The reckoning

Delhi is the testing ground for a new political party and a set of campaign issues with a new visibility.

Delhi is only one of the five states that are electing a new assembly and government, but it stands apart for significant departures from politics as usual. This election will test the substance of a new force, the Aam Aadmi Party, which, despite lacking a seasoned organisation, has expertly created a buzz about its presence. It will be read for how much the AAP's projected focus on transparency and grassroots governance, or the particular solutions and alternatives it offers, resonates with the electorate, and the efficacy of an electoral strategy that grew out of a pitch directed primarily at the middle classes.

After the volatility and churn of the 1990s, the format of political competition has largely stabilised over the last decade or so both at the Centre and in the states. The major contenders are now established, and constituencies mostly carved up, and small swings in vote share determine outcomes. The AAP makes its electoral debut in such a scenario and the results will reveal whether and to what extent an outsider can unsettle expectations and routines, and make room for itself.

Apart from the novelty of a new political player, this election is also marked by a new set of high-visibility issues, from corruption to the safety of women, along with simmering concerns about price rise, power tariffs and infrastructure. There is a large contingent of young voters who have appeared to shed the cynicism of an older generation, to protest on the streets, and gather in large numbers to express their discontent. It remains to be seen whether these newly mobilised individuals will also show up to vote and whether "young people" have any set of preferences or interests in common. After the December 16 gangrape that shook Delhi, women's safety is no longer a matter that could be ignored by any political party. The BJP, Congress and AAP have made large promises about better street lighting, CCTVs, special protection patrols and safer GPS-enabled public transport. All parties have strengthened their appeal to migrants, especially from UP and Bihar, who form a sizeable part of the population they have talked of regularising colonies and devising special social schemes and made conspicuous gestures on chhath puja. An urban arena that registers change before others, Delhi this time will reveal what now matters keenly to its citizens, and whether parties have their finger on the social pulse.

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