Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supporters celebrate at the party headquarters in New Delhi on February 11, 2020. (Photo by MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right wing party has suffered a crushing defeat in an election for control of the capital New Delhi after a vitriolic campaign in which it concentrated on defending a controversial new nationality law.

Followers of the upstart Aam Aadmi Party danced in the streets and set off fireworks after their leader Arvind Kejriwal, a tax officer turned anti-corruption campaigner, easily won a second term on Tuesday.

The defeat in Delhi is the latest in a string of setbacks for Modi’s BJP in regional elections over the past two years.

The AAP, or “common man” party, won 62 of the 70 assembly seats. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party increased its tally from three to eight in the city of 20 million people but was still left licking its wounds after conducting a bruising campaign.

Modi, whose party won a second landslide in national elections last year, congratulated Kejriwal and his party. “Wishing them the very best in fulfilling the aspirations of the people of Delhi,” he said on Twitter.

The BJP used the election to rally support for a law easing citizenship rules for religious minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but excluding Muslims. At least 25 people have been killed in protests over the legislation.

It vowed to end a protest against the law by women blocking a New Delhi highway for the past two months if elected. One BJP deputy minister was banned from the campaign for chanting “shoot the traitors” at a rally. Afterwards, there were three shootings at demonstrations in Delhi.

Another minister called Kejriwal a “terrorist” and BJP leaders also branded him an agent for arch-rival Pakistan.

“The BJP indulged in politics of hate,” said AAP deputy leader Manish Sisodia.

A volunteer working for the AAP was killed late Tuesday in a post-result shooting targeting a convoy carrying a lawmaker, the party said.

– ‘Politics of work’ –

The protests against the nationality law are the biggest challenge faced by Modi since he first became prime minister in 2014.

Analysts said he had been counting on a good performance in Delhi to revitalise his standing atop a government pressing for a greater Hindu identity in the officially secular nation. Muslims in particular feel targeted.

Kejriwal, 51, fought the election on local issues such as the subsidised water and electricity he has introduced, as well as the safety of women.

Delhi’s people had chosen “the politics of work,” Kejriwal said.

He was congratulated by chief ministers from states across India, with some calling for an alliance of regional parties against the BJP.

Yogendra Yadav, an academic who was a member of the AAP executive until 2015 and now has his own party, said the result was a clear rejection of Modi and his party’s angry campaign.

“The BJP indulged in one of the most vitriolic, communal hate mongering campaigns as a desperate electoral gamble,” he told AFP.

“If this succeeded, it would have become a template for everyone else to follow.”

The Congress party, led by the storied Gandhi-Nehru dynasty and the main opposition at the national level, won no seats in the city that it controlled for 15 years up to 2013 when Kejriwal first became chief minister.