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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 13, New Delhi, March 13, 2021

2021 Delhi MCD Election Results Give Warning Signal to AAP | M R Narayan Swamy

Friday 12 March 2021, by M R Narayan Swamy

THAT the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won four of the five by-elections to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) should not surprise anyone. That the BJP – which now controls MCD – drew a blank is no shocker either. That the Congress won a single seat handsomely is certainly news but that victory – more so the margin — is an ominous setback to the ruling AAP in Delhi.

Fifteen years of uninterrupted hold over MCD has taken the shine off the BJP. The North MCD and East MCD – all five by-elections took place in these two zones — in particular are in such a bad shape that BJP leaders would have been taken aback had they won even a single seat in the by-elections. Teachers in MCD schools and doctors in MCD hospitals don’t get salaries in time. The sweepers frequently refuse to clear garbage from the streets over non-payment of or delayed salaries. Even courts have begun to show exasperation over MCD’s frequent complaints that it is starved of funds by the AAP-run Delhi government.

In the process, for once the fighting spirit was missing in the BJP in the run up to the by-elections. This is why it lost its stronghold – the middle class Shalimar Bagh seat. It is also why it could not snatch any of the other three seats from the AAP. But while the AAP’s victory margins over the BJP in Shalimar Bagh, Kalyanpuri, Trilokpuri and Rohini ranged from 2,705 to 7,043 votes, Congress candidate Zubair Ahmad pulled off an admirable 10,642-margin victory over the AAP in Chauhan Bangar where Muslims live in large numbers.

This should cause a major heartburn to the AAP – and some serious concern. A sincere autopsy will show it is a self-inflicted wound.

Without doubt, AAP leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal failed to rise to the occasion after last year’s horrendous anti-Muslim riots in Delhi, shortly after his party was returned to power for a second successive time with a thumping majority. It was clear then and it is more so now that the violence was orchestrated by rightwing elements determined to terrorize the Muslim population. While Kejriwal was very vocal in support of the arrest of one of his Muslim MLAs after the riots, he was chillingly silent on the suffering the innocents underwent in the area. The AAP, despite being a ruling party which won votes from all sections including most Muslims, failed to stand up for the victims in relief and rehabilitation work.

Not speaking out against sectarian violence amounts to condoning it. People who have worked as activists among the poor (who are mainly Hindus or Muslims) can rarely be communal. But it is not important just to sympathize with victims of violence; a government should be actively seen standing by them. The BJP may brand Kejriwal and the AAP communal; but that is the price to pay for being in politics. Across the world, the overwhelming majority does not like or advocate violence – because mindless savagery can consume anyone. This is why in the MCD by-elections, a polarization of the victims – the weaker party – has benefitted the Congress and dealt a blow to the AAP but a similar, contrasting polarization has not taken place in the Hindu community in favour of the BJP.

When the MCD elections take place next year, Muslims as a community will play a major role. While Hindus account for 80.21 percent of Delhi’s population, Muslims number 12.78 percent. Pandering to the Hindu or Muslim communities is communalism; helping victims of violence – Hindu or Muslim – to rebuild their lives is a government’s duty, more so when the government neither desired nor orchestrated the mayhem.
Is Kejriwal communal? Is he pro-Hindu? Those who know him well insist he is neither. Kejriwal comes from a religious Hindu family but he has never been anti-Muslim. But perceptions are important in politics. A section of the Muslims in Delhi has come to feel that Kejriwal is soft on Hindutva and that is why he ignored the victims of last year’s riots; it is for Kejriwal to correct this impression.

The IIT engineer-turned-activist-turned-politician counts many Muslims as his friends. If he spoke harshly about the Muslim MLA from East Delhi after his arrest, Kejriwal has been equally brutal vis-à-vis other (Hindu) MLAs who have fallen foul of the law. There has been no overt sectarianism in the way he has governed Delhi. Using government sources, Kejriwal can do a lot for all those who lost almost everything they had or suffered in other ways in the 2020 riots. He has well-meaning colleagues who can rise to the occasion. If he is accused of not waking up early, he must have the grace to say sorry.

Also, Kejriwal wrongly blamed the Tablighi Jamaat for the way Covid-19 spread in Delhi. By now it is clear that the group was made a scapegoat because it was a Muslim outfit and could not defend itself. The judiciary has torn to shreds the so-called evidence piled up against the Jamaat by Delhi Police. On what basis did Kejriwal echo the charges against the group? He must come clean.

In contrast, Kejriwal went out of his way to express sympathy with the Sikh and other farmers protesting on Delhi’s borders, courting the Centre’s dislike in the process. He did not mind standing up with the Sikh peasantry even when a section of the ruling party dubbed them Khalistanis and far worse. It is similar political courage that the AAP leader should have displayed in the case of the riot victims.

Kejriwal must remember that it is the brute support he garnered from all communities – cutting across religious, caste and linguistic divide – that helped the AAP win a staggering 67 of the 70 seats in Delhi in February 2015 and an admirable 62 seats in February 2020. Along with others, Muslims overwhelmingly voted for him. Those who planned and executed the Delhi riots wanted to break this Hindu-Muslim unity. They have succeeded, at least to some extent. If Kejriwal wants, he can undo the political conspiracy

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