Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party was facing a stunning defeat by a regional party Tuesday in elections in the national capital that were seen as a referendum on Modi’s policies such as a new national citizenship law that excludes Muslims.
Saturday’s New Delhi legislative elections pit Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party against the incumbent Aam Aadmi Party, or “common man’s” party, whose pro-poor policies focused on fixing state-run schools and providing cheap electricity, free health care and bus transport for women during its five years in power.
Modi and Home minister Amit Shah appealed to majority Hindus by focusing on national issues such as the citizenship law, which triggered widespread protests, at the expense of problems facing the capital’s millions of residents.
With more than 75% of the votes counted, the Aam Admi Party, or AAP, was leading in 63 of the 70 constituencies and the BJP in seven, the Election Commission said. The Congress party, led by Sonia Gandhi, was unlikely to win any seats.
Full results were expected later Tuesday.
A defeat is a setback to Modi’s prestige, coming less than eight months after he led the BJP to a resounding victory in national elections. The party won all seven of the capital’s parliamentary seats in those polls.
The victory will be a major boost for AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, the 51-year-old incumbent New Delhi chief minister and anti-corruption crusader.
Kejriwal joined hundreds of his supporters in celebrating the party’s performance. In a brief speech. he said the election “has given birth to a new brand of politics — politics of development″ meeting people’s basic needs.
There was no immediate reaction from the BJP’s top leadership.
Kejriwal launched his party in 2012 and campaigned to rid the Indian political system and government of corruption and inefficiency.
The party’s symbol — a broom— and its promise to sweep the administration of graft struck a chord with New Delhi nearly 20 million people.
In the 2015 elections, Kejriwal’s party won 67 seats and the BJP three.
Modi and Home Minister Shah campaigned vigorously in an attempt to unseat the AAP and capture power in New Delhi. The BJP last ruled New Delhi in the 1990s.