The Delhi voter has clearly taken the ‘ Swach Bharat Abhiyaan’ to a totally different political level. The AAP ‘jhadoo’ that promised a cleaner, more transparent, corruption free, people centered administration seems to have swept all the opposition aside and won the party a victory of staggering proportions. As someone from outside Delhi, one sensed the mood of the city, when one came visiting. The buzz was clearly evident in both the by-lanes of Old Delhi as well as the wide streets of Lutyens Delhi. The BJP under Modi had been given charge of the Central government eight months ago. For the State Assembly, the preferred choice of party and leader was clearly and consciously different! Did this have to do with any discontent with the ruling party at the Centre or was it a question of a greater faith in a party and leader promising alternative politics at the state level? As the results came trickling in, and the initial breeze in favour of the AAP transformed itself into a blazing political storm, sweeping aside all its opponents, it was clear that the answer lay in a combination of both set of factors.
One thing that has been clearly evident for quite some time now, is the voter does not take kindly to any complacency demonstrated by parties. Nor do they like being taken for granted. Further, any show of arrogance in power, is often frowned upon. They appreciate a sincere apology from their leaders for mistakes committed and are willing to offer a second chance. They also make a nuanced distinction, between voting for a government at the Centre and in the State. This explains a sweep by the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls in Delhi and a reverse sweep eight months later by the AAP amidst the same set of voters.
The BJP had hoped that the white-wash of the Lok Sabha elections, would be logically repeated in the Vidhan Sabha polls. The voter had other plans. For the State Assembly polls, they weighed the options available to them. The AAP realized even before the start of the campaign that there was an unhappiness with the sudden resignation of their government. Segments of the educated middle class also disapproved of their excessive recourse to agitation and protest. They dealt with both issues. They offered a qualified apology for resigning and blamed it on an unclear mandate, the last time around. Secondly, rather than speaking the language of agitation, they focused on what they considered as ‘do-ables’ if voted to power. It is another debate whether they (AAP) have given rise to what some would term as an expectation overload and what critics have already predicted – a performance deficit. The straight talking, plain speaking ‘muffler-man, who was ridiculed by his opponents, found favour for the very same reason.
The BJPs ultra-defensive, patently negative and at times arrogantly overconfident campaign further helped the AAP. Making Kiran Bedi, a rank outsider who had frequently baited the party in the past, as its Chief Ministerial candidate badly boomeranged on several counts. Her strategy and perspectives appeared, not in sync, with the stand of the rank and file in the party. Secondly, her being catapulted to the leadership position created internal discord within the party on the one hand and dampened the enthusiasm of the cadres as she spoke a different ‘language’. It is also debatable whether her presence expanded the base or contributing to eroding existing support. If she was brought in to counter Kejriwal and steal his agenda, voters seemed to trust the more experienced rather than placing their faith in a political novice. Finally, the display of the majesty of being the ruling party may also have antagonized the Delhi voter. All these factors appear to have contributed to the landslide in favour of the AAP.
What are the implications of this result? In the short run, it dents the invincible image that the BJP and its leadership had built up for itself especially after the Lok Sabha elections. It would hopefully provide a sobering effect on the ruling party at the centre and force some soul searching and encourage a more inclusive approach to people and politics. The internal differences in the party may not come out in the open immediately but will surely be the subject of political whispers in the party corridors. The Budget will be one big opportunity to shape the promised good days.
Secondly, the Delhi verdict has important ramifications for the Congress party. For a party to draw a blank in an election in a state where you were in power for fifteen years, till a little over a year ago, requires serious reflection. The party does not seem to come out of denial mode and murmurs about the capacity of the leadership will only grow louder with every passing day. State based parties (and for the moment one would include AAP too in this category) would emerge as the rallying point of the opposition to the BJP at the national level. One would see this play out in the coming elections in Bihar later this year.
With the BJP occupying the right of Centre space in Indian politics and the Congress gradually vacating from the left of Centre space, the state based parties are increasingly taking its space. The Delhi elections is one more proof of this trend. A realignment in Indian politics is clearly visible and taking concrete shape. The voter in India has proved once again that she cannot be taken for granted. Political parties would need to approach elections with no pre-conceived notions of their invincibility. Voters can surprise you in patently embarrassing ways. The BJP and Congress have learnt it the hard way and the AAP would need to been grounded even as they celebrate the political wave that has swept them to power.