The AAP under Arvind Kejriwal has stormed back to power in Delhi with a decisive mandate. In more than one sense, it was a repeat of its 2015 performance. Though it has secured a marginally lesser number of seats as compared to the last round, the scale of AAP’s victory is still impressive, given that it was defending its five-year record in government against a strong and determined party controlling the national government.
One-thirds of those who voted for BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls switched their vote preference to AAP in the 2020 Assembly polls. The Lokniti-CSDS Survey indicates that AAP came back riding on an unambiguous pro-incumbency sentiment across different sections of voters. Close to seven of every ten respondents felt the Kejriwal government deserved a second term. Notably, no party in power in almost any of the states, barring Odisha and Telangana, has in the last 10 years, received such a high pro-incumbency rating.
In the run-up to polling, Delhi witnessed an acerbic campaign waged by the BJP on emotive and national issues. But the voter sentiment our survey captured in early December did not change much. This was because voters saw the election mainly as a question of Delhi’s governance. In this sense, the victory of the AAP was clearly a vote for performance on the ground. The water, electricity, education and healthcare record of the government was clearly its USP. Three of every five of those who traditionally supported the BJP said they favoured AAP on account of the performance record of the government.
The survey indicated that close to half the respondents were satisfied with the performance of both Chief Minister Kejriwal and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Another three of every ten were satisfied with Kejriwal and not with Modi. The fact that voters were not much satisfied with the municipal governments controlled by BJP gave the AAP an additional edge.
Above all, the AAP benefitted from the fact that it had Kejriwal’s face at the head of its campaign. The BJP, on the other hand, had no such credible, visible or declared face. The party once again depended on the charisma and charm of its national leaders, mainly Modi. In a state poll, this clearly worked in favour of the AAP as even two-fifths of those satisfied with the Modi government’s performance voted for AAP. Modi continues to be very popular among Delhi’s voters and yet, they chose Kejriwal over him primarily because they were conscious that this was a question of who will lead the state government.
The last minute efforts of the BJP to polarise voters and win back the support of those who voted for it in the Lok Sabha polls six months ago did not cut much ice. While it did contribute to the possible rise in the BJP vote share compared to last assembly election, it was not sufficient to reduce the wide gap that had developed between the BJP and the AAP. At the end of the day, governance and service delivery appeared to trump the politics of emotive appeals and divisiveness. The Delhi voter has sent a loud and clear message: Emotive issues do attract voters, but pitched against questions of performance, they may be forced to take a backseat.
The BJP went into the election believing that the magic wand called Modi combined with its pitch for ‘national’ issues would be sufficient to unseat the AAP. At a heavy cost to its image and its prospects in Delhi election, it forgot that the key strength of Indian democracy is the shrewd assertiveness of the Indian voter, in privileging performance over promise, results over rhetoric and development over divisiveness.
(Sandeep Shastri is the Pro Vice Chancellor of Jain University, Bengaluru and the National Co-ordinator of the Lokniti network; Suhas Palshikar taught Political Science, he is currently the Co-Director of the Lokniti programme and chief editor of Studies in Indian Politics; Sanjay Kumar is Co-Director of the Lokniti programme at CSDS).
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