At 7 am, the office of the Aam Aadmi Party at Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg in Delhi teemed with journalists as they geared up for their first live telecast of the day. Inside, a few workers hurriedly stapled posters onto wooden standees while blue and yellow balloons with AAP written on them festooned the complex.
“Acche honge 5 saal, MCD me bhi Kejriwal.” The words on the posters indicated that the AAP had already begun preparing for celebrations before the counting of votes to decide the winner of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi election. Rohit, one of the workers who had been summoned late at night by the party’s office-bearers, said they had managed to prepare 20 standees by morning.
While early leads had suggested a neck and neck fight on a large screen, the gap eventually widened and the AAP emerged with a lead by noon. And as soon as the party started leading in 136 of the total 250 wards, party workers gathered in the open space next to their office. A stage was set up for the media, and another mounted on the rooftop of a building from where Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and other leaders could address the public.
While the AAP unseated the BJP after 15 years at the helm of the civic body, the latter managed to grow its vote share by 3 percent even though its tally dipped to 104 seats as compared to the 181 it won in 2017. The Congress’s vote share, meanwhile, dipped with the party securing only nine seats, including seven in areas with a sizable Muslim population in Northeast Delhi and Jamia Nagar.
In the high-stakes poll campaign amid allegations of corruption against its party leaders, the AAP had relied on sanitation and civic amenities as its major poll planks, with its leaders visiting garbage dumps.
“Earlier water and electricity were made free, now the poor will get sanitation as well,” said Gudiya Kumari, an AAP member for the last 10 years. A resident of Khajuri Khas, she expressed confidence that with AAP now ruling the MCD, open garbage dump yards will be history. “My son is coming to power and now the party will impress everyone with their work.”
As the dhols arrived, Gudiya joined several other AAP workers as they danced to ‘mera rang de basanti chola’ – a song written by revolutionary Ram Prasad Bismil but popularly associated with freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, an icon the party has tried to appropriate in its political realignment.
“It was a question of what people wanted in the MCD this time. Whether they wanted change or jumlebaazi. While BJP didn’t have much to show in their report card, Kejriwal went to people with a set of guarantees,” said Patparganj resident GP Singh, a former DSP who was in-charge of the Tihar prison between 2007 and 2009, and is now the vice-president of the party’s senior citizen wing.
Asked if the party has a roadmap for the much-touted sanitation campaign through technology currently being used in countries such as the US, France and Japan, Singh said that “a blueprint will be ready soon”.
Amid victorious candidates who flocked to the party’s office was Ashu Thakur, a first-time councillor from CR Park who won by a margin of 48 votes. Holding a certificate of election, she said, “I belong to a middle class family and have been working with the party for the last nine years.” Asked about her priorities, she said they will work as per Kejriwal’s directions.
Addressing supporters, Kejriwal said “we have to improve the condition of Delhi and need cooperation of the BJP, the Congress and also the blessings of Centre and the prime minister”.
Meanwhile, a few metres away from the AAP’s office, the premises of the Delhi State Congress Committee wore a deserted look. While the main entrance was just half-open, another door leading inside was locked. Outside, a Congress candidate’s poster announced the party’s poll slogan: “MCD ka matlab meri chamakti Delhi”, or “MCD means my shining Delhi”.
Vikram Lohia, Delhi Congress spokesperson and in-charge of its media cell, said, “We have won nine seats but compared to the 2020 assembly polls our vote share has improved from around 4.25 percent to 12 percent.” Asked about how the party plans to resurrect itself in one of its erstwhile strongholds, he said, “Yes, Congress has lost the polls but we will continue public service. We will introspect on the reasons why we failed to win people’s hearts.”