Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 10, February 28, 2015
Political Significance of Aam Aadmi Party (Aap) and its Performance in Delhi Poll 2015
Sunday 1 March 2015
by M.R. Biju
The Aam Admi Party (Common Man’s Party) was launched on November 26, 2012 and is currently the ruling party of Delhi. It came into existence following differences between the activists Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare regarding whether or not to politicise the popular India Against Corruption movement that had been demanding a Jan Lokpal Bill since 2011. Hazare preferred that the movement should remain politically unaligned while Kejriwal felt the failure of the agitation route necessitated a direct political involvement. The party’s first electoral test was in the 2013 Delhi Legislative Assembly election, from which it emerged as the second-largest party, winning 28 of the 70 seats. With no party obtaining an overall majority, the AAP formed a minority government with conditional support from the Indian National Congress. A significant part of its agenda was to quickly introduce the Jan Lokpal Bill in the Union Territory. When it became clear after the election that the other major parties would not support this Bill, the AAP Government resigned. It had been in power for 49 days. In the 2015 Delhi Legislative Assembly election, the AAP swept nearly all seats, winning 67 of the 70. Its chief opponent, the Bharatiya Janata Party, was reduced to three seats, while the Indian National Congress was reduced to zero. Keeping this background in view, this paper attempts to address two vital aspects, namely, the evolution and political importance of the AAP and its performance in the recently held Assembly polls in Delhi.
Part - i
Origin and Evolution of Aap
The origin of the AAP can be traced to a differe-nce of opinion between Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare, social activists who had both been involved in Team Anna, a strand of the anti-corruption movement for the Jan Lokpal Bill that had gained momentum in India during 2011 and 2012. Hazare had wanted to keep the movement politically neutral but Kejriwal considered that direct involvement in politics was necessary because attempts to obtain progress regarding the Jan Lokpal Bill through talks with the existing political parties had, in his opinion, achieved nothing. A survey conducted on a Facebook page that purported to be operated by India Against Corruption and other social networking services had indicated that there was wide support for politicisation. Hazare rejected the poll, saying: “Elections require huge funds, which will be tough for activists to organise without compromising on their values.” He also said it would be difficult to ensure that candidates are not corrupted once elected.
Hazare and Kejriwal agreed on September 19, 2012 that their differences regarding a role in politics were irreconcilable. Kejriwal had support from some anti-corruption movement activists, such as Prashant Bhushan and Shanti Bhushan, but was opposed by others, such as Kiran Bedi and Santosh Hegde. On October 2, Kejriwal announced that he was forming a political party and that he intended to formally launch it on November 26, coinciding with the anniversary of India’s adoption of its Constitu-tion in 1949.
The party’s name reflects the phrase Aam Aadmi, or “common man”, whose interests Kejriwal proposed to represent. A party constitution was adopted on November 24, 2012, when a National Council comprising 320 people and a National Executive of 23 were also formed. Both the Council and Executive were expected to have more members in due course, the intention being that all districts and all classes of people would have a voice. Various committees were proposed to be formed to draft proposals for adoption by the party in a process that was expected to take several months. Although one aim was to limit nepotism, there were complaints at this initial meeting that the selection of people invited to attend was itself an example of such practices. The party was formally launched in Delhi on November 26 and in March 2013 it was registered as a political party by the Election Commission of India.
The AAP says that the promise of equality and justice, that forms a part of the Constitution of India and its Preamble, has not been fulfilled and that the independence of India has replaced enslavement to an oppressive foreign power by that to a political elite. The party claims that the common people of India remain unheard and unseen except when it suits the politicians. It wants to reverse the way that the accounta-bility of the government operates and has taken an interpretation of the Gandhian concept of swaraj as a tenet. It believes that through swaraj the government will be directly accountable to the people instead of higher officials. The swaraj model lays stress on self-governance, community- building and decentralisation.
Kejriwal has said that the AAP refuses to be guided by ideologies and that they are entering politics to change the system: “We are aam aadmis. If we find our solution in the Left, we are happy to borrow it from there. If we find our solution in the Right, we are happy to borrow it from there.” In early 2014, there was some media speculation that an alliance might form between the AAP and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M). Prakash Karat, the CPI-M leader, thought that there were some ideological similarities between the two parties, such as their agendas relating to social justice and decentralisation of power. The AAP’s Prashant Bhushan explicitly refuted any joining of forces, claiming that there was corruption within the CPI-M. A columnist, T.C.A. Srinivasa Raghavan, has said that the AAP is Right-wing when it comes to morality and Left-wing when it comes to economics.
