Belying all expectations, the Aam Aadmi Party has stormed to an astounding victory in the Delhi assembly elections. Having won 67 out 70 assembly seats, with a whopping 54 per cent vote share, AAP’s victory is more than a mere landslide. The Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, however, will have to introspect and reflect on how the script went so horribly wrong, considering it was only eight months ago that they secured a whopping majority in the Lok Sabha polls. What will trouble the BJP more than anything is the drastic dip in its vote share between May 2014 and February 2015.
In the Lok Sabha elections, the party secured a vote share of 46 per cent, winning 60 out of the 70 assembly segments. On Tuesday the BJP’s vote share had dropped to 33 per cent. Considering it secured a similar vote share in the 2013 assembly elections, with 32 seats in its kitty, some have suggested that the party need not be unduly perturbed by Tuesday’s results, since its traditional voter base has remained intact. The cause for worry, however, is the 13 per cent drop in eight months. Some political commentators have construed that the 13 per cent comprised of fence-sitters.
In the general elections, Modi had spectacularly sold his idea of development and aspiration that captured the attention of voters, especially those on the fence. With those on the fence leaving the BJP in droves, the ruling establishment must take note and continue to work on its agenda for the betterment of the common man, instead of allowing reactionaries to hijack its development agenda. As former union minister in the erstwhile NDA government Arun Shourie said, “The BJP can’t talk development in Delhi and ‘Love Jihad’ in Muzzafarnagar.”
The BJP’s defeat is staggering, especially in light of the amount of political capital that Modi and Amit Shah have expended over the past two years. More than 120 Members of Parliament and legislators were brought in to campaign for the party in the Delhi elections, besides crores of rupees that were spent on newspaper, radio and television adverts. Therefore the BJP’s spectacular defeat, taken at face value, could have a massive bearing on Indian politics. The Delhi state itself may not be significant in terms of numbers or the larger question of governance, considering that law and order and land do not come under its jurisdiction.
Having a chief minister, who will not always play ball with the Centre right under prime minister’s nose, however, will also make it harder for the Modi to peddle his version of development. If AAP’s manifesto is to be believed, it will work towards developing the national capital through a very different narrative to what the current dispensation offers. The party’s staunch opposition to the Centre’s land acquisition ordinance, its desire to bring political parties under the ambit of the Right to Information, besides genuine and tangible attempts at reducing corruption, are just some elements of its vision that stand in stark contrast to what the BJP has offered. Since it is the national capital, Delhi will also get an inordinate amount of media coverage.
In hindsight, the memory of AAP’s 49-day stint in government has lived on with the citizens of Delhi. Reduced electricity rates, 700 litres of free water to each household, zero VAT raids on small shopkeepers and vendors and the perceived reduction in corruption are some memories that lingered on with the Delhi voter. Despite odd smear campaigns against opposition leaders this time, the AAP’s campaign has largely focussed on the positive tangibles it delivered in 49 days. In sharp contrast to the eight months under the Modi-led Centre, the AAP-led government had brought about a tangible change in the life of the common man.
More than anything, however, what Arvind Kejriwal and his ilk sold to the people of Delhi, especially the urban poor, was the politics of empowerment. It constantly emphasised to its voter that they must have a say in the nature of the services an AAP-led government will provide, and the sense of probity that follows. Another key selling point, however, has been the sense of urgency and immediacy the AAP has promised to its voters, in terms of the services its Delhi government will deliver. AAP, therefore, needs to announce an immediate time table of policy, spelling out what can be cured immediately and what would require time. It must also constructively work along with the central government, something AAP leaders have already agreed to. Managing expectations in this regard is the single biggest lesson that Arvind Kejriwal can learn from Modi and his party’s sharp fall from grace. The less said about the Congress on this front, the better.
The biggest challenge for AAP, however, will come from the web of expectations it has created. These expectations are not only about service delivery, but about developing a new perception about how politics will be conducted in the national capital and India. For the time being, the aura of invincibility around Modi-Shah has been shattered. For the people of Delhi, however, it is now time for the AAP to get down to the business of governing Delhi.