Delhi election 2015 has demonstrated that voters are restless for change. These elections stand out on at least five counts.
Firstly, if prime minister Modi’s ability to “dial in” to the aspirations of the people promising them sweeping socio-economic and political change played a key role in the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, the Delhi elections 2015 were also about AAP’s ability to offer to the voter “new politics”, of addressing the daily lives of the people. If Lok Sabha was about the macro change, Delhi was about the micro change “unto the last citizen”. “Change”, however, is the constant thread in both these elections. It is not surprising then that in both elections, young voters have come out in significant numbers to vote for change. Overall increases in voting percentages are symptomatic of the change that citizens desire. The 2015 Delhi elections witnessed more than 67 per cent voter turnout, some constituencies like North East Delhi had unprecedented 70 per cent people voting. AAP swept the Delhi elections winning 67 out of 70 seats, with a double-fold increase in its vote share from 29 per cent in 2013 to 54.3 per cent in 2015.
The election outcome in some senses then is also about the “aspirant-resilient” India. It is a symptom of citizens wanting change, which was expressed in unequivocal manner first in the Lok Sabha elections and now in the Delhi polls. A clear message to the political parties: Either you plug into our aspirations and ideas of change or we vote you out. Business as usual is not acceptable. Delhi election is a marker of this resilience. The usual “modus operandi” of multi-scaled high-profile rallies of the BJP (and Congress) was not as consequential as they were during the Lok Sabha polls. This is a clear signal that the political parties have to invent and reinvent constantly to strategically calibrate with the aspirations of the change-demanding voter.
Secondly, the uniqueness about AAP’s “new politics” was in its approach of being able to connect with the man/women on the streets. AAP has been able to depart from the ostensible show of power and hierarchies and fused a direct working synergy with the voter. This was evident in numerous road shows and rallies that the party organised around Delhi, in which the leaders were seen by the voters as “one of them”, on their side of the fence and not on the other side—an approach that perhaps other cadre-based parties working with exceedingly defined hierarchies might find worthwhile to include in their election strategy.
Thirdly, Delhi being the centre of power, this election cannot be ruled out as any other sub-national election. There are interesting days in store for us in way the Centre-Delhi dynamics would unfold. AAP with its hyper-drive on solving micro-level issues in Delhi might act as both a “policy and political regulator” for the Centre. On the other hand, how the Centre deals with AAP in its activist mode might throw open some interesting dynamics at both ends.
Fourthly, this election yet again proves that the voter would reject the politics of personal attack. Voters in Delhi rejected the politics of personally targeting AAP’s leader, Arvind Kejriwal. This is not the first time we have seen this happening though. The “maut ka saudagar” (merchant of death) statement by the Congress during Assembly elections in Gujarat had backfired on them. Similarly, Modi took off on the ‘chaiwala’ statement by the Congress, which in fact, became the rallying point for Modi’s campaign machinery. Obviously, the BJP either ignored or did not learn from this recent history.
Fifthly, interestingly the 49-day governance by AAP was often a point of attack by other parties, labelling AAP and Kejriwal a “bhagoda” (someone running away from the responsibility) or an inexperienced party, which fails to provide a stable government. On the contrary, the 49 days at the helm of the Delhi administration proved to be a boon for AAP in this election. The voter experienced change, albeit minor, during AAP’s stint such as decline in petty corruption—bribery in government departments and police demanding money on the roads. AAP’s 49-day rule, according to a majority of Delhiites, resulted in a cautious and responsive government. What perhaps also mattered was the public apology by Kejriwal regarding his resignation from the Delhi’s chief ministership. Apparently, Delhi has provided AAP a complete majority to actualise this change from “business as usual” to a responsive government.
The incredible election verdict, notwithstanding, for AAP the challenges are numerous when the jubilations end and oath is taken by the new CM at Ramlila grounds. The first challenge for AAP would be to maintain the “connect” with the ground in terms of honesty and transparency vis-à-vis the people. AAP’s uniqueness lies in the fact that it departs from the culture of power and position displayed by other regimes. In many ways, people got used to “seeing the state” from the other side of the fence as “the state” and “us”. In its approach, AAP has blurred the fencing and as a result, the people have showed faith in it.
Secondly, AAP needs to view the administrative machinery not as an adversary but as a partner, who will help it deliver. They have to move beyond the “witch hunting” mode, which characterised their earlier stint.
Thirdly, AAP and its leadership will have to abandon its political and policy impatience. The objective should not be the complete overhaul of the system but to mould it cautiously and slowly to suit AAP’s political and administrative style. Politics and policies are about gradualism—AAP’s leadership I hope is aware that Rome was not built in a day.
Fourthly, AAP needs to move from the agitational to action mode, going beyond the election mindset of targeting the BJP or Congress.
Fifth, if the Delhi election results have put pressure on Modi for delivering, AAP should get a head start on delivering on its own set of promises. The promises and actions need to be aligned so that the promises do not fall flat on the face. This can only happen when the government actually gets to the business of governance and show the promises in operation.
Above all, if AAP harbours a long haul in the democratic politics of India the challenge will be to build a strong party organisation and cadre. It will have to capitalise on the current edge.
The author teaches at the National University of Singapore and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org