Delhi Assembly Election, 2013
The 2013 Delhi State Assembly election was the party’s first electoral contest. The Election Commission approved the symbol of a “broom” for use by the AAP in that campaign. The party said that its candidates were honest and had been screened for potential criminal backgro-unds. The AAP published its central manifesto on November 20 2013, promising to implement the Jan Lokpal Bill within 15 days of coming to power.
In November 2013, a sting operation conduc-ted by Media Sarkar, alleged that several leaders of the AAP, including Kumar Vishwas and Shazia Ilmi, had agreed to extend their support to some people seeking assistance with land deals and other financial arrangements in return for donations in cash to the AAP. Ilmi offered to withdraw her candidature as a result but the party refused to accept her offer, describing the footage as fabricated and a violation of the Model Code of Conduct. The Election Commission ordered an inquiry regarding the legitimacy of the video.
The AAP emerged as the second largest party in Delhi winning 28 of the 70 Assembly seats; the Bharatiya Janata Party, as the single-largest party, won 31 while its ally Shiromani Akali Dal won one, Indian National Congress secured eight and two were won by others. On December 28, 2013, the AAP formed a minority government in the hung Assembly, with what Sheila Dikshit describes as “not unconditional” support from the Indian National Congress. Arvind Kejriwal became the second youngest Chief Minister of Delhi. As a result of the Delhi election, the AAP became a recognised State party in Delhi.
General Election 2014
The party fielded 434 candidates in the 2014 general election, in which it did not expect to do well. It recognised that its support was based primarily in urban areas and that different strategies might be required for regions such as Uttar Pradesh where caste-based politics constitutes the norm. The party pointed out that its funding was limited and that there was too much demand for local visits from Kejriwal. The intention was to field a lot of candidates to maximise the likelihood that it would achieve official recognition by the ECI as a national party. The outcome was that four AAP candidates were elected, all of whom were from Punjab. As a result of its performance in these elections, the AAP became a recognised State party in Punjab. The party obtained two per cent of all votes cast and 414 of its candidates forfeited their deposits by failing to secure one-sixth of the votes in their constituencies. Although the party secured 32.9 per cent of the votes in Delhi, it failed to win any seat there.
Part - iI
Delhi Assembly Poll, February 2015
The Delhi State Assembly poll for the sixth Legislative Assembly was held on February 7, 2015. The AAP started campaigning in Delhi since November 2014 and declared candidates for all the 70 seats inducting new faces in as many as 27 constituencies. AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal was the chief ministerial candidate and contesting the election from the New Delhi seat again. Other known names and prominent faces in their candidates’ list were Jarnail Singh, Surinder Singh (commando), ex-Transport Minister for Delhi Saurabh Bhardwaj, ex-Education Minister Manish Sisodia, ex-Law Minister Somnath Bharti who came into limelight for a controversial confrontation with the police. The party said that its candidates were honest and had been screened for potential criminal backgrounds. Arvind Kejriwal declared that the approaching election was a straight fight between the AAP and Bharatiya Janata Party because the Indian National Congress seemed to have lost its presence.
The BJP declared former IPS officer and India Against Corruption activist Kiran Bedi as its chief ministerial candidate who, according to Shanti Bhushan, one of the founding members of Aam Aadmi Party, was the biggest challenge for Arvind Kejriwal. Kejriwal’s statement “paise lekar sting kar lo” asking volunteers to take bribes from other parties and do a sting created a controversy. Kejriwal claimed that the BJP had been trying to bribe the AAP volunteers. The situation became such that the Election Commission of India, issued a notice to Kejriwal to desist from breaking the laws governing the model code of conduct for elections. The Delhi court finally allowed Kejriwal to put forth his plea in the matter.
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 Kejriwal, but actually wrecked by the AAP. For the BJP it is not merely a defeat; this maybe its most humiliating defeat, having managed to, win only three seats and polled only 32 per cent of the 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 Lok Sabha 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 interesting 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.
