Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 18, April 25, 2015
Putting AAP’s Historic Victory in Perspective
Saturday 25 April 2015
by Sanjay Mishra
This article, which reached us in March, could not be used earlier due to unavoidable reasons. Its contents, however, are still valid even though a bitter struggle has lately broken out within the AAP. It is thus being published for the benefit of our readers.
Sixtyseven seats in an Assembly of 70 seats, with a vote percentage of 54.3 per cent and an average victory margin of about 28,000, almost three times the 2013 average!1 Even the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had not dreamt of such a clean sweep in the national Capital; its internal pre-poll survey and exit poll had, in a best case scenario, pegged the seats at 51 and 57 respec-tively. No other survey or exit poll for that matter had given it seats in the vicinity of 50. In fact, some of the earlier pre-poll surveys had given the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a majority. The verdict could not have been bleaker for the Opposition with the BJP reduced to just three seats and the Congress reduced to zero from the 31 seats and eight seats that they won respec-tively in the last Assembly elections of December 2013. In that sense, the magnitude of victory, while being mind-boggling for the pollsters, euphorically surprising for the AAP and humiliatingly shocking for the Opposition, can be characterised as truly historic. In the electoral history of Delhi, the AAP’s landslide victory is outstanding from another perspective: it has sought to reverse the trend of falling effective vote-share for the ruling party, that is, the percentage of electorate voting for the ruling party.
The effective vote-share that the AAP has secured is 36.5 per cent when 67.1 per cent of the people had cast their votes with the AAP receiving 54.3 per cent of the vote-share. The closest that any party has secured to the AAP’s effective vote-share is the Congress which in 1972 got an effective vote-share of 32.9 per cent.2 The AAP’s historic verdict is also a reflection of the fact that the party was far ahead of its nearest rival in converting votes into seats. From 0.9 seats per percentage point of the vote-share in 2013, the AAP surged to 1.2 seats per percentage point of vote share in this election, while the BJP slid from 0.9 to 0.1 during the same period.3 True, there are instances, albeit few and far between, of seemingly comparable performance by political parties in elections in India. But all these examples, on closer scrutiny, pale into in significance when juxtaposed against the AAP’s latest electoral coup in Delhi.
AAP’s ‘Tsunami’ and other Similar Performance by Parties in States
The significance of the AAP’s ‘tsunami’, as Uddhav Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chief, characterised it to downplay the much-touted Modi wave and indeed to rub salt on the wounds of the humiliating defeat of its longest political ally, the BJP, can be understood only if it is compared to similar other performances by political parties in State polls as well as in the parliamentary polls. There have been three occasions so far—all in Sikkim—when a single political party has had a better strike rate than that of the AAP. The Sikkim Sangram Parishad (SSP) in 1989 and the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) in 2009 won all the 32 seats—a 100 per cent strike rate, while the SDF in 2004, winning 31 seats in a 32-member Assembly, recorded a 96.9 per cent strike rate.4 But these figures can hardly be compared to the AAP’s strike rate of 95.7 per cent because Sikkim, politically, is a far cry from Delhi. Tucked away in the eastern Himalayas and integrated with India in 1974, Sikkim is a small State with sparse and largely homogenous population in terms of ethnicity; with a preponderance of regional issues and without a strong footprint of national political parties, its comparison with Delhi may not hold water beyond a point.
In some of the other eastern States, the Indian National Congress has bagged seats close to 90 per cent: 90 per cent in Tripura in 1967, 88.3 per cent in Nagaland in 1998 and 88.3 per cent in Arunachal Pradesh in 1999.5 These small, hilly States with thin population are heavily dependent on the Centre for their development; for some of them even the Constitution has special provisions providing for their dependence on Central aid, security and for the protection of their cultural practices. It could be plausibly argued that the Congress, with its hold on the Central Government for the longest period in the post-independence history, could have manipulated the dependence of these States on Delhi to its political advantage.
