By Abdul Bari Masoud

Although Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was able to end the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) 15-year reign in the civic body of the national capital Delhi, it suffered setbacks in a number of Muslim-majority areas of the city. The results in Muslim pockets of the city are a strong pointer towards the Muslim community’s disillusionment with the AAP. Of late, Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal’s competitive communalism and appeasement policy of the Hindutva communal forces seems to have work against the APP candidates in the Muslim areas.    

In the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) elections held on December 4, the AAP won for the first time 134 seats of the 250-member body while the BJP got 104 seats; the rest went to Congress and independents.  Outgoing BJP asserted that it would still have a say in selecting the capital’s next mayor despite not having majority seats.

The BJP won 181 of the 272 seats in the 2017 civic elections with a vote share of 36.08%, while the then-rookies in the field, AAP, won only 48 seats with a vote share of 26.23%.

Fifteen out of the 250 newly elected council members in the MCD are Muslims, including one independent councillor from Seelampur and seven members of the AAP and the Congress each.

There were 15 Muslim councillors in the 2012 MCD polls, and there were also 15 Muslim members in the 2017 MCD polls (4 in EDMC, 4 in SDMC and 7 in NDMC).

Okhla, Mustafabad and Seelampur voted overwhelmingly in favour of the AAP in the 2020 assembly elections, in contrast to what can be observed in the results of the 2022 MCD elections. Wards in the Mustafabad and Karawal Nagar Assembly constituencies, which were severely impacted by the Delhi riots, have largely favoured the BJP. Out of the 10 wards in these two assemblies, the BJP was able to win seven, the Congress two and the AAP one.

The February 2020 anti-Muslim violence worst affected areas in north east Delhi saw the worst drubbing of the AAP in this election.

However, the AAP is congratulating itself on breaking through the BJP’s stronghold, which had been in control of Delhi’s civic bodies for 15 years.

Six wards in north-east Delhi that the AAP won in 2017 have slipped out of its hold. AAP has lost five of the six wards (Chauhan Bangar, Shubhash Mohalla, Nehru Vihar, Satadpur (formerly Khajuri Khas), Kardampuri, and Nehru Vihar) to the BJP and one of them to the Congress. Only AAP candidate Mohammad Amil Mallik of Sri Ram Colony won and his win was attributed to his hard work in the area and during the riots.

Another major pointer is the Muslim-dominated wards in the Okhla assembly constituency, which is located in the southern portion of the city and is represented by its MLA Amanatullah Khan. AAP failed to win either of the two Muslim-dominated wards namely Zakir Nagar and Abul Fazal Enclave.  These wards were won by Congress: Nazia Danish took Zakir Nagar, and Ariba Khan Abu Fazal Enclave. Nazia Khatoon, a candidate for the Congress, won the seat of Brij Puri, followed by Samir Ahmed from Shastri Park ward, Sabila Begum from Mustafabad, Zarif from Kabir Nagar, and Shagufta Chaudhary Zubair from Chauhan Bangar.

It’s interesting to note that while the AAP did well in the walled city, it did not receive the votes it was expecting in the North East of Delhi, which has a sizeable Muslim community and was affected by the riots.

Aley Mohammad Iqbal won from Chandni Mahal, Rafia Mahir from Sitaram Bazaar, and Sultana Abad from Jama Masjid ward, making up five of the seven wards that the AAP has won. Mohammad Sadiq won from Ballimaran.  Locals say they have won because of their bond with the people not due to the AAP leadership.  Ballimaran MLA Imran Hasan is the minister in the Delhi government.

However, a bit confusing picture emerges from the results of the Muslim-majority wards; while AAP was successful in some Muslim constituencies, it failed in others. It implies that a number of variables were at play, including the popularity of the party candidate and the dissatisfaction of the populace with the work of the incumbent council members.

For instance, it appears that Muslim voters in the Okhla constituency’s Abul Fazal ward have switched back to the Congress. Ariba Khan, a candidate for the Congress party and daughter of former Congress MLA Asif Khan, defeated AAP contender and sitting councillor Wajid Khan by a margin of 1479 votes to take the seat. While talking to Radiance, locals listed a number of grievances against Wajid Khan, saying he failed to address the area’s escalating sanitary issues.

For the fourth consecutive term, Congress also won a seat in the adjacent Zakir Nagar ward. Naziya Danish, wife of former councillor Shoaib Danish, won the seat this time. It should be seen as a major setback for the AAP which is its fourth straight loss despite fierce anti-incumbency.

Along with local civic concerns, many people felt that the AAP was betraying its true colour by ignoring the community issues and raking up communal Hindutva issues more and more.

The area has sizable highly educated populations and houses many community organisations headquarters.  Senior journalist Quamar Ashraf, resident of Abul Fazal, said Muslims have been closely watching Kejriwal’s utterances and actions and they discern that the AAP convenor is peddling Hindutva narratives and taking the community for granted.

We have sent a strong message to the AAP leadership by voting out its candidates in the MCD polls, said Anwar Alam, a young voter.  A professor of the university, on condition of anonymity, said despite the North East riots and Pro-CAA and NRC stance, the community supported the Kejriwal’s party.  He noted that the BJP’s alleged divisive politics has been appropriated by the AAP. While BJP openly expresses its political views, AAP does the same thing covertly.  Locals say that people believe that the two parties are just two sides of the same coin.

Same sentiments were echoed in the north east Delhi area. Dr Syed Ahmad Khan, a resident of Seelampur, told Radiance that people were angry with the AAP’s mute role during the violence. Instead of dousing the flame of riots, the CM was sitting at the Raj Ghat that has not gone down well in the minority community, he added.

Seconding his views, Hakim Ataru Rhaman Ajmali, another resident of the area, said people had noticed the AAP’s apathetic behaviour during the Delhi riots of 2020. He claimed that the party’s calls for the printing of images of gods and goddesses as well as other statements that used the same political terminologies as the BJP’s gave the impression that the BJP and AAP were interchangeable.

Muslim areas that participated in anti-CAA protests in 2019–20 and those affected by the Delhi riots in 2020 appear to have abandoned the AAP.

Seven of the nine wards that Congress won have a majority of Muslims, and each of them saw anti-CAA demonstrations.

Local leadership is yet another important factor. Since the 2020 riots, AAP leaders in Northeast Delhi, including MLAs Abdul Rehman in Seelampur and Haji Mohammad Yunus in Mustafabad, have come under fire for reportedly not doing enough. However, despite their defeat in 2020, Chaudhary Mateen Ahmed and Hasan Ahmed of the Congress still command respect. 

Another notable factor is the failure of Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM in the election which contested on 15 seats. Expressing disappointment, AIMIM’s Delhi unit president Kaleemul Hafeez said that because of how the voters supported the party in the elections, the party’s workers’ morale is high. “Despite only running for 15 seats, we received 8330 votes in Mustafabad and 7516 votes in Brjpuri, placing us second. We were able to garner 5511 votes in Shriram Colony and 3279 votes in Salempur with 6565 votes in Zakir Nagar, 5173 votes in Abul Fazl, and 4249 votes in Jagatpuri,” he added.

We were successful in three assembly seats to wipe out AAP, the B team of the BJP, and influenced the results. We are determined for better performance in the future, Hafeez said.

Despite having enormous financial and material resources, the BJP’s fragility has been revealed by the results of the MCD and Himachal Pradesh elections. The much-vaunted Modi factor’s limitations have also become apparent. The opposition parties need to learn the right lessons from these outcomes and formulate strategies for organising a strong, coordinated challenge to the divisive politics on a state-by-state basis.

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