(Siddharth Varadarajan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, Shiv Nadar University)
Before Arvind Kejriwal breaks out the aam aadmi's equivalent of champagne, he would do well to remember how the exit polls of December 2013 got the Delhi result horribly wrong the last time the city voted for its Assembly.
Apart from Chanakya, who gave the Aam Aadmi Party 31 seats, virtually every other exit poll projected the AAP finishing in single digits as a poor third, well behind the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress. So today, if the story the exit polls are telling is of an AAP victory or even landslide, the party's supporters would be well advised to wait for the first actual trends and results on February 10th.
Regardless of the final election result, however, three conclusions are inescapable.
First, the BJP messed up its strategy badly and ended up fighting with its back to the wall despite the advantages that Narendra Modi's popularity as a national leader and the size of its election fund provided it. The source of most of its funding remains unknown but that's a point for another discussion. The fact is that the BJP unnecessarily delayed the Delhi election, mysteriously purged the one candidate, Dr Harsh Vardhan, who would have given the party a boost, parachuted in the controversial Kiran Bedi over the heads of its local leadership and wasted the 'Modi card' by using it in such a negative way. An AAP leader described the BJP's overall strategy as "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory." If the party still manages to win, it will be because voters decided to play safe and choose a party that is also in power at the Centre so as to ensure a smoother financial ride for the national capital.
Second, the AAP, which was being written off after its failure to win a single Lok Sabha seat from its Delhi stronghold has managed to bring itself back into the centre of the political game. Kejriwal diluted the 'bhagoda' charge by taking it on the chin and apologizing for his blunder, but he also used that mistake to leverage the unique appeal of AAP: "We had consulted you, the people of Delhi, on every decision we had taken till then. Our mistake was in not going back to you before resigning." Even if the party effort falls short of the 'paanch saal' Kejriwal sought from the city's electorate, this is no mean accomplishment. The AAP leader has succeeded in putting the taint of abandoning his position as Chief Minister after 49 days in power behind him now.
Third, the Congress ran a desultory campaign in which the last minute appearance of its vice-president, Rahul Gandhi, failed to convince voters that the party had any reasonable prospects. The final outcome, of course, will depend on the extent to which the Congress vote collapsed. All exit poll results bar one indicate a calamitous decline in its vote share as erstwhile Congress supporters chose AAP instead. But if the decline is not that steep, the BJP will end up benefiting. Indeed, the political grapevine was abuzz the past few days with the rumour that BJP president Amit Shah had mobilized his supporters to throng Rahul Gandhi's road show in an attempt to convince Congress voters not to give up hope!
But more than the Congress decline and the apparent plateauing of the 'Modi wave', Delhi 2015 has been marked by the revival of the AAP. How did the party manage this despite its meagre resources, internal divisions and the hostility of a large section of the media?