This election is history, and now begins the campaign to understand it—for the AAP, the BJP, their well-wishers, and armchair analysts (like myself). The key to the analysis is that it should not be circular, or tautological, i.e., it happened because it happened. And most importantly, this analysis should explain, or at least be consistent with, the resounding defeat of the AAP and the victory of Modi just 8 months ago—and the complete reversal today. Indeed, the AAP has done one better than the BJP; it has won 67 out of 70 Delhi Assemby seats; the BJP won “only” 60 of the same 70 Assembly constituencies in the Lok Sabha (LS) polls in 2014.
One popular opinion among experts is the refrain that, as is well-known from opinion polls and surveys, the Delhi voter had long ago decided that they would vote for Modi at the national level and Kejriwal at the state level. The only problem with this internally consistent explanation is that one would have to ask why Delhi is so different from Maharashtra, Haryana (which is next door, and with a lot of similar “voters”), Jharkhand and Jammu & Kashmir. Delhi might be the national capital, and be quirkily different, but it is not unique. If it is, it will be a sad blow to the ambitions and hopes of the AAP to go at least partly national!
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Another popular explanation is that the election proves there is a steep class divide in Delhi, i.e., the poor voted for the AAP and the middle-class and the rich voted for the BJP. This hypothesis is false on so many counts that it is difficult to decide where to begin. For beginners, the AAP has won nearly 100 percent of the seats across all three income classes—low, medium and high as defined by
Cicero/Headlines Today. Second, the AAP scored a 100% knockout only in the high-income category. Third, the poor in Delhi, according to the Tendulkar “absolute poor” definition (around R90,000 per year for a family of five in February 2015 prices) constitute less than 10% of the population. For an income level 50% higher (R1.35 lakh per year), the poor are 25% of the population. So, let us forget the notion that class-war was an explanation, let alone an important explanation. And while we are at it, let us also forget that caste considerations mattered. Even if class and caste are strongly correlated, as some claim; if income did not matter, then