Similarly, it could be argued that because of the absence of any worthwhile political force and given the pivotal role played by the Indian National Congress in the freedom movement, the party was able to capture 90.2 per cent of the seats in the Assembly elections of Uttar Pradesh (UP) in 1951. UP, in the run-up to the independence, had become a hotbed of political activity in the context of the impending independence and the ensuing partition of the country; naturally it became the beneficiary of the one-sided poll for the Assembly. Indeed, because of the seminal role played by it in the freedom movement, the Congress dominated the political space in most of the States until 1967 when it received the first big jolt. It was for this reason that Gandhi presciently called for disbanding the Congress: to free the people of the emotional attachment to the Congress, the vehicle of freedom, and to allow political forces to develop in a level playing field. There-fore, the performance of the Congress in the electoral politics, in the States or at the Centre, in the initial phase of independence should be discounted by its pre-independence role and therefore cannot be compared with the AAP’s landslide victory in today’s Delhi.
Delhi, in today’s context in particular, on the other hand, is not only the Capital of the country but has also become, over the years, the nerve- centre of politics with a strong foothold of the national political parties. It is a miniature India, with every community from every corner of the country vying for space and livelihood, though migrants from the eastern part of the country, particularly UP and Bihar, have in recent times become a prominent part of its demographic profile. It is truly a home for the young, upwardly mobile, aspirational India concerned not so much with issues of caste, community, region and other identities, but with issues of Bijli, Pani, Sadak,6 jobs, corruption and governance and perhaps the imperatives of clean politics. Therefore, the landslide victory that the AAP has received in Delhi is qualitatively different from similar performance by parties in other States mentioned above, and has, therefore, a message for the politics of the metropolises, if not for the entire country.
Waves in Parliamentary Elections and AAP’s Performance
Before proceeding to compare a parliamentary poll with a State poll, a caveat must be added that a parliamentary poll is different from a State poll because the former, in a sense, is an aggregation of State polls which are themselves different from one another in the nature of issues, the level of voter awareness, literacy, development and the penetration of identity politics. While any comparison between a parliamentary poll and a State poll, on the face of it, may prove misleading, yet, a comparison between some of the so-called ‘waves’ in the parliamentary polls and the performance of the AAP in the Delhi poll would not be entirely out of place and would indeed help in better appreciation of the AAP’s landslide victory.
In strict quantitative terms, even the best result posted by a political party in the parliamentary poll has a huge hiatus with any such result in a State poll. The best performance in the parliamentary elections remains till date of the Congress-I. In the 1984 elections it notched up 415 of the 543 elected seats in the Lok Sabha, that is, 76.43 per cent of the seats with a voting percentage of 48.1 per cent. (Sridharan 2010) The strike rate of the AAP in the latest poll for the Delhi Assembly is 96 per cent. The quanti-tative difference in the strike rate between the two in percentage terms can be explained by the fact that a parliamentary poll is a different ball-game and, howsoever strong a wave in 1984 in favour of the Congress, its strike rate got stuck at 76.43 per cent—which is almost 20 per cent less than the AAP’s 96 per cent.
Indeed, even that exceptional performance of the Congress could justly be called a flash in the pan because it rode to the unprecedented massive mandate on the back of a sympathy wave generated by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination. It was no doubt a wave but it was built around emotions—the tragic murder of one of the most popular leaders of post-independence India—and not around economic and political issues or for that matter around a strong and decisive leader espousing certain ideas, ideals and vision or a track record of governance. In 1991, a wave—again based on emotions following the tragic assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, a strong contender for the Prime Minister’s Office—that again catapulted the Congress to power, though short of a majority because the wave this time was weaker than the 1984 wave. For one thing, Rajiv Gandhi was not as popular as Indira Gandhi. Moreover, he was not in office at the time of assassination and had no heir, a dynastic scion,7 ready to take the mantle from him after his assassination and therefore to create a strong wave for the Congress. Also, the politics of Mandal and Masjid had set in motion the process of fragmentation of the voters and of political parties that has been consolidating since then.
