Interpreting the AAP win

While one should not consider the Delhi Assembly election result as a referendum on the performance of the Modi-led government at the Centre, this rout shows that despite the massive victories of the BJP since the general election, it still remains vulnerable in a direct contest

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:35 pm IST

Published - February 11, 2015 12:46 am IST

The massive victory for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi does not merely indicate very strong electoral support for the AAP; it indicates the huge faith the people of Delhi have reposed in this new party and its relatively new leader, Arvind Kejriwal. The man who was labelled as a bhagoda , the man who was blamed for running away without delivering what he had promised to the people, has led the party not just to victory but to a stunning victory in Delhi. Hardly has there been an occasion in Indian politics when a party has registered such a massive victory. It was only in Sikkim, when the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) managed to win all the 32 seats in the Assembly, twice in 1989 and 2009 and only one less during the 2004 Assembly elections. There have been a few other big victories by regional parties in different States, but nothing when compared to the victory of the AAP where it has won 67 of the 70 Assembly seats. The country has witnessed the 1977 Janata wave, the 1984 Rajiv Gandhi wave, the 1989 V.P. Singh wave, and this election certainly goes into the history of Indian elections as yet another wave election, namely a “Kejriwal wave” in Delhi or even more than that.

Dramatic change After the massive victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party during the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP continued its victory march in all the State Assembly elections held after that. To many, it seemed the BJP was invincible. The victory rath of the BJP has not only been halted by Mr. Kejriwal, but actually wrecked by the AAP. For the BJP it is not merely a defeat; this may be its most humiliating defeat, after it managed to win only three seats and polled only 32 per cent of votes. Compared to the 2013 Assembly elections, when no party managed to get a majority, the AAP has managed to improve its tally by 39 seats, with its vote share going up by nearly 22 percentage points. On the other hand, the vote share of the BJP has declined marginally by one-and-a-half percentage points when compared to the 2013 Assembly elections and by nearly 12 percentage points when compared to the 2014 election. One can hardly believe that the party that led in 60 of the 70 Assembly segments barely eight months ago would now be routed. It is important to understand what really happened during the last eight months that has now completely changed the electoral landscape of Delhi — of how a party, which led over its nearest rival by more than 13 per cent of the total votes, trailed behind that party in barely a few months time.

Campaigning style This is more a positive vote for the AAP than a negative one for the BJP or Narendra Modi. Had this been a negative vote for the BJP, the AAP may not have managed to register such a massive victory. While almost all parties promised to provide electricity and water supply at reduced rates, and greater security for women, in reality, the entire election turned into a referendum on the AAP’s chief ministerial candidate, Arvind Kejriwal, and the AAP managed to benefit by projecting himself/itself from this phenomenon. The popularity of Mr. Kejriwal was much higher when compared to any other leader. Even the votes polled by the AAP are a clear indication that some sections of voters voted for the AAP only due to Mr. Kejriwal. Initially, though a large number of voters seemed to have been polarised in favour of different parties, some may have shifted their voting preference from other parties to the AAP at the very last minute of voting, keeping in mind the prospective Chief Minister.

This election seems to have witnessed the sharpest class divide among Delhi’s voters ... the Congress, which used to enjoy large support among Delhi’s poor, has surrendered its entire support base to the AAP

The projection of Kiran Bedi as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate to counter the popularity of Mr. Kejriwal seems to have backfired. She not only failed to muster additional support for the party but also lost her own election from the Krishna Nagar Assembly seat. Sensing that the Bedi card may not work, the BJP paratrooped a large number of its Members of Parliament, Cabinet Ministers and Chief Ministers to campaign for the party and help its candidates. The BJP could not assess if this would help its candidates and it was a move that finally resulted in a very aggressive, negative and personal campaign against Mr. Kejriwal through advertisements in newspapers, which enormously damaged the BJP’s prospects. While the AAP remained largely positive in its campaign, the negative campaign of the BJP damaged the party to a great extent. This to a great extent explains the massive defeat of the BJP.

In such a victory, one would thought that every section of voters would have voted for the winning party, but still the AAP was far more popular among the poor and the lower class voters when compared to the middle or upper class voters. Even during the past Assembly election, voters have remained sharply divided about their preferences on class lines in Delhi, but this election seems to have witnessed the sharpest class divide among Delhi’s voters. The Congress, which used to enjoy large support among Delhi’s poor, has surrendered its entire support base to the AAP.

Voter base and support What seems to have contributed to the AAP victory is a very sharp polarisation of the minorities mainly the Muslims, who constitute 11 per cent of Delhi’s voters. With their concentration in about seven to eight Assembly constituencies, they were in a position to swing the elections in these constituencies. The Muslim vote, which remained divided between the Congress and the AAP during the 2013 Assembly elections, seems to have shifted in favour of the AAP in a big way. Had the 2013 Assembly elections witnessed a similar shift for the AAP in its favour, this election may not have been necessary.

The shift of the Muslim vote towards the AAP had happened during the 2014 general election, but the enormous popularity of the BJP among various other sections of voters, namely the Punjabi Khatris, the Jats, the Other Backward Classes and various other castes, negated the influence of the Muslim vote for the AAP. Like in many other States, the Congress has lost its Muslim support even in Delhi. Though a sizeable proportion of Sikh voters voted for the AAP, their vote remains largely divided between the two main parties.

Dalits seem to have voted for the AAP in large numbers, though even among them, the upper and middle class Dalits seem to have sided with the BJP in sizeable numbers. This explains to a great extent the AAP winning all the Dalit reserved seats in Delhi. The Punjabis seem to have remained loyal to the BJP, but this does not appear to have been enough for the party to defeat the AAP. The land acquisition ordinance seems to have negatively affected the BJP as sections of Jats, having land in Uttar Pradesh or Haryana, and with a sizeable presence in many constituencies in outer Delhi, seem to have voted for the AAP. This may have given the edge to the AAP in many Jat-dominated constituencies.

The big question is this: how do we see this defeat? Is this verdict a defeat of Narendra Modi or of the BJP? While I would personally not consider this to be a referendum on the performance of the Narendra Modi-led Central government, this rout should mean much more than a loss for the BJP. It has once again shown that in spite of the massive victory of the BJP in the general election and the Assembly elections thereafter, it still remains vulnerable in a direct contest, as it has happened in Delhi. Symbolically, this defeat of the BJP will boost the morale of the leaders of the Opposition. We have seen Trinamool Congress workers celebrating on the streets of Kolkata the BJP’s defeat, but I doubt whether this will in any way help in consolidating the already existing electoral base of regional parties in States going to the polls in the next year or so. The dynamics of electoral politics in States like Bihar or West Bengal or U.P. are different; parties need to strategise keeping this in mind rather than misreading the message that the popularity of the BJP and Mr. Modi have declined. If they think so, they are making a huge mistake.

(Sanjay Kumar is Director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.)

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