Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party suffered a humiliating defeat in a prestigious election for the local government in the capital, New Delhi – the first held since widespread protests erupted against a new citizenship law that critics say is anti-Muslim.
The Aam Aadmi or Common Man’s party that was founded seven years ago on an anti-corruption platform secured a sweeping win, taking 62 of the 70 seats in the Delhi legislature. The BJP trailed with only eight seats, although that was a slight improvement on its previous tally.
The Aam Aadmi party had wooed voters on its record of improving schools and health care facilities in the city of 20 million people, providing subsidized electricity for low-income families and free bus rides for women.
The Hindu nationalist BJP, meanwhile, had focused a polarizing campaign on a nearly two-month long sit-in in a Muslim neighborhood. Protesters have demanded the rollback of the citizenship law that excludes Muslim immigrants from three neighboring countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan – from becoming citizens in a fast-track process.
Making nationalism its poll plank, senior BJP ministers had called protesters unpatriotic and traitors who wanted to break up the country.
Modi’s BJP won a huge victory in national elections in May but has fared poorly in regional elections – since December 2018, it has lost six state polls, shrinking its footprint across the country.
Protests that killed at least 25 people broke out across the country in mid-December, after the ruling party passed a new citizenship law that opponents say violates India’s secular constitution and discriminates against the Muslim minority.