By, Renjini Rajagopalan
There are many ways of looking at Delhi elections. On one hand, it is a study of all the things that went wrong. On the other, it is also a study of what went right. People from all walks of life – the media, the electoral pundits, and the person-next-door – all speculated on the number of seats the jhadoo of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) would sweep, but perhaps no one expected quite a sweep such as the one delivered today.
AAP won 67 of Delhi’s 70 seats, with BJP being left with a paltry 3, and Congress being an absolute no-show. Perhaps the least surprising of the entire result has been Congress winning no seats. No one expected BJP to win the Delhi elections, but the bets these past few days have ranged anywhere from a hung government (the least possibility), to a AAP led one with BJP retaining enough seats to form a semi-solid opposition. The people of Delhi overturned the verdict of 2014 in just eight months, bringing the BJP from its high of 46% votes to a low of just 33%. And with just 3 seats, BJP is likely to be rendered mute at the Delhi legislature, the same way Congress has been these last few months at the Centre. The overconfident campaign bosses at BJP are likely smarting at the thought that their being able to lead the opposition in Delhi, even in name, is entirely up to how charitable AAP will be feeling.
Delhi is a city known for its unique culture and its eclectic population hailing from across the country. Modi himself said, ‘What Delhi wants, is what India wants’. The seat of India’s Babu-dom, ruling it would have been the jewel in any political party’s crown – a crown BJP was poised and ready to win. So what caused the Delhi voter – supposedly disenchanted with ‘AK-49’ as Aravind Kejriwal jokingly came to be called for quitting his Chief Minister’s post a mere 49 days later in 2014 – into voting for him again?
Is it the Modi development wave breaking? The Delhi voter has clearly analysed Modi’s ‘development’ agenda and found it lacking. BJP’s first Budget at the Center did not showcase any of the promised Modi magic; nevertheless, it left Indian Corporates and the Common Man feeling full of promise for a new kind of future. The months post that have seen a lot of PR hype from the BJP, and a few verbal guarantees, but gap between development goals and delivery has loomed large as ever. And the few decisions Modi has taken, such as increasing FDI and opening markets further, has been unpopular with BJP’s parent body the RSS who have loudly voiced their displeasure at every possible turn. In addition, the long wait for declaring the next Delhi elections, have also tried the tired Dilliwaala’s patience. And as people’s waiting period waxed, BJP’s honeymoon period began waning. Besides, there is only so much that euphoria can do.
Today’s world is driven by money, not ideology. This is a reality reflected everywhere, so it is no surprise that the same attitude has slowly seeped into politics. Delhi’s voter is discerning. Her problems are bad roads, water shortages and a burgeoning electricity bill. She wants better education for her children, and a safer city for herself. If ideology can help her achieve it, well and good, if not, ideology can move over and let pragmatism take its place. A pre-elections debate in Greater Kailash (GK), one of Delhi’s poshest constituencies, clearly showed this growing trend. The Residents Associations of GK organized a live debate between the BJP, AAP and Congress candidates seeking to represent them. They were provided the questions beforehand, and the audience grilled them on local issues and what they intended to do about it. Identity politics has moved over, and issue based politics is slowly taking its place.
BJP’s electoral agenda in Delhi has been in overtly uniting people under the development umbrella, while dividing them under a communal one on the sly. In the aftermath of the Lok Sabha elections, Delhi in particular has seen communal tensions flare, and 5 Church vandalisms, neither of which have reassured its people of BJP’s intentions. And hoisting Kiran Bedi, a retired IPS officer and hitherto respected social activist whose reputation was almost as stellar as Kejriwal’s before he quit CM office, was to have been the icing on BJP’s electoral cake. Except, instead of a mark, Bedi’s arrival made a dent in the BJP campaign. With her highhandedness, her so-called dictatorial tendencies, and her tendency to swing between issuing speedy commands and emotional ramblings, she was ineffectual in getting across to the BJP fan base who are used to strong rhetoric. The local BJP leaders were distressed at what they saw as strong-arming tactics by BJP leaders, who had clearly ignored local candidates with strong support bases, in order to ‘paradrop’ Bedi, a complete newcomer, on them.
AAP on the other hand, has been smart to leverage constituency issues. Keeping away from controversial topics such as communal tensions, they have instead swept minority votes (traditionally a Congress bastion), by highlighting people-centric problems such as lack of adequate funds or amenities. They also seem to have learnt a good lesson in voter psychology. While continuing their aggression against BJP, AAP’s new manifesto remains much the same, but it lacks the naive over-eagerness of before. There are no eye-popping, unrealistic deadlines of hours or weeks or even months. They have come across as committed, but reasonable. Kejriwal’s well-timed apology to the people for previously quitting has also helped.
Many have hailed AAP’s sweeping win in Delhi as the ‘return of democracy’, which is ironical given that AAP has lost some of its best political faces the past months due to alleged lack of internal party democracy, though the party has staunchly refuted such allegations. Two of these – Shazia Ilmi and Vinod Binny – had switched their allegiances to the BJP, with Binny being seen as a ‘whistleblower’ (albeit one who likes to party hop) who exposed AAP’s true colours, and Ilmi moving on to being BJP’s poster-child for ‘educated, liberal, female Muslim’. Now with AAP’s triumphant return, both seem destined to fade into jaded ignominy.
Speaking of democracy, BJP has crowed many times that their internal democracy was ten times more transparent than Congress’s sycophancy. But in pursuit of power, Shah and Modi have shelved many tall BJP leaders of yesteryears such as L.K Adwani and Murali Manohar Joshi by ‘nominating’ them into elevated but powerless committees with long and lofty names like Margdarshak Committee. Thus, the Delhi election results are perhaps a stronger blow to the Modi-Shah strategy team, than they are to the rest of BJP. Amit Shah has been regarded as the mastermind behind BJP’s Lok Sabha electoral triumph in 2014, and was rewarded accordingly. He has also single-mindedly, and single-handedly made decisions in the other state elections that followed such as Maharashtra and Haryana. Shah’s calculations while previously foolproof, clearly did not take into account Delhi’s fickle voter. Shah, and Modi, remain in power only for as long as they are able to deliver. Bedi’s sudden flying induction into the BJP was seen by many as a scapegoat for Modi, to have someone take the fall for the Delhi elections. They wouldn’t be wrong. But between his 10 lakh suit, aggressive image building but empty promises, it is hard to know if Modi, Shah and by extension the BJP will ever completely recover from this.
In the aftermath of the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, many people speculated that BJP’s huge vote share was not so much pro-Modi as it was anti-Congress. Delhi elections seem to have proven them right. But more than BJP, that should be putting AAP on the alert. Kejriwal has rightly said the huge mandate he received today is one that scares him. He is right in being scared, because only the coming days will say how much of AAP’s win today is anti incumbency against BJP and Congress, and how much of it is pro-Kejriwal & AAP.