In a stunning victory the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) swept the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) out of Dethi. The AAP won a staggering 67 seats in the 70-member Assembly with its vote-share soaring to 54.3 per cent from the 33.8 per cent it got in the Lok Sabha election last year. The BJP won only three seats with 32.2 per cent vote-share as the Congress, in a first, drew a blank with just about 9.7 per cent of the votes. Winning the hearts of the masses and classes, the AAP stormed the traditional Congress bastions, particularly the minority-dominated areas and the slum clusters, where the promise of free power found great resonance. The party also swept the posh South Dethi constituencies. It won over the urban underclass, which had so far been voting for Shiela Dikshit’s version of Congress welfarism, and captured the elite constituencies that had been swayed by Narendra Modi’s development plank in the Lok Sabha poll, Kejriwal’s appeal cut across every section of the electorate. The AAP steam-rolled the Opposition in Valmiki and Muslim dominated seats such as Trilokpuri and Seelampur as well as the up-market constituen-cies of Greater Kailash and Malavya Nagar.
Also, the AAP was able to catch the imagination of the “aspirational voter” hitherto attracted to Narendra Modi, accounting for the party’s additional 14 per cent vote-share in the Lok Sabha election. For the BJP the development rhetoric and ‘Modi magic’ failed to work The BJP lost in all but one—Rohini—of the five seats where the Prime Minister addressed mega-rallies. Of the other four constituencies, in Ambedkar Nagar and Dwarka, the AAP candidates won by over 40,000 votes. In Karkardooma, which falls in the Krishna Nagar constituency, the AAP nominee defeated Kiran Bedi, the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate. And Ballimaran, the home of the Rathlila Maidan from where Modi had addressed his first rally, also went to the AAP.
BJP President Amit Shah’s strategy of inducting Kiran Bedi and projecting her as the chief ministerial candidate came a cropper. This was a departure from the strategy followed since the Lok Sabha election where the BJP did not project a chief ministerial candidate, and fought the elections on the Prime Minister’s popular appeal. Shah also inducted several other outsiders, including Krishna Tirath from the Congress, Vinod Kumar Binny and M.S. Dhir from the AAP. But the strategy backfired as Bedi not only failed to mount a serious challenge to Kejriwal, she also alienated the party’s State satraps and provoked dissensions in the BJP ranks. Bedi lost from Krishna Nagar, a seat known as the BJP’s “fortress”, from where party veteran Harsh Vardhan has been elected five times. Binny and Dhir lost from Patpargunj and Jungpura, respectively.
As BJP spokespersons struggled to assert that the Delhi elections were neither a reflection on the Prime Minister or the party-president, or indeed a referendum on the BJP regime at the Centre, the AAP was eager to drive home the message that the “Modi juggernaut had been stopped”, as senior AAP leader Yogendra Yadav put it. While the BJP suffered a severe loss of face, humiliation was reserved for the Congress, whose vote-share appeared to be in a free fall—from 24.55 per cent in the 2013 Assembly election to 15.22 per cent in the Lok Sabha poll in May 2014 to 9.7 per cent in the just concluded Assembly poll. Taking responsibility for the defeat, Congress General Secretary Ajay Maken said the election in Delhi was fought on local issues. “I carried the party’s promises and the manifesto to the people. People rejected that. So, the responsibility squarely lies with me,” he insisted, in a bid to insulate Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.
The landslide victory for the AAP was propelled by the near-doubling of its vote-share from what the party had polled in the 2013 State election. The AAP fetched a massive 54.3 per cent vote-share in Delhi, which is unprecedented for any political party in any of the States in the country. With the 54.3 per cent vote-share the AAP decimated its opponents and bagged 67 out of 70 seats in Delhi. It may be recalled that the party had bagged 28 seats in the 2013 Assembly poll while polling 29.49 per cent of the votes. The AAP had bagged two per cent vote-share in the Lok Sabha election across the country. In contract the BJP’s vote-share dipped by one per cent to 32.2 as compared to last year’s vote-share.
