By: Suhas Palshikar & Sanjay Kumar
Exit polls may have partially taken away from the drama that surrounds outcomes of Delhi assembly elections. Riding the tide of expectations, the AAP has wiped out all other parties, including the Congress, and in the process delivered a crushing blow to the BJP.
When such one-sided victories happen, they represent a more uniform political preference across social sections and make an analysis difficult — or easy. Easy, because one can explain everything in terms of the “wave” effect; difficult, because probably all sections of voters overwhelmingly vote for one party, flattening most social cleavages. The AAP successfully appealed to “voters of Delhi” as if that is a category devoid of any internal stratification. As the post-election survey by Lokniti (and discussed in greater details in accompanying pieces) shows, there is of course a certain flattening of social cleavages, and yet a marked social profile to the victory of the AAP.
Delhi went to polls for a third time since 2013. The newly formed AAP remained in agitation mode even after taking over the reins of Delhi and chose to quit office in 49 days. That received much criticism and caused public disappointment. By then, the BJP had surged ahead nationally. Capitalising upon the AAP’s tactical mistake, it won all seven parliamentary seats in 2014. Within barely six months of its dramatic rise, the AAP had slid — but surely it was not out. As the graph shows, it would be an understatement to say that AAP consolidated its position.
Sixty-seven seats in a 70-member assembly is a record of sorts nationally too.
There are similar instances (see table) and Sikkim has witnessed two parties win all 32 seats once each. Yet, given the fact that the AAP was fighting a nationally dominant BJP, this performance will remain historic.
This outcome is almost a mirror image of 2014. Drastic swings in a short span of time are not entirely unknown, particularly when the contest is for a different level — from national to state level or reverse. Yet, one could hardly believe that the party that led in about 60 of the 70 assembly segments barely eight months ago would be reduced to only three. Why did this happen? How could the BJP, which led in May 2014 by 13 per cent, now be trailing by over 20 per cent? How is it that a leader who won national elections for the BJP failed to wrest the Delhi assembly from a fledgling new party?
In the first place, it must be remembered that right from 2013, voters in Delhi were attracted to the AAP. The Lok Sabha elections intervened, but Kejriwal and his party bounced back because it already had entered the imagination of the voters of Delhi.
Second, breaching traditional party loyalties, the AAP drew votes from both the Congress and the BJP. Compared to 2013, the Congress could retain only barely 43 per cent of its voters; the BJP retained more than two-thirds of its 2013 voters. The AAP retained almost four of every five of its 2013 voters and drew from both the Congress and the BJP: nearly half the Congress voters (48 per cent) shifted to the AAP from 2013 to 2015. In comparison, the movement of BJP voters from 2013 was limited — only 27 per cent shifted to the AAP.
This shift, however, was more pronounced in the case of 2014. Of those who voted for the BJP last May, as many as 39 per cent shifted to the AAP last week. This only suggests that while voters preferred Modi for prime minister, they returned to the AAP as far as Delhi’s government was concerned.
Third, this election turned out to be a plebiscite on who should be Delhi’s CM. While still supportive of Narendra Modi (our data shows that voters are not exactly dissatisfied with Modi or the BJP government), the discerning voters could appreciate that he was not going to be the CM of Delhi and they indeed did not have much attraction for Kiran Bedi as CM.
Fourth, through the shift of Congress voters, the AAP handsomely garnered the votes of Muslims, backward communities and the poor of Delhi. This gives a sharp socio-economic character to the AAP, making it a party of the poor and lower classes and backward castes, without losing substantial support among middle classes and intermediate and upper castes.
In this momentous surge, there lies the huge burden of popular expectations. This vote is not only for a person or leader; it is not an assertion of any community-based identity; it is a rare moment in India’s electoral history when such a surge has occurred primarily on the basis of an expectation of delivery and governance. The predominantly urban and aspiration-conscious voters of Delhi have demanded through this vote a better management of Delhi and more widely spread delivery.
Voters have not defeated anybody, they have elected the party they think and hope may conduct itself differently while in power. Therefore, the victory of AAP — while a burden for the winner — is yet another triumph in the journey of democracy in India.
Suhas Palshikar teaches political science at th Savitribai Phule Pune University; Sanjay Kumar is Director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi