The Aam Aadmi Party has retained the Bawana assembly seat in Delhi today in a booster shot for Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Delhi's ruling party has won a by-election for the seat by a big 24,000 votes, leaving behind the BJP and the Congress, which had hoped to enter the Delhi assembly with AAP as it ran neck and neck in the early rounds of counting today.
The Congress finally settled for number 3 again. Victory for AAP's Ram Chander is sweeter as he defeated Ved Prakash, who had won Bawana as an AAP candidate in the assembly elections but quit the party just key civic polls in March before this year and joined the BJP. The by-election was held because Ved Prakash had to resign as a legislator after shifting to the BJP.
"Aam Aadmi Party has won and we would like to thank the people. VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) has been used and we're thankful for that. BJP will now be removed," Delhi minister Satyendar Jain said. The comment was an allusion to charges of voter fraud the AAP had championed amid a string of defeats.
The Bawana by-election was seen as a crucial test of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his AAP's popularity in the only state the party rules, after a nosedive since it swept the Delhi assembly elections in 2015.
"I asked Kejriwal to let me do the talking and not to take unnecessary panga (fight) with Modi. He listened and the result is for everyone to see," AAP's candidate Ram Chander said.
It was also seen as a test of the popularity of the rival parties ahead the 2019 national election, in which the BJP hopes win all seven Lok Sabha seats as it did in 2014. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was said to be watching the Bawana election closely.
It was also a prestige battle for the BJP's Delhi chief Manoj Tiwari, who draws key support from Delhi's "Poorvanchali" voters, made up of people from UP and Bihar. Bawana, one of Delhi's biggest assembly constituencies, has a big presence of Poorvanchalis.
Today's win means that AAP has 66 MLAs in the state assembly of 70 members, still a crushing majority; it had won 67 in the assembly elections leaving only three for the BJP. The BJP had hoped to add a fifth seat to its kitty today after snatching the Rajouri constituency from AAP in another by-election earlier this year.
AAP was also trounced by the BJP in the Delhi civic polls, only weeks after being pummelled in assembly elections in Punjab and Goa.
The Congress, which had till 2013 ruled Delhi for 15 years straight, had drawn a blank in the assembly elections in 2015 and continues to have no presence in the assembly. It had fielded a seasoned politician and three-time Bawana legislator Surender Kumar in the by-election.
The Delhi Chief Minister, his ministers and other top party colleagues campaigned hard in Bawana, with Mr Kejriwal camping there every Sunday for the past few weeks, asking voters to choose his party again.