In fact, the primary reason behind the massive rise in the AAP’s vote-share from 29.49 per cent during 2013 Assembly poll to 54.2 per cent in 2015 could be attributed to the Congress’ worst ever debacle in Delhi. The Congress, which had bagged eight seats with a vote-share of 24.55 per cent, could manage to get only 9.7 per cent of the total vote-share. While the BJP’s vote-share dropped only by one percentage point from 33.07 per cent in 2013 to 32.2 per cent this time, the party’s seat count went down from 31 to a paltry three.
Sharp Polarisation of Minority Votes
The primary factor responsible for the landslide victory of the AAP was the 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 AAP during the 2013 Assembly elections, seems to have shifted in favour of the AAP in a big way. Had the 2013 Assembly election witnessed a similar shift for the AAP in its favour, the latest 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.
Contribution of Dalits
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, appear to have voted for the AAP. This may have given the edge to the AAP in many Jat-dominated constituencies.
Further, 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. Moreover, Kejriwal gave the impression of being a sincere person seeking to change the country’s political culture, particularly in controlling corruption and the long- sanctified ways of doing business of established parties, including the BJP. The AAP leader was lucky inasmuch as the Congress had become a marginal force in Delhi, to the extent that the former Delhi Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit, publicly acknowledged her party’s plight long ago.
The AAP victory in Dethi has wider political repercussions for the country’s polity. It represents, to an extent, the first signs of disillusionment of the middle classes with some aspects of the Modi Government. There is mounting anger over a continuing stream of outrageous statements by members of the ruling party, including legislators, too numerous to be called fringe elements, that constitute an assault on modernity and civilised conduct. Prime Minister Modi’s inability or reluctance to take them on directly underlines his limitation in curbing the philosophical ideas of his mentor, the RSS. The Prime Minister’s penchant for embracing both, the digital age as well as hoary mythology and medieval ideas, continues to throw up contradictions the middle class finds hard to swallow.
Popularity of Kejriwal
The popularity of 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 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.
Projection of Kiran Bedi
The projection of Kiran Beth as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate to counter the popularity of Kejriwal seems to have backfired. She not only failed to muster additional support for the party but also lost her own election from he 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 Kejriwal through advertise-ments 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.
Heavy Blow to Modi’s Centralisation Tendencies
In political terms, the BJPs great reverse in Delhi comes after a string of State Assembly triumphs, which gave the impression that the Modi juggernaut was unstoppable. Contrary to the Indian political practice, the Prime Minister himself vigorously campaigned for his party in the Delhi Assembly election. There was, thus, an incentive for the middle class to deny him complete political sway over the national landscape, given his centralisation tendencies. Overall, the Delhi results are a healthy reminder to the BJP that the ruling party should face a vigorous Opposition in governing the country. The Congress party having virtually vacated the space for an effective Opposition, Kejriwal has smartly filled the void in Delhi. Whether he will succeed in doing so on a broader national scale is an open question.
By capturing 67 out of 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly poll, Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party has trumped over not only the BJP and Congress but pundits and pollsters as well. Nobody really anticipated the magnitude of what’s effectively a clean sweep. The victory is a huge democratic breakthrough as it demon-strates that money, muscle and political power aren’t enough to win elections. It’s emphatic enough to settle all doubts about the AAP’s durability as a political force. If Delhi represents an urban constituency, the AAP’s victory offers a clue to what India’s urban residents are thinking. And they may be tired of the daily visible corruption which they encounter no matter which political party is in power, so that roads paved one season are swept away by the next monsoon and people are harassed by municipal or police authorities while carrying on with their livelihood activities.
No doubt PM Modi is right when he calls for greater urbanisation, but this also implies greater attention to problems of urban governance. Since Delhi’s municipal corporations are controlled by the BJP it felt the wind of anti-incumbency and its repudiation at the polls was no less devastating than that of the Congress. Amit Shah had acquired a fearsome reputation as a poll strategist, but his prime mistake may have been harping on the ”mere paas Modi hai” stratagem again and again when the BJP needed more strings to its bow, in the form of local programmes and local leaders. And the BJP’s going to lose the young, the aspirational and the educated if sections of the party continue with the divisive Hindutva rhetoric and penchant for moral policing.
