AAP phenomenon: It is more than a wave, or a tsunami

It is more than a wave, or a Tsunami. We need a new vocabulary to describe it

Sanjay Kumar | February 16, 2015


#aap   #kejriwal   #aam aadmi party   #AAP phenomenon  


Most pre-poll surveys and exit polls had indicated a victory for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), some indicated a big victory for the AAP, but none indicated such a massive sweep in these elections. The AAP got 67 of the 70 assembly seats while BJP managed to win only three seats (Rohini, Mustafabad and Vishwas Nagar). This is not merely a victory for a party; this reflects a massive faith in a person, Arvind Kejriwal, who led the party and contested against the most powerful party at this moment – both in terms of electoral support and resources. The AAP with a small number of well known leaders and a relatively smaller amount of money could register such a convincing victory.

Hardly has there been an occasion in Indian politics when a party has registered such a massive victory. It was only in Sikkim when the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) managed to win all the 32 seats in the assembly twice in 1989 and 2009 and only one less in the 2004 elections. There are a few other big victories by regional parties in different states, but nothing compares to the victory of AAP in Delhi when it not only managed to win all but three seats, but also polled 54.3 percent votes. There are fewer occasions when the winner had polled more than 50 percent votes in a triangular contest. The country had witnessed an electoral wave in the past, like the 1977 Janata wave, the 1984 Rajiv Gandhi wave, and the 1989 VP Singh wave; and this election certainly goes into history as another wave election – namely, ‘Kejriwal wave’ or even more than that.

After the massive win in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP continued its victory march in the state assembly elections held during the last few months and to many it seemed the party was invincible. The victory rath of BJP was not only halted by Kejriwal, it was actually completely wrecked by AAP in Delhi. For BJP it is not merely a defeat, this may be its most humiliating defeat, as it managed to win only three seats despite polling 32.7 percent votes.  One could hardly believe that the party which led in 60 of the 70 assembly segments barely eight months ago would be so badly routed in these elections. It is important to understand what really happened during the last eight months which completely changed the electoral landscape of Delhi. How a party which led over its nearest rival by more than 13 percent votes trailed behind that party so badly in  few months?

This is more a positive vote for the AAP rather than a negative vote against the BJP or Modi. Had this been only a negative vote the AAP may not have managed to register such a massive victory. While almost all parties promised to provide electricity and water supply at reduced rates, every party promised greater security for women, in reality the entire election turned into a referendum on the AAP’s chief ministerial candidate Kejriwal and the AAP managed to benefit from this phenomenon. The popularity of Kejriwal is much higher compared to any other leader, and so the votes polled by the AAP: a clear indication that there are some sections of voters who voted for the AAP, only because of Kejriwal.  Though large numbers of voters seemed to be sharply polarised in favour of different parties well in advance, a large number of voters shifted their voting preference to the AAP at the very last minute.

The projection of Kiran Bedi as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate to counter the popularity of Kejriwal seemed to have backfired. She failed to muster additional support for the party and even lost her own election from Krishna Nagar seat. Sensing that the Bedi card may not work, the BJP paratrooped a large number of its MPs, union cabinet ministers and chief ministers to campaign for the party and help its candidates. The BJP could not assess whether this will help its candidates, finally leading to a very aggressive negative campaign against Kejriwal through newspapers advertisements. This was disliked by a large section of voters and it also damaged the BJP’s prospects in the elections. On the other hand, in spite of the aggressive negative campaign against Kejriwal, the AAP maintained a very positive campaign with focus on what they would like to give to the people of Delhi. While the party may find it difficult to fulfil some of its promises, but at least people showed faith in those promises which resulted in such a massive mandate. 

