Indian elections are increasingly becoming about the choice of a leader. Was this true of the recently concluded Delhi polls? The fact that the BJP did not have a Chief Ministerial face, as against the clear projection of Arvind Kejriwal, appeared to make an important difference. How critical was the leadership factor in explaining AAP’s victory? The Lokniti-CSDS data provides important insights on this crucial question.
When respondents in Delhi were asked an open-ended question on who they would like as the Chief Minister of Delhi after the elections, Kejriwal appeared to face no competition whatsoever. A majority of respondents took his name, with his closest opponent (Manoj Tiwari of the BJP) being supported by a mere 6% of respondents.
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If one were to include the names of all BJP leaders mentioned by the respondents, it comes to around one-fifth of the respondents. Leaders of the Congress hardly found a mention and seemed to have been virtually forgotten.
More than half the respondents were of the view that the BJP should have announced its Chief Ministerial candidate. The importance of a Chief Ministerial face was underscored by those who had supported the BJP earlier. Two-thirds of those who switched from the BJP to AAP (from 2015 to 2020) felt the BJP should have declared their Chief Ministerial candidate. Thus, the BJP going into the campaign without a Chief Ministerial face placed the party at a decisive disadvantage.
Did Kejriwal’s leadership play a major role in galvanising the vote in AAP’s favour? More than one-thirds of those who voted for AAP conceded that they would not have cast their vote in favour of the party if not for Kejriwal. Close to four of every ten of those respondents who voted for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and shifted to AAP this time around stated that they would not have voted for AAP if Kejriwal was not the CM candidate. Similarly, more than four of every ten of AAP voters who were unhappy with the performance of their local MLA stated that they would not have voted for AAP if not for Kejriwal’s leadership. The impact of Kejriwal in swinging the vote in favour of his party is patently visible.
It has often been asserted that for many Delhi voters the preference was ‘Modi for PM and Kejriwal for CM’. The Lokniti-CSDS poll raised a few questions which sought to tap public perceptions on both Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal.
There seems to be a common trend in public responses to the two leaders. Close to eight of every ten who liked Modi also liked Kejriwal. Seven of every ten who liked Kejriwal also liked Modi. Both leaders were liked by nearly three fourths of the respondents, with Kejriwal scoring a bit higher than Modi. Both had their share of respondents who disliked them. The dislike for Modi was 10 percentage points higher than in the case of Kejriwal.
More interestingly, two of every ten respondents fully disliked Modi, while in the case of Kejriwal it was one of every ten. If one were to see the intensity of the sweep of AAP in Delhi, the fact that Kejriwal evoked very high levels of support (eight of every ten liking him) could well have been a key factor.
Further, Kejriwal has much higher support among women respondents as compared to Modi, with the difference being as high as 14 percentage points. On the other hand, his advantage over Modi among men is much lower, at just five percentage points. The greater support for Kejriwal among women respondents could be well linked to the strong support his leadership enjoyed for the government’s performance in the field of education, health, water supply and electricity.
Over the years, one has noticed that electing a new Lok Sabha or Legislative Assembly has increasingly become about choosing the next PM or CM. The fact that one-thirds of AAP voters conceded that they may have changed their voting preference if Kejriwal was not leading the party, and if four of every 10 voters who switched from BJP to AAP (from Lok Sabha to Assembly polls) did so on account of Kejriwal being the CM candidate, the role of the leadership factor is clearly apparent.
Sandeep Shastri is the Pro Vice-Chancellor of Jain University, Bengaluru and the National Coordinator of the Lokniti network
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