The AAP stood out for the non-sectarian nature of the party’s appeal, demonstrated strikingly when it spurned Imam Bukhari’s outstretched hand of support. But the AAP too, needs to draw the right lessons from the election verdict. The mandate is for “paanch saal Kejriwal”, which means this time it must offer governance more than theatrics. It needs to put forward its pragmatic, rather than confrontational and agitationist, face, collaborate with the Centre which also comes with its own democratic mandate, work within the established institutions and make the best use of limited resources. The last implies resisting the populist temptation to shower freebies even if they have been promised by its manifesto. That way lies wastage, early bankruptcy and ultimate failure.
Rejuvenation in Opposition Camp
The flood of congratulations that poured in for the AAP from across the nation did more than underscore the sweeping Delhi mandate. It gave a unique opportunity to the major Opposition parties to sink their petty political differences and parade for the attainment of a common goal. It also gave the Opposition camp an optimism that the BJP could be defeated. For them, the AAP victory is a sign of a change in the national political mood and, above all, an unexpected ray of hope. Moreover the AAP victory heralds the dawn of a new and vibrant political force on India’s political landscape.
This excitement among Opposition parties was articulated across the country. From the east came West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s tweet saying it was a defeat of “the arrogant”, a vote against “political vendetta” and for those “spreading hate among people”. From the south, DMK leader Kanimozhi, who seems to have clearly forgiven Kejriwal for including her on a list of corrupt politicians a year ago, reacted in Chennai: “One major thing is that the country still thinks secularism is very important.” From the west, the Shiv Sena, the BJP’s ally in Maharashtra, joined in the Modi-bashing. Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, smarting from the shabby treatment meted out to his party, held Prime Minister Narendra Modi responsible for the BJP’s defeat in Delhi, adding that the Delhi “tsunami” was much bigger than the Modi “wave”. The people, he said, had already grown tired of the current political situation. And from the north, the former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, whose National Conference, just helped the Congress win a Rajya Sabha seat from the State, tweeted his congratulations to the AAP and encouragement to his ally: ”... if there is lesson for the Congress in this it is that Modi and BJP aren’t unbeatable if you take the fight to them. Don’t wait for mistakes.” The AAP’s historic win in Delhi could well be a turning-point for the Opposition, even though it comes barely nine months after the BJP’s massive Lok Sabha victory.
“Feared Modi”—thrown away by Delhiites
Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the people of Delhi to elect a Chief Minister who “feared Modi”. By electing a Chief Minister who is far from being scared of Modi, and has often dared to take him head-on, the people of Delhi have refused to accept fear as a driving force in their electoral choices. The Delhi result is a categorical repudiation of the unilateralism that has come to characterise the Bharatiya Janata Party under the leadership of Modi and party President Amit Shah. This tendency was most sharply exemplified in the act of imposing a rank outsider, Kiran Bedi, as the party’s chief ministerial candidate at the last moment. Only eight months ago, the BJP had won all seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi and led in 60 Assembly segments.
The dramatic downfall requires the BJP to look within and acknowledge that sledgehammer politics, which may be convenient in the short run, can rebound with disastrous results not only for the party but also for the polity at large. Modi represented change in May 2014. The AAP’s victory in, Delhi must remind the BJP of the possibility that there can be change beyond Modi too.
The Congress Party—on the Verge of Extinction
The Congress’ failure to win even a single seat in the Assembly elections in Delhi, a State it ruled for an unbroken 15 years till end 2013, only confirmed its members’ worst fears. The Grand Old Party is in free fall and in the nine months since it lost power at the Centre, its leadership has done little to arrest the downward spiral. In quick succession last year, the Congress lost Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir, States it had been in power on its own or in a coalition. Its ranks have witnessed a steady depletion with several high-proffie exits, such as that of G.K. Vasan and Jayanthi Natarajan in Tamil Nadu, Krishna Tirath in Delhi, Jagmeet Brar in Punjab and Birender Singh and Rao Inderjeet Singh in Haryana (the last two before the Lok Sabha poll), making headlines. Further, the division of Andhra Pradesh, a Congress bastion till recently, has virtually wiped the party out in both halves. Continuing feuds in State units, from Punjab to Maharashtra to Haryana, to name just three, simmer on. Yet another Antony Committee report, the post-mortem after its Lok Sabha rout, has predictably not been shared even within the party. A series of structured discussions led neither to a plan of action nor a reorganisation of the party. All decisions were postponed, citing the need to focus on the slew of Assembly elections, now all over, and this year’s scheduled party organisational elections.
