The ongoing protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) at Shaheen Bagh has been successfully turned into an election issue by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), if the exit poll results released on Saturday are any indicator of the voter sentiments.
All the major exit polls have given the saffron party more seats than it won in 2015. While the Times Now-IPSOS exit poll has predicted 26 seats for the BJP, Republic TV-Jan Ki Baat exit poll says that it will win anywhere between nine and 21 seats.
Astonishingly, the Republic TV exit poll has predicted a vote share of approximately 40 per cent for the BJP, just 11 per cent less than what AAP is slated to win. In fact, all the major exit polls have predicted a significant rise in the support base for the BJP in terms of vote share percentage compared to corresponding figures for 2015.
The BJP had won from just three seats in 2015. This time around, BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, campaigned aggressively on the issue, bringing up the traffic delays caused due to the Shaheen Bagh protest at almost all of their rallies in the lead-up to the voting.
What can't be missed here is that the spike in the number of voters choosing the BJP has happened inspite of the party's effort to 'nationalise the election' around the citizenship law protests and despite AAP's attempts to keep the polls local.
"Be it Jamia or Shaheen Bagh, these are plots to destroy the national harmony," PM Modi had said at his rally in New Delhi on Feb 3.
As per the NewsX-POLSTRAT exit poll, the BJP will win between 10 and 14 seats. The ABP-CVoter poll has projected a BJP victory on 5-19 seats.
Significantly, the minority-dominated seats that witnessed violence over the citizenship act were the ones which recorded higher-than-average voter turnout, be it Seelampur, Matia Mahal, or Mustafabad in north-east Delhi for that matter. While Delhi's overall turnout was recorded at 57 per cent at the end of the voting period, both Seelampur and Matia Mahal witnessed approximately 65 per cent of the eligible voters casting the ballot. Mustafabad, on the other hand, saw more than 66 per cent of the voters heading to their polling booths to vote.
A senior political journalist reckoned that, although the BJP has kept its vote share in Delhi intact in last previous two assembly elections, the projected jump in the voters polling the BJP could well be the result of "Amit Shah's efforts to make the assembly polls a national election."
"While Kejriwal has been careful to not fall in the trap (of taking sides in the Shaheen Bagh protest), the fact remains that the BJP has been able to influence some of the voters due to their active campaigning on the issue," he explained. Girraj, a voter in Greater Kailash constituency, said that he backs the appeals of the Prime Minister on standing strong against "anti-national" forces, a veiled reference to the citizenship law protestors at Shaheen Bagh.
"We have to think about the country. We must trust our Prime Minister, regardless whether it is a national or a local election," he said.
The senior scribe claimed that the BJP will now not be able to wash their hands off the issue in coming elections, due to the very fact that it has been invoked consistently by senior party figures in these elections.
"If the Deputy Chief Minister says that he no longer stands with shaheen Bagh then that will make a key move on the whole thing," said BJP leader Tom Vadakkan during one of the television debates, when asked if the protest at Shaheen Bagh could have played on the minds of Delhi's voters at the time of casting their ballots.
The Delhi deputy CM had said last month, at the beginning of the campaigning, that he stood with protestors at Shaheen Bagh.
The election to the 70-member Delhi legislative assembly witnessed a voter turnout of approximately 59 per cent, lower than the number of eligible voters who had cast their ballot in 2015 and 2013.
(Updated with quotes from a voter on Sunday).