Delhi MCD election: Polls that played out like state elections


The 2022 Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) election felt much more like a state election between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) than a city corporation election. With frequent political wrangling between the Centre and Delhi union territory government, state and national level issues such as AAP’s “Delhi Model” of delivery, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image, and Hindu-Muslim polarisation played an outsized role in the MCD election.

We tend to believe that municipal elections are driven by local considerations, especially through the relationship between the municipal councillor and the citizen. With Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) control of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) for the last 15 years, BJP’s local councillors would have built strong links with Delhi’s residents — something that has kept the BJP winning municipal elections in Delhi even as it failed to capture the union territory during Congress’ and AAP’s long reigns.

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But this time, AAP has surged ahead of the BJP, winning 134 wards to the BJP’s 104 wards (out of 250 wards) — a major flip from the last election in 2017 when the BJP won 181 wards to AAP’s 49 wards (out of 272 wards). But five years is a long time. The Congress Party, not too far removed Sheila Dixit’s reign, still had local roots in 2017, winning 32 wards and significantly splitting the anti-BJP vote in the city. This time the Congress has been decimated, winning just 9 wards.

With the Congress dimming, many exit polls had predicted a landslide victory for AAP.
With the Congress dimming, many exit polls had predicted a landslide victory for AAP.

With the Congress dimming, many exit polls had predicted a landslide victory for AAP. While AAP still scored a comfortable victory, BJP’s better-than-expected performance may plausibly be due to the local networks its councillors have built over the past 15 years. But the relative performance of AAP and BJP can also be explained by some surprising differences across geography and time in Delhi.

In order to analyze the relative performance across time and space in Delhi, I looked at the relative performance of AAP and BJP in political constituencies. Due to a delimitation exercise before the election, the number of wards in Delhi were reduced from 272 across three separate corporations (East, North, South) to 250 wards in a single corporation. This means that it is simply not possible to compare changes in election outcomes at the municipal ward level. In order to conduct this analysis, I used an aggregation of Delhi’s 2017 and 2022 urban wards to Delhi’s assembly and parliamentary constituencies provided by Shamindra Nath Roy, a colleague at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), and municipal election results from 2017 collated by political party provided by Ashish Ranjan from DataLok.

Delhi has seven parliamentary (Lok Sabha) constituencies (PCs), and the analysis us a story of two Delhis across them.

In the PCs of North East Delhi, East Delhi, and Chandi Chowk, the BJP only suffered marginal losses in the 2022 MCD election as compared to the 2017 MCD election, and the AAP trailed the BJP in each of these PCs in the 2022 MCD election.

Consider, for instance, North East Delhi constituency. This was the site of the horrific 2020 Delhi riots that resulted in 53 deaths, the majority from the Muslim community. One of Delhi’s poorest areas, it is a location with a large Muslim population but also significant Hindu-Muslim polarization. In North East Delhi PC, the BJP won 65% of wards in 2017 which dropped to 51% of wards in 2022. But the AAP’s share of wards only grew from 23% to 37% in the PC from 2017 to 2022. There are several plausible causes for this outcome. Perhaps the BJP benefitted from significant Hindu-Muslim polarization. Perhaps the Muslim community has become more suspicious of AAP as it demonstrably shifted to a “soft Hindutva” rhetoric. Indeed, this is one of the few places where the Congress, with a long history of having ground-level Muslim leaders, maintained its votes — moving from a 9% seat share in 2017 to a 10% seat share in 2022. Each of the three aforementioned PCs have a large Muslim population, and purportedly display significant Hindu-Muslim polarization.

In the PCs of New Delhi, East Delhi, North East Delhi, and South Delhi, containing many BJP strongholds in 2017, the AAP completely swept away the BJP — in some places completely reversing a BJP sweep in 2017.

In New Delhi PC the BJP held 88% seat share in the 2017 MCD elections, which dropped to just 20% in the 2022 MCD election (with the AAP surging from 4% seat share in 2017 to a 80% seat share in 2022 in the PC). Perhaps more instructive is the outcome of West Delhi PC, where the BJP held a 67% seat share in 2017 but dropped to just 34% seat share this time (as compared to AAP which grew from 16% seat share in 2017 to 63% seat share in 2022 in the same PC). West Delhi is known as a bastion of Punjabi Hindus, many of whom are “refugee families” from Pakistan, and once thought to be core vote bank of the BJP. If AAP’s campaign strategy showed weaknesses with the Muslim community, it shows nimbleness to swipe the vote in West Delhi away from the BJP during a period of rising Hindu-Muslim polarization (which would normally benefit the BJP).

No doubt the coming days will provide more detailed geographic and demographic analysis of the MCD election. But we can end with a few questions that this election throws up for Delhi’s (as well as national) politics.

With a shift towards “soft Hindutva” generating a successful electoral strategy for AAP in much of Delhi, do Muslims in the city have political representation in a time of rising Hindu-Muslim polarization and violence?

Does the welfarism associated with AAP’s “Delhi Model” provide an effective counter to the politics of Hindu nationalism?

Has the AAP developed a strategy, a combination of welfarism and soft Hindutva, that can be effective against the BJP outside of Delhi?

As AAP looks to build a national profile, we will start to get better answers to these questions.

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