Polls are set to be held on February 7.
Photo Credit: Chandan Khanna/AFP
Traffic. If you had to pinpoint the one factor that is going to impact every resident of Delhi over the next month after today’s announcement of the dates of elections in the capital on February 7, it would be the impending jams that are about to engulf the city. As if the usual mess on the roads around Republic Day isn’t enough, this time there’s also the added headache of US President Barack Obama visiting, which has meant a huge police presence around the city and a complete shutdown of New Delhi around January 26.

As if this won’t be enough to clog up roads around the capital, the Election Commission has made it clear that this time period will also coincide with peak campaigning season in the run up to polls next month, with the polls on February 7 and counting on February 10. That means political rallies on every corner and candidate roadshows slowing cars down everywhere. Whether you care about politics or not, if you have to venture out on the roads in Delhi over the next month, you won’t be able to avoid the election season.

But simply visiting at the same time as the campaign and clogging up the streets isn’t the only role Obama is going to play in the elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party has already decided that it is going to drive home the point that, while the Aam Aadmi Party had threatened to disrupt last year’s Republic Day celebrations, the new Central government has managed to bring the world’s most powerful leader to the parade a year later.

All this follows from the clear indication Prime Minister Narendra Modi made in his speech in Delhi last week that the battle will be fought between his BJP and AAP, a party that the prime minister compared to the Naxalites. The last time elections were held, the Congress was still a player, having run the capital for 15 years before that. But the party ended up with only eight seats in the 70-member assembly. In the Lok Sabha elections a little later, AAP took an even larger share of the votes away from the Congress, which was a distant third in each of the seven seats in the capital.

Delhi has come a long, long way since December 2013, when AAP managed to stun the nation by felling three-time chief minister Sheila Dikshit of the Congress and forming the government in the capital, even though the new party had come in second. But in February 2014 AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal infamously resigned after being unable to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill to appoint an anti-corruption ombudsman on which his party had campaigned.

Ever since then, the capital has been under President’s rule, with the BJP, having come so close to a majority and failing, reluctant to give it another go despite the favourable Lok Sabha results. Over the course of 2014, there were constant rumours of the BJP attempting to cobble together a majority through horse trading or deciding to take on the electoral battle. Finally, though, with President’s rule coming to an end in the capital in the middle of February later this year, the Election Commission has decided it is time to give Delhi’s residents another shot at picking their representatives.

The last time around this meant constant jan sabhas and rallies, non-stop speeches and roadshows and a few big-ticket events. This time around, elections will also be taking place in the aftermath of communal violence at Trilokpuri and a few other parts of the capital, although the government is expected to clamp down on any signs of trouble at least until Obama has come and gone.

The battle will as such not be fought on issues of identity and caste or even social issues, although the capital is not entirely without its more parochial tendencies. Overall, though, the main debate will be over power, water, infrastructure and housing, with the urban poor, across cultural and ethnic identities, acting as the main constituency. The BJP can expect to get back the urban middle-class that briefly drifted over to AAP in 2013, and so the fight will be for those on the lower end of the strata.

Preliminary polls suggest that the BJP should be well placed to win the 36 seats required to form the government, but AAP will nevertheless put up a good fight. Having said that, though, there’s a whole month of campaigning to go, and no one can accuse either of these parties of lacking any sense of drama. Game on.