Delhi’s politics is always discussed with regard to regions like outer Delhi, trans-Yamuna, south Delhi or central Delhi as the natures of the electoral contests are slightly different in these localities given the social composition of voters. But this victory seems to have cemented all the differences. The AAP swept the elections in all the regions and the entire Delhi is coloured in one colour. One also talks about the Jat vote or the Punjabi vote, Muslim vote or dalit vote in Delhi. This election witnessed a massive swing of all the voters in favour of AAP. Even the Punjabi Khatris who had voted for the BJP in large numbers in past elections voted for the AAP in sizeable numbers.

The middle class had been unhappy about Kejriwal’s quitting the government after being in power for 49 days. He was also labelled as “Bhagoda” largely by the middle-class voters. But the results indicate that finally the middle class voted for the AAP in sizeable numbers. The vote for the AAP was much higher among the poor, it established a lead of more than 40 percent over the BJP amongst the poor-class voters, but large numbers of lower- and middle-class voters also voted for the AAP. It is only among the upper class voters that the BJP could pose a challenge for the AAP. The Congress vote share which went down to below ten percent (9.7 percent) managed to get a tiny number of votes from all these group of voters.

What seemed to have contributed to the AAP victory is a very sharp polarisation of the minorities, mainly the Muslims who constitute 11 percent of Delhi’s voters and with their concentration in about eight or nine assembly constituencies they are in a position to swing the elections in these constituencies. The Muslim vote which remained divided between the Congress and the AAP during the 2013 assembly election shifted in favour of the AAP in a big way.

Nearly 70 percent of Muslim voters voted for the AAP in these elections giving AAP a very decisive lead. Had the 2013 elections witnessed a similar shift in favour of AAP, the 2015 elections may not have been necessary. The shift of the Muslim vote towards the AAP had happened during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, but the enormous popularity of the BJP amongst various other sections of voters, namely Punjabi Khatri, Jats, OBCs and various other castes, negated its influence. Like in many other states, the Congress had lost its Muslim support even in Delhi. Though a sizeable proportion of Sikh voters voted for the AAP, their vote remained largely divided between the two main parties.

The dalits have voted for the AAP in large numbers. Amongst various dalit castes more than 70 percent voted for the AAP. The 2014 Lok Sabha election did witness a significant shift of the dalits in favour of BJP in Delhi, like in many other states. This, to a great extent, explains AAP winning all the dalit reserved seats in Delhi. The Punjabis seemed to have remained loyal to the BJP, but that was not enough for the party to defeat the AAP. The land acquisition ordinance seemed to have negatively affected the BJP as sections of Jats, having land interest in UP or Haryana, with sizeable presence in many constituencies in outer Delhi seemed to have voted for the AAP. This seemed to have given the edge to the AAP over the BJP in many Jat-dominated constituencies.

Do we see this verdict as a personal defeat of Modi or of the BJP? While I would personally not consider this as a referendum on the performance of the Modi-led central government, the same voters who have voted for the AAP in such large numbers seemed satisfied with the work of the central government. This is not a reflection on the declining popularity of the central government or Modi or rejection of the work done by the central government so far. But the way the BJP had made this election a prestige issue – with the prime minster putting in all his energy in the campaign, and nearly 200 BJP MPs, many BJP chief ministers and central ministers campaigning – this verdict should mean more than a routine defeat. This indicates a complete rejection of the kind of politics which BJP had been pursuing during the last few months; of arrogance, negativity etc., especially during the campaign.

Symbolically, the BJP’s defeat in Delhi would boost the morale of the leaders of opposition parties as we witnessed Trinamool Congress workers celebrating in the street of Kolkata. But I doubt if this in any way may help in consolidating the already existing electoral base of regional parties in states which are going to polls in next year or so. I fail to understand how this would mobilise additional electoral support for RJD or JD (U) in Bihar or Samajwadi Party or BSP in UP. The parties need to strategise keeping the emerging issues in their state. If they think this victory would have a very strong spill-over effect and if they think there is a national wave against Modi or BJP, they would be making a mistake.
Like AAP and Kejriwal, they would need to connect with the people if they would like to put up a strong contest against the BJP.

Kumar is director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

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