Modi Wave around Good Governance
No wonder, since then no political party could muster majority on its own in the parliamentary poll, let alone repeat the 1984 feat of the Congress. Against this backdrop, it goes to the credit of Narendra Modi that he was able to create a wave in the 16th Lok Sabha elections—and unlike the earlier sympathy waves of 1984 and 1991 and notwithstanding the traction gained by the politics of identity of the preceding 25 years—around his leadership and on a vision of development and good governance. The Modi wave enabled the BJP to break the thirty-year jinx—of no single party getting parliamentary majority and debunk the commonplace notion that a coalition government was an irreversible feature of polity at the Centre. The 282 seats that it bagged—10 more than the magic number to form a government on its own—was also historic insofar as it became the first non- Congress political party to have a majority on its own in Parliament in post-independence India. Even the AAP recognised and acknow-ledged the palpable Modi wave. Early in the campaign after the installation of the Modi Government, one of their campaign posters read: ‘Kejriwal for CM, Modi for PM’.
More often than not, when a party is riding a wave in the parliamentary poll to absolute majority, issues of the States—and some very local in nature—which go to the polls in the immediate aftermath of the parliamentary poll tend to get subsumed under the overarching wave of the parliamentary poll. It is rare when a wave, which catapults a particular political party to an absolute majority in Parliament, fails to deliver States to that party where polls are held within one year of the parliamentary poll.8 No wonder, the party on a roll, thanks to the Modi wave, won the Assemblies in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Haryana, and an unprecedented number of seats, key to government formation, in Jammu & Kashmir—a State which has never been favourably disposed towards the Right-wing party; of course this is not to underplay the local anti-incumbency in all the States which provided a conducive environment for the Modi wave to tap.
Delhi: A Low-Hanging Fruit for BJP and End of Road for Congress
If the BJP could win four States, including difficult ones like Haryana, and Jammu & Kashmir, then Delhi should have been a low-hanging fruit for it by any yardstick. This is because Delhi is not like any other State in India. A quasi-State in a quasi-federal polity, a metropolis, Delhi is even more controlled by the Central Government than any other State. It is in this context that, among all States of India, Delhi is the only State—of course, not fully a State—where either the Congress Party or BJP or its earlier version, the Jana Sangh, have been in power since independence. That an upstart political party, which in its first 49-day stint in government about a year ago looked so clueless and evoked so much of controversy, has now wrested one of the most entrenched pocket-boroughs of the national parties, makes the AAP’s victory historic.
Rising phoenix-like from the ashes of its existential crisis after the parliamentary rout, the AAP has now posed the same existential threat to the Congress in Delhi for sure and could well emerge, with its secular and Left-of-Centre credentials and agenda, as a principal challenger to the grand old party in the rest of India. Reduced to zero, with 62 of its 70 candidates losing deposits, from eight seats in 2013 and from a high of 52 seats in 1998; and in percentage vote-share, reduced to 9.7 per cent from about 25 per cent in 2013 and from a high of 48.3 per cent in 2003, the Congress has reached the end of road in Delhi. Empirical data suggest that in whichever State the Congress has been reduced to third or fourth position it has never quite bounced to even the second position and has, at the most, remained in the reckoning as an adjunct of either of the two parties.
