While Delhi celebrated the AAP victory in the Assembly Elections, most of us were left stunned by the degree of the jhaadu’s sweep. Aditya Vikram Yadav tells us why and how such a sweep came to be, the implications in light of the upcoming Bihar elections, and what it means for the AAP, BJP, and the Congress. Read it here in this insightful and detailed analysis. -(Arshu)
For all those of us who have read a paper, tuned in for the radio, watched TV News or traversed any part of Delhi during the past ten days, there has been no escaping the Delhi Elections. We witnessed the bombardment of advertisements, interviews, sound clips, sting ops, defections, name calling, hectic campaigning and blatant displays of wealth and power. We had upwards of 120 MPs, 30 Ministers, film stars and elaborate road shows, campaigns and election rallies, which turned the city into a politically charged, informed and ruthless electorate.
At the same time, it needs to be put into perspective that eight out of Delhi’s eleven districts found themselves as the best performing Districts in the entire country, with relatively high levels of literacy, employment, per capita incomes and standards of living. This turned Delhi into a unique type of electorate, as we saw well functioning service delivery mechanisms, generous funding from the Centre’s pool of taxes, a well equipped and trained police force, near universal rates of literacy,high per capita incomes and a consequently more effective and responsive administrative and grievance redressal system were in place. The District Development and Diversity Index Report released last week places eight of Delhi’s eleven districts among the top 20 districts in the country based on a multi-dimensional development index. This implied that government policies and plans affected citizens more forcefully than in other states, where the citizens interface with the state is very limited, due to low GSDP bases or inefficient service delivery. Therefore, the agenda was to be developmental, and local issues were to take prominence, which included more hospitals, lower electricity tariffs, legalization of colonies, consistent water supply, employment and entrenched corruption.
The result has been a phenomenal milestone for our polity, and has showcased some very interesting transitions in the Indian electorate, as they have shown a pattern towards a decisive mandate post the UP election results in 2012, after which state and General Elections have shown a greater tendency to be decisive, and reject fragmented, coalition based mandates. Secondly, it has continued the tendency towards a Presidential system, where the party, the local contestants and the issues are either dwarfed, or showcased through the prism of personalities. The trend has been observed in the General Elections, Delhi(2013), Andhra Pradesh(2014), Rajasthan(2014), Sikkim(2013), Madhya Pradesh(2014) and Chhatisgarh(2013). Thirdly, the divisions of caste and community seemed increasingly fragile, as the patterns of caste based voting were not fitting into the definitions of the ‘votebank’. Also, the electorate has become seemingly ruthless, as it gave the AAP 28 seats in December 2013, leaving it at less than ten assembly segments in the LokSabha Polls, and returning it with 67 out of 70 seats just ten months later, and it can be said that different patterns of voting or the state and General elections have become a norm. Lastly, the influence of money power has never been rejected as strongly by an electorate, as voting patterns have shown the BJP to have retained its votebank, with an additional one lakh voters having voted for it, as compared to 25 lakh additional votes for the AAP.
To understand the result, we must explore the issues raised in these elections. We see that subsidized electricity and water were effectively made a sine qua non by the AAP for its opponents, and issues limited to constituencies or to parts of Delhi were brought into prominence. Where the BJP failed was in its inability to bring out a party Manifesto, and to showcase a vision for Delhi 20XX as effectively and comprehensively as Kejriwal did. Moreover, the BJP was unable to, deliberately or otherwise, showcase KiranBedi as the harbinger of even the broad based vision document that they had published instead. An inability to connect to the local issues as effectively as the AAP had initially established the AAP in an advantageous position, as the BJP legislators were having to answer for even the past eight months under the LGs rule, something which brought in a bit of anti incumbency, mostly flagged by the opposition.
The question which arises now is simply what changed after December 2013? Or even after the Lok Sabha elections less than a year ago? The first reason for this is misdirected voting in the previous assembly election, as the anger against the incumbent UPA at the centre was taken out at the otherwise efficient and relatively transparent rule by Sheila Dikshit, as the General Elections were still months away. The voting patterns established then were bound to change, and the BJP took full advantage of that by holding Kejriwal accountable for ‘running away’ after a 49 day government. This, coupled with a formidable Modi wave swept the party away in the Lok Sabha, taking all 7 seats from Delhi.
The issue was, that post the accession of the Modi government, no revolutionary change in either policy or performance has been witnessed, and the rule by the Lieutenant Governor under the MHA has not accrued any noticeable change to Delhi either.
As the incumbents having received a clean sweep in the Lok Sabha, the BJP was widely expected to hold Delhi Assembly elections soon after, but the party’s state unit claimed it wasn’t ready. The Modi Government was also of the view that their government will bring tangible change within a year, and it will be more favourable to hold an election then. As the same narrative couldn’t be achieved completely, we saw a confused rhetoric from the BJP. Within this time, the AAP was back on the ground, campaigning extensively right after the elections as well, attempting to win back the confidence of the electorate.
Through the media, it was a known fact that the BJP had been nervous for the Delhi elections, and they were not sure of a sweeping majority if polls were held in end 2014. This was combined with an aggressive AAP campaign to press for elections, and a leaderless state unit of the BJP was conflicted within on ticket distribution, leadership and a range of issues. This was when the BJP played a masterstroke in response to AAP’s ‘Kejriwal v. Jagdish Mukhi’ campaign. They roped in Kiran Bedi, to whom Kejriwal had previously offered the CM’s chair, thus rendering the AAP speechless against the former colleague who was their principal opponent.
