer drains. The former are meant to drain away the rainwater and they come under the MCD. It is the MCD who is supposed to de-silt and clean them, a task in which they fail gloriously every year, leading to the widespread waterlogging. The sewer drains are the Jal Board’s responsibility, which comes under the Delhi govt. Its a different matter that these two agencies play a merry blame game, which accentuates the tragedy. I wish they were from the same political party.
    BJP hatred? Pseudo secular?
    Well – in the very narrow context of the civic mess that is Delhi, I am neither. I am just a long suffering Delhiite who wants accountability for the governance failures that brings us so much suffering each year, and I am not sure this election result does that. The mosquitoes must be so happy!