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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 10, February 28, 2015

AAP’s Fairytale Political Journey

Sunday 1 March 2015

by Denzil Fernandes

The Delhi Assembly election 2015 has thrown up a historic result with the AAP’s broom sweeping off the BJP and wiping out the Congress. Figuratively, the broom has become symbolic of the sweeping victory of the AAP in Delhi. For the first time ever a non-Congress and non-BJP government has been elected. The vote-share of the winning party has been the highest ever—54.3 per cent—and the winning margin 21.5 per cent. With 67 seats out of 70, the Aam Aadmi Party has won the highest number of seats ever won by a winning party and the Congress party has not been able to win a single seat for the first time since independence.

This result has astounded pollsters and psephologists, who had predicted an AAP victory, but not a landslide. Even the AAP’s own survey, conducted by political analyst Yogendra Yadav, predicted 51 seats for the AAP. The question that is asked in political circles is: how and why everybody, including the AAP, underestimated the popular mood in Delhi.The emergence of the AAP as a formidable political force in Delhi has been a fairytale story.

The political landscape in Delhi began changing from Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement in 2011. Ironically, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi were key figures in this movement, but they parted ways after Kejriwal decided to form a political party in 2012. With the ruling UPA Government steeped in corruption scandals, the Congress lost nearly half of its vote-share to the newly formed Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi election of 2013. The political mobilisation that took place for the anti-corruption movement proved to be useful for the AAP, which won 28 seats. After an initial hesitation, the Aam Aadmi Party decided to form a minority government on December 28, 2013 with the outside support of the Congress. During its brief tenure of 49 days, it took several populist decisions of reducing electricity and water tariffs. However, running a minority government is never an easy proposition and the AAP soon realised that they needed a majority in order to fulfil its promises made in its election manifesto. The failure of being able to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill was the tipping point which compelled Kejriwal to resign on February 14, 2014, hoping that the Delhi election will be held along with the Lok Sabha election in May 2014. The people of Delhi, who voted for Kejriwal, felt let down by his decision to resign and he was accused of being so intoxicated with his modest success in Delhi, that he began to harbour national ambitions, even to the extent of contesting against Narendra Modi in Varanasi in the Lok Sabha election. The people of Delhi responded by voting overwhelmingly for the BJP giving them all seven seats with over 46 per cent of the vote-share in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The Aam Aadmi Party was at its lowest ebb losing a large part of it’s support-base. The AAP realised that it had tried to bite more than it could chew at the national level and decided to stay focused on Delhi. That is when the turnaround began.

The AAP seized the initiative by knocking at the doors of the Supreme Court for early elections in Delhi. Soon it was perceived as a party more interested in a popular mandate for Delhi than the other national parties. Instead of calling for elections, the Modi Government decided to extend the President’s Rule in Delhi to one year. Buoyed by its successes in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Haryana and J&K, the BJP finally decided to have elections in Delhi, but by that time the AAP had already won the battle of perception in ensuring that Delhi gets a popular government.

The AAP began preparing for elections as soon as the previous Assembly was dissolved in November 2014. It announced its candidates for all the constituencies soon after. Their brief stint in power was sufficient for them to make promises that resonate with the people of Delhi. So finally when the elections were announced, they did not take much time to present their manifesto to the people. On the other hand, the BJP was over-confident and kept changing its strategy till the last moment. Initially, it wanted Modi to be the face of the campaign. After his February 10 rally flopped, they inducted Ms Kiran Bedi and announced her as the chief ministerial candidate, much to the dismay of the party’s veteran local leaders. They anno-unced their candidates at the last moment leaving little time for them to campaign in their constituencies. Besides, they did not have any election manifesto but could only manage to announce a vision document about a week before the election, which inspired little confidence in the people. The BJP tried its best to sway the Delhi voter by bombarding them with full-page advertisements even on election day, but to no avail.

The AAP ran a positive campaign focusing on the various issues that are confronting the Delhiites, but on the other hand, the BJP raised the stakes in Delhi by targeting Kejriwal at political rallies as well as in advertisements published in newspapers. In spite of being a former Chief Minister of Delhi, Kejriwal was not invited for the Republic Day parade and when he raised the issue, he was mocked at by the BJP leaders. Amit Shah, in an interview to a TV news channel, boasted that the BJP would win Delhi and sarcastically assured the anchor that Kejriwal will be given a VIP pass for the swearing-in of Ms Kiran Bedi as the Chief Minister of Delhi. The Delhi voter was disgusted with such arrogance.

The minorities were extremely disappointed with the Modi Government for being silent in the face of the communal rhetoric of the RSS and its affiliate organisations. Modi came to power with the slogan “Sab ka Sath, Sab ka Vikas”. However, the crusade by the Hindu fundamenta-list groups against a delusionary ‘love Jihad’ and the ‘ghar wapsi’ programmes for reconversion of Christians and Muslims with the goal of converting India into a “Hindu Rashtra” alienated the minorities in Delhi. The communal violence in Trilokpuri in October 2014 and repeated attempts to communally polarise the communities in Delhi, alienated the Muslims of Delhi. In addition, the attacks on five churches in Delhi in the run-up to the election fuelled insecurity among Christians. The desecration of St. Alphonsa Church in Vasant Kunj on February 2 was the tipping point. Hundreds of Christians took to the streets to protest the police inaction on repeated attacks of churches in Delhi just two days before the election. The brutal crackdown by the police against peacefully protesting Christians and the detaining of priests and nuns swayed the Christian voter against the BJP. The minorities in Delhi, who had traditionally voted the Congress, switched their allegiance to the AAP strategically in order to ensure the defeat of the BJP in Delhi.

The AAP took the place of the Congress as the rallying-point for the anti-BJP vote. Therefore, Jats, disgruntled against the installation of a non-Jat as the Haryana Chief Minister, rallied around the AAP. Similarly, the Gujjars, Poorvanchalis and other migrant communities, unhappy with the BJP-run Municipal Corporations, backed the AAP. By the time the day of the election had arrived, the AAP had managed to stitch-up a rainbow coalition comprising almost all sections of society, the rich and poor, the educated elite as well as the poorly educated, the slum dwellers as well as the residents of housing colonies, the government employees as well as the unorganised workforce.

Coincidentally, the new the AAP Government assumed office on February 14, the first anniversary of the stepping down of the first AAP Government in Delhi. Now that Delhi has shown its love for the AAP, it is time that the AAP reciprocates this affection with an efficient and transparent government.

Dr Denzil Fernandes SJ belongs to the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi.