There is nothing quite like an Indian election: it is, to borrow from The Times of India’s slogan, ‘the dance of democracy’. Yesterday, was yet another remarkable moment in India’s electoral history. There was a general feeling ahead of counting day that AAP was in the lead. My own figure in the office sweepstakes was a half century for AAP. But no one, least of all Arvind Kejriwal himself, could have imagined 67 out of the 70 seats. If the May 2014 verdict was a TsuNamo, then this was, well, another tidal wave that swept all before it. When I rang up Kejriwal to congratulate him, he seemed just as stunned: ‘I don’t know what happened! Yeh to chamatkar hai’. He sounded dazed, still coming to terms with the scale of his triumph. So, let me give you five big reasons why Delhi voted the way it did.
A) This vote was partly about arithmetic as every election is. The Congress vote collapsed by about 15 per cent from December 2013 (24.5 per cent to 10 per cent). A bulk of this vote went to AAP: the anti BJP traditional Congress voter strategically decided that the Congress wasn’t going to win, so best to vote for the party in the best position to defeat the BJP. With the BJP voter stuck around 33 per cent, the incremental vote — Muslims, Dalits, a section of the middle class — all went to AAP.
B) This vote was partly about chemistry. Kejriwal struck a chord with the average Delhi voter as the best chief ministerial candidate for the city-state much in the manner that Narendra Modi had in the general elections. In a near-presidential style contest, Kejriwal was way ahead of Kiran Bedi. Dr Bedi is a policewoman, not a politician, lacking the charisma and communication skills of her one time ally in the India against corruption movement. Even Kejriwal’s ‘bhagoda’ image no longer mattered once he had apologised for resigning after 49 days in power.
C) AAP’s volunteer base has built deep roots in Delhi. AAP maybe just two years old, but the party’s workers have now fanned into every nook and cranny of the city. Localised elections need a ‘local’ connect. AAP had it in the manner that no other party could match. Many of the RSS pracharaks and karyakartas were ‘imported’ from outside Delhi for the campaign: they just were not as invested as AAP in this election. The closest parallel I will draw to the AAP’s Delhi network is the Shiv Sena in the 1960s and 1970s when the party built a solid network in Mumbai’s bylanes. The Shiv Sena became Mumbai’s regional party; AAP, although ideologically very different, has created a grassroots structure that makes it Delhi’s regional alternative.
D) AAP outsmarted the BJP in campaign strategy. In a sense, AAP and Kejriwal did to the BJP and Mr Modi in Delhi, what the prime minister did to the Congress and Rahul Gandhi in the general elections: they just were smarter and far more hungry for success. While the BJP ran a mostly negative campaign, AAP offered a positive agenda for governance and seemed to finally move beyond angry slogans and open confrontation. AAP started their election campaign six months ago, the BJP really began its campaign only with the prime minister’s speech in January. BJP was desperate enough to call Kejriwal an ‘urban Naxal’, to draft opportunists like Krishna Tirath and Shazia Ilmi, to parachute Kiran Bedi as their CM candidate thereby alienating the second level leadership , to try a last minute ‘dirty tricks’ campaign by using a breakaway AAP faction and even tried to use the Shahi Imam to polarise the electorate. The otherwise voluble Mr Modi chose to stay silent when churches were vandalised. It was a classic case of one self-goal after the other, occasioned by a mix of complacency, arrogance, and, in the end, just incompetence.
E) Most importantly this election is ultimately about what I would choose to describe, ‘the revenge of the urban poor’. A CSDS post poll survey shows that AAP got 65 per cent of the vote of the urban poor versus just 23 per cent to the BJP. This 42 per cent difference is at the core of the magnitude of the triumph. Over 60 per cent of Delhi’s population live in slums and unauthorised colonies, almost every constituency has a large number of people who live on the margins in habitat that lacks basic infrastructure. For them, AAP has become their badge of identity: it empowers them, be it against the policeman who wants hafta or the ‘khaas admi’ who corners public resources. Yes, AAP got a cross class, cross caste vote, but at the heart of it was a ‘class divide’: as you went down the income chain, the gap between AAP and the BJP widened. For example, the CSDS poll shows just a two per cent difference in voting preferences among the rich. AAP won big because voting day is the only time when the aam admi has the same power as the khaas admi.
Post-script: through the day in the studio yesterday, I was served endless cups of tea. With every lead and result, the smile on the face of the boy who serves us tea kept getting wider. His smile said it all: he was the ‘muffler man’ in disguise. He may not afford an expensive suit, but he had discovered a new identity, a badge of self-respect.