Ankita Barthwal, Asim Ali ‘Bypassing the patronage tap: Evidence from Delhi assembly election 2020,’ Sage journals, October 7, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1177/23210230211043081
Examining how different welfare policies deployed by political parties have the potential to influence the outcome of their electoral performance, Ankita Barthwal and Asim Ali in their paper ‘Bypassing the patronage tap: Evidence from Delhi assembly election 2020’ have particularly focused on the adoption and use of the programmatic policies of welfare (PPW) by the Aam Aadmi Party. They analyse its significance in influencing voting behavior in the 2020 Delhi assembly elections.
Drawing attention to the transitions in the electoral arena in some of the Indian States from the ‘politics of particularistic welfare based on clientelism and patronage to that of programmatic policies of universal welfare’, this paper, with the help of the data that it had gathered through the stratified random sampling of the post-poll survey that was conducted in 14 assembly constituencies of Delhi, has brought forth the electoral appeal of the PPW in the 2020 Delhi assembly election.
This also suggests the possibilities of its political appeal in other Indian states as it promises universal welfare provisions irrespective of identitarian interests and ideological considerations.
From patronage to programmatic welfare
Unlike patronage policies that focus on the welfare of particular target groups, which limit welfare provision and electoral support within its clientelist circles, PPW provide goods and services to a universal public, devoid of identitarian divisions.
Thus they benefit a broader electorate and also help political parties to garner extensive electoral support.
Political parties do combine a mixed strategy of welfare — both policies of patronage and programmatic welfare to attune themselves to the varied demands of their electoral constituencies. Welfare policies endorsed by political parties in certain Indian States such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi have shown a growing political inclination towards the legislation of PPW for creating appeal beyond certain identity groups or communities for electoral victory and political sustenance.
Investigating whether PPW can influence voting behavior and enable a political platform where electoral issues can move beyond particularistic ethnic appeals to aspects of universal welfare provision, this paper provides insights into the importance of PPW in delivering victory for the Aam Aadmi Party in the 2020 Delhi assembly election.
How Delhi leads the show
Barthwal and Ali have stated how certain socio-political conditions peculiar to Delhi have been influential in creating a broader appeal for the application of PPW.
Being highly urbanised, comprising a larger population of the middle class, and an educated and more informed citizenry as well as a vigilant civil society, the demands of the electorate in Delhi are for an issue based, corruption-free and accountable politics.
The implementation of PPW such as universal provision of subsidised power and water, free bus rides for women, affordable healthcare and education, free public WiFi by the AAP in Delhi has produced positive electoral results for AAP by creating political reach amongst a broader populace.
Other factors such as absence of caste based political mobilisations, lack of political appeal based on ethnic cleavages, larger role for bureaucrats in operating the programmes and policies in elected governments of Delhi and an expansive information dissemination system have also been influential in generating demands and broadening support for PPW in Delhi.
These factors were also conducive in making the AAP government’s universal provision of public goods and services successful among the Delhi electorate and in establishing a cross-sectional political support.
This paper has additionally observed how the Bharatiya Janata Party’s attempts at polarising the voters with its ethno-nationalist and majoritarian issues failed to create an impact in Delhi’s electoral atmosphere, where the political record of the AAP in providing PPW and its assurance of universal, uniform and efficient governance devoid of any particularistic/sectional considerations increased the electoral tide in favour of AAP.
The observations made in this paper, through evidence produced in the case of the Delhi assembly elections, have thus also been important in informing us of the emerging electoral appeal of PPW in reducing the impact of divisive ethno-majoritarian appeals and the possibilities of constructing political support on the basis of programmatic welfare and universal governance.
Dhivya Sivaramane is pursuing her doctoral research at Delhi University.