But the real reason for the delay in instituting changes is the resistance within the party—and not merely, though primarily among members of the old guard—to installing heir apparent Rahul Gandhi as party President this year. The resistance comes not only from those who fear they may be pensioned off, but also from those younger leaders who do not see a future for themselves under his leadership. An overwhelming majority in the party believes he does not have what it takes: he has neither demonstrated the ability to sustain an idea or the hard work demanded of a full-time politician in a leadership role. The electoral verdict from Dethi has not come a day too soon: if the BJP was trounced, the Congress lost almost its entire vote-base to the AAP. The Congress party has to urgently recover this lost ground by ensuring a return to its foundational principles that had won it the faith of millions in the past decades. Otherwise it will face the prospect of extinction as other political formations take its place in the contestation with the principal party in power, the BJP.
Delhi — A Slippery Terrain for BJP
Delhi has always been a slippery terrain for the BJP because of factional feuds and its inability to project a strong leader with a mass base. It is because of these factors that the BJP has never been able to capture power in the last one-and-a-half decade despite a strong and loyal support base, formidable cadre strength and a thriving RSS network across the State. However, the party received a shot in the arm when it swept Delhi in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, thanks to the campaign unleashed by Modi. It revolved around the promise of ‘development’ and ‘good governance’ which rested on efficient service delivery mechanisms.
Throughout the electioneering, the AAP has systematically employed a two-fold strategy. First, it has focused on the achievements of its 49-day government. For instance, it has promised the people of Delhi that it will implement the free water and cheap electricity schemes that it had initiated then. It has been reminding people that these schemes were dropped as soon as Kejriwal resigned. Similarly, it has focussed on women’s security, which has great political traction across the city after the Nirbhaya gang-rape incident, by proposing concrete plans like having surveillance cameras installed all over Delhi, or employing volunteer squads to prevent eve-teasing. Second, it has raised its anti-corruption pitch, which was the party’s biggest attraction as it emerged from the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement. Its campaign focussed on how extortion by government agencies like the police had drastically reduced during its 49-day tenure. It also promised to have simplified service-delivery mechanisms, which have the potential to curb corruption. A comparative chart of the records of the AAP’s tenure in the Capital and the BJP Government at the Centre that the party prepared, became a talking point.
In doing so, Kejriwal not only has ‘attempted to project himself as a pro-poor administrator but has largely been successful in shedding his “just-an-activist” image that the BJP created when he resigned. It can be said that the AAP has evolved as a full-fledged political party in this election and managed to break away from its image of being a mere offshoot of the anti-corruption movement. In order to be seen as a viable political alternative, the party has made alliances with power groups in different parts of the city, often inviting criticism from its initial support base.
In this context, one must remember how Kanshiram consolidated Dalits first through organisations like the All India Backward (SC, ST, OBC) and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF) and the Dalit Soshit Samaj Sangharsh Samithi (DS4) but adopted social and political engineering as tools to expand the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Such tendencies are part and parcel of any expanding political movement and are often useful if handled well. In the Lok Saba poll (2014), the BJP had a lead in 60 out of the 70 Assembly constituencies, with a 46.4 per cent vote-share. The AAP was a distant second with 33 per cent. In addition, Kejriwal’s image suffered a huge blow after his sudden resignation, which cost him much of his middle-class voter base. Over 10 minor communal riots in the last one year have nudged the Valmiki community, a substantial section of Delhi’s population, in the BJP’s favour. The BSP’s decision to contest all the 70 seats may also have cut into the AAP’s Dalit support base.
Post Poll Survey of CSDS
The sheer scale of the Aam Aadmi Party’s sweep—winning 67 out of 70 seats and over half of all the votes—would indicate that the party won the support of all segments of the Delhi society.
While this is true, the party’s support base leaned on slightly younger, poorer voters and those from more marginalised backgrounds, according to a post-poll survey by Lokniti at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. The survey was conducted soon after voting ended on February 7, among 2060 respondents in 120 locations across 24 Assembly constituencies in the city; the sample’s demographic profile closely resembled that of the city, and the declared vote preference of the sample matched the ultimate actual vote-share, the survey said. The researchers found that the AAP’s vote-share was the highest among Delhi’s youngest voters aged 18 to 22 — rising even further among young Dalit voters. The party’s vote-share then gradually declines by age, falling to 45 per cent among those aged 56 and above. In every age-group, however, the AAP’s vote-share was significantly higher than that of the BJP, and even at its narrowest (among the oldest voters), it had a lead of nine percentage points over the BJP. Women and men voted in virtually the same way.