Conspiracy theorists had predicted that Kiran Bedi was to be disposed off of after the Assembly Elections, given the complete opposition of the Delhi State Unit to parachuting in of a CM candidate, along with the BJPs apprehension about Kiran Bedi’s outspoken nature, coupled with an absence of any loyalty to the ideological principles of her party. It had been argued that her seat, Krishna Nagar had been the pocketborough of Union Minister and former CM candidate Dr. Harsh Vardhan, and tilting the vote another way would not be a challenge for the party unit. Bedi was seen to be a buffer between the Modi-Shah duo and a possible election defeat, much like the Congress’s strategy in elections, where the loss was attributed to the party, while the wins were credited to Rahul Gandhi.
The most important aspect of this election is its implication for the BJP, and on the mood of the polity in the upcoming elections. Along with this, we will need to explore the consequences on the upcoming elections in Bihar, and on the perceptible position of the Central Government.
The first and most obvious implication is the end of the Modi wave, in the face of a challenging domestic economic scenario and slowdown in the West, as it has failed to live up to the expectations in this short span of time. This however, can at best be a secondary reason for the result, as this has been more of a positive verdict in favour of Arvind Kejriwal rather than a negative vote against Modi, Kiran Bedi or the BJP. At the same time, this doesn’t take away from the fact that the Modi juggernaut has baeen stalled convincingly for the time being.
Secondly, the process of government formation in Jammu & Kashmir was hinged on the Delhi results, as the impasse reached between the PDP and the BJP was only to be broken by the extent of leverage the BJP would receive through the Delhi result. In the face of such a decimation, the process of government formation will continue as it is unless the BJP steps down its demands with regard to the prospective government.
The third implication is on the government’s strength in the Rajya Sabha, as the BJP is in a minority in the RS, and back of the envelope calculations on coming Rajya Sabha elections show the situation to be precarious at best, given especially the ‘ekla chalo’ strategy the BJP has adopted. The loss in Delhi has meant that the AAP will take three seats in the 250 member Rajya Sabha, and will also affect numbers from a more critical state, Bihar, where elections will be held by the middle of the year.
Given last year’s separation between the BJP-JD(U), and the subsequent talks for the reunification of the pan-India Janata Parivar, Bihar has gone through a great deal of political churning over the past two years. The way elections are matching up as of now, Lalu and Nitish on one side, will be pitted against the BJP which will possibly be led by Jitan Ram Manjhi, the current CM and Dalit leader, who will play a vital role in steering the Mahadalits to the BJP from the JD(U).
Delhi’s elections are seen to be an important precursor to Bihar, because the largest community population by numbers is now the native Bihari migrant, and not the Punjabis. Moreover, the Modi Magic can no longer be expected to rework the magic of 2014 months after a crushing defeat. The formidable Janata Party opposition will anyway pose a huge challenge to the BJP in Bihar, which sense 20 odd members to the Rajya Sabha from its quota. It will be challenging for the party to fend off the joint might of Lalu and Nitish right after a debacle, and in the absence of any special package for Bihar.
The lure of special financial packages bring into focus the next Union Budget at the end of the month, and what implications these elections are seen to have on the budget. The budget will attempt to accommodate all the pet demands of the AAP and what had been provided in its own Vision Document, so as to not allow the Delhi Government to initiate a blame game. At the same time, the BJP will also need to fastrack the Bawana Power Plant and allocate funding for the subsidized solar energy utilization programme contemplated by both parties.
Before concluding, there’s a need to highlight the larger trends which the Delhi election signifies, without delving into much detail. Firstly, the irony is not lost on the BJP that the 10% opposition rule it dictated to the Congress I Parliament for the post of LoP will also be used against them in the Delhi Assembly. The Delhi Election was important for just one primary reason, the emergence of a credible voice in the opposition in the Indian polity to resist and correct the policies, programmes, acts and omissions of an increasingly majoritarian and high handed government. It will also force the NDA to show results, as Kejriwal seeks to find a national role for the party by 2019. Also, Modi will need to show results if he has to win by another landslide from Varanasi for the next Lok Sabha, as the giant killer Kejriwal will also possibly be contesting. Any close shaves at that point are only going to embarrass the BJP further.
Equally important is the disappearance of the Congress, which did not as much as put up a fight, and with a rudderless leadership it will be challenging to resist mentally writing off the Congress Party’s future. The class versus caste divide has also never been broken or overcome as comprehensively as it has in this election, and the same needs to be identified in consonance with the agenda set by the parties. It needs to be emphasized that the voting patterns mirrored the agenda set by the parties, and it remains to be seen how much of the onus of communal and caste based politics lies on the parties that practice it.
Finally, the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party has been built on the bedrock of the Dalits, Muslims and the middle class of the city, along with a sizeable number of Punjabi Khatri supporters. The community has always been loyal to the BJP, but all the seats in Punjabi dominated areas were lost to the AAP by both the SAD and the BJP. Therefore, as the mandate has been surprisingly unanimous, one cannot begin to comprehend the magnitude of the expectations the electorate has put in the AAP. To achieve this with a completely inexperienced cabinet and with legislators born out of revolution will be a challenge for the party. But just like the rest of the city, I voted to bring Kejriwal to the secretariat, and Modi back to the ground. Hopefully, we will see synergy through the spirit of cooperative federalism for developing affordable housing, sanitation and clean tapped water for all, along with additional hospital beds and timely completion of the Delhi Metro Phase III.