David Defeating Goliath
The thumping majority of the AAP becomes all the more special and historic because the same voters had, less than eight months back, handed the BJP all the seven parliamentary seats, giving it leads in all the 60 out of the 70 Assembly segments with a vote-share of 46.4 per cent—a jump of 13.3 from the Assembly elections of December 2013. Indeed, even in the Assembly elections of that month the party had notched up 32 seats including the one seat of its ally, Shiromani Akali Dal, which was four short of majority but four more than the tally of the AAP. And eight months after the parliamentary poll, the same voters have inflicted one of the most humiliating defeats on the party which had been on an unprecedented ascendance and winning spree. And that too when it had pressed into service its huge financial and best human resources—16 Union Ministers, with the Prime Minister himself leading the charge, 120 MPs and thousands of party workers from other States.9
Above all, Mrs Kiran Bedi, a former IPS officer with an impeccable integrity and a track record of fighting corruption, who worked shoulder to shoulder with Arvind Kejriwal in the Anna-led “India against Corruption”, was projected as the party’s chief ministerial candidate to blunt the edge of appeal of Kejriwal. And no less important, the BJP at the Centre was ipso facto the backseat driver, de facto running the administration for all practical purposes through the instrumentality of the Lieutenant Governor (LG) for the last eight months. And trying to attract voters to its fold with the announcement of regularisation of unauthorised colonies; efforts to curb corruption, though tentative, by the LG, etc. Even the Prime Minister exhorted the voters, promising them cheaper electricity, to vote for the BJP so that the Central Government could help the faster development of the Delhi Government. Even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chipped in, deploying Panna Pracharak for the mobilisation of voters.
But the smart voters of Delhi decided to vote with their feet for a greenhorn in politics, with virtually no experience of governance and with measly funds of Rs 18 crores and one whose leader had been variously described as “bhagora” (quitter), and “anarchist”. Never before was a Goliath defeated by a David in such a compre-hensive manner. And probably never before did the voters, as diverse as the ones in Delhi, throw their collective electoral weight behind an underdog. According to a CSDS-Lokniti (Lokniti is a wing of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies) post-poll survey, the APP led the BJP in all caste categories except for the Brahmins, Vaishyas and Jats, each having a population of 12 per cent, six per cent and five per cent respectively in Delhi : 77 per cent of the Muslims; 57 per cent of the Sikhs; 66 per cent of the poor; against 22 per cent for the BJP, 51 per cent of the middle class against 31 per cent for the BJP, 47 per cent of the upper class against 43 per cent for the BJP voted for the AAP. (Varshney 2015)
It is true that the juggernaut of the BJP has hit a major roadblock, and that the image of invincibility of the Modi-Shah duo has taken a hit and both the party and government need to draw appropriate lessons from the humiliating Delhi debacle. Most importantly, the Central Govern-ment needs to concentrate on the delivery of the poll promises and to rein in the Hindu zealots making communally loaded statements. Yet, all is not lost for the party in Delhi because its percentage vote-share has not fallen much from the 33.1 per cent in 2013 to 32.2 per cent in 2015 though it has fallen 13 per cent from the parliamentary election. The Congress has lost about 48 per cent of the voters to the AAP who were with it in 2013. The election turned out to be a plebiscite on who should be Delhi’s CM—Kejriwal or Kiren Bedi—and can be inter-preted as a mild negative rather than as a huge negative for Modi as the PM. (Palshikar and Kumar 2015) The historic win for the AAP points to the leap-frog in maturity and sagacity of the voters who could, without being carried by the exuberance of the parliamentary poll, discern so finely between a parliamentary poll and a local poll and in such a short interval of time.
1. The Times of India, February 11, 2015.
4. ‘Statistics: Caught in Landslide’, The Tmes of India, February 12, 2015.
6. Power, Water and Roads respectively.
7. Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi were too young at that time to take on the baton from Rajiv Gandhi.
8. Yogendra Yadav’s interview to Neha Lalchandani, The Times of India, February 12, 2015.
9. “BJP snubbed cadre, relied on ‘import’ Bedi”, Team TOI, The Times of India, February 11, 2015.
1. Palshikar, Suhash and Sanjay Kumar (2015): ’An Aam Aadmi, beyond Social Strata, a Victory with a marked Social Profile’, The Indian Express, February 12.
2. Sridharan, E. (2010): ’The Party System’ in Nirja Gopal Jayal and Pratap Bhanu Mehta (eds.), The Oxford Companion to Politics in India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp. 117-135.
3. Varshney, Ashutosh (2015): ’What Delhi Rejects’, The Indian Express, February 19.
The author is an Associate Professor of Political Science, MMH (PG) College, Ghaziabad (UP). He can be contacted at: dr.sanjay-mishra_1969@ yahoo.co.in