Among the various social groups analysed by Lokniti, the AAP’s vote-share was highest among Muslims and Dalits, 77 per cent and 68 per cent respectively. In the case of Muslims in particular, the growth in the AAP’s popularity seems remarkable, going from 12 per cent in 2013 to 77 per cent in 2015. Relatively, its popularity was lowest among upper castes; Brahmins, Vaishyas/Jains and Jats were the only caste groups among whom the BJP had a higher vote-share than the AAP’s. The AAP’s support was highest among the poorest voters surveyed by Lokniti, and lowest among the richest, whose preferences were split between the BJP and AAP. One important reversal in fortunes is the shift of the peak of the AAP’s popularity from those with the highest media exposure (2013) to those with lowest; this they said indicated that the traditional Congress vote had shifted to the AAP.
The voters of Delhi have given a clear mandate to AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal to provide a corruption-free, welfare-oriented government. He could not have imagined the kind of victory he achieved leaving just three seats for the BJP and none for the Congress, which ruled the State consecutively for three terms. The verdict is decidedly against the BJP’s vituperative campaign. Kejriwal succeeded in projecting his party as the only alternative to the BJP. The voters have opted for an agenda-based clean politics, turning their back on abusive political discourse. They were also not impressed by money power. In fact, they voted for transparency, humility and simplicity.
The BJP made many mistakes, including handing over of the party’s leadership to a greenhorn who couldn’t even defend the seat the party has always been winning. It split the party, whose traditional leaders did not put their heart and soul into the campaign. Also, the party had nothing to show off as its achievement since the Modi Government caine to power, particularly in view of its failure to redeem the promises made during the parliamentary election. For the BJP, it is time for introspection and course correction. It can take some consolation from the fact that it did better than the Congress, which has lost all its traditional supporters, coming second only in a few constituencies. The party has never experienced such humiliation.
The landslide victory casts a heavy responsibility on the AAP. It sought the people’s mandate promising free water, cheaper electricity, to name two. Unlike last time when Kejriwal complained about lack of majority to pursue his agenda, this time he will not be entitled to any alibi. The whole country will be watching how he translates his poll promises into action. He can’t even complain against the Opposition, for it is almost non-existent. Also, last time he tried to cash in on his image as an “anarchist”. The vote is not for anarchy but good governance. If he fails in this, the voters will show him his place the next time.
1. Himanshu Jha, ‘Restive Voices for Change’, The New Indian Express, February 11, 2015.
2. ‘Mandate for Governance’, The New Indian Express, February 11, 2015.
3. Smita Gupta, ‘Aftershocks of a Verdict’, The Hindu, February 11, 2015.
4. ‘AAP Sweep endangers Congress’, The Hindu, February 11, 2015.
5. Rajiv Kumar, ‘How Delhi was Lost‘, The Hindu, February 11, 2015.
6. ‘Urban Insurrection’, The Hindu, February 11, 2015.
7. Arathi R. Jerath, ‘Capital Verdict : Put Development back on Table’, The Hindu, February 11, 2015.
8. Nihal Singh S., ‘What went wrong in Delhi?’, Deccan Chronicle, The Hindu, February 11, 2015.
9. Poornima Joshi, ‘Aam Admi Party’s Capital Show’, Business Line, February 11, 2015,
10. ‘Congress Zero’, The Hindu, February 12, 2015.
11. Smita Gupta, ‘The AAP’s Second Coming’, The Hindu, February 12, 2015.
12. Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprastha, ‘Advantage of AAP’, Frontline, February 20, 2015.
13. Rukmini S., ‘AAP owes it to the Young and Poor’, The Hindu, February 13, 2015.
Dr M.R. Biju is an Associate Professor, Post Graduate and Research, Department of Political Science, Sree Narayana College, Kollam (Kerala). He is the Director, Asian Institute of Development Research and Editor, South Asian Journal of Socio-Political Studies (SAJOSPS). He can be contacted at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org