Voters stand in a queue as they wait to cast their vote outside a polling booth in Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi [Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]
Polls pit Modi’s BJP against incumbent AAP, whose pro-poor policies focused on fixing schools and healthcare
India’s capital is voting in a crucial state election with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) trying to regain power after a 22-year gap and a landslide victory in the national polls last year.
Residents on Saturday lined up in long queues across New Delhi neighborhoods, where a total of 14.7 million voters are registered to cast ballots. The results will be declared on Tuesday.
The polls pit Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP against incumbent Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (common man’s party or AAP), which was born out of an anti-corruption campaign in 2012 and is eyeing a second successive five-year term in power.
The AAP’s pro-poor policies have focused on fixing state-run schools and providing free healthcare and bus fares for women during its first term.
During the 2015 elections, AAP scored a landslide victory, winning 67 of 70 seats.
Modi’s BJP was voted out of power in New Delhi in 1998 by the Congress party, which governed the national capital for 15 years.
The BJP has lost power in key state assembly elections in the past years such as Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, raising the stakes even further for it in this election.
Reporting from New Delhi, Al Jazeera’s Elizabeth Puranam said: “They [BJP] have been losing power on the state level for the past 18 months to two years, including in states that are considered the Hindi heartland.”
An aggregate of poll surveys has forecast a strong showing for the AAP of over 50 seats. The BJP is expected to win approximately 15 seats while the Congress party is predicted to come a distant third.
Modi on Saturday appealed to voters to exercise their franchise. “Urging the people of Delhi, especially my young friends, to vote in record numbers,” he wrote on Twitter.
Polls amid anti-CAA protests
The election is being seen as a test of Modi’s popularity following months of deadly nationwide anti-government protests against a new citizenship law that saw thousands of people take to the streets daily in New Delhi.
The new law makes it easier for non-Muslim minorities from three neighbouring countries to become Indian citizens.
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and a proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens have stoked suspicion that Modi wants to turn secular India into a Hindu nation, something his party denies.
In its New Delhi campaign, Modi’s BJP focused on national-level issues such as the passage of the CAA – which critics claim is anti-Muslim – and ran one of the most divisive poll campaigns, with its leaders exhorting people to “shoot” the protesters.
“Two BJP politicians were banned from campaigning after one likened the protesters to rapists and murderers and said they want to turn India into a Muslim country. Another said protesters should be shot,” said Puranam.
The right-wing party appealed to its Hindu base with actions such as revoking the limited autonomy of the disputed Muslim-majority Kashmir region and backing a controversial court ruling that cleared the way for the construction of a Hindu temple on a long-disputed site in northern India.
The vote in the national capital also comes as India’s economic growth is at its slowest in six years.
A win would be hugely symbolic and will likely embolden Modi and his party to continue pursuing a pro-Hindu agenda, while a loss could further dent his popularity.
“They [BJP] must be given a jolt. We are poor, but we are also humans. They only talk about divisions,” said Shabnam Mukhtar, a housewife from Shaheen Bagh, a working-class New Delhi neighbourhood where Muslim women have led a sit-in for nearly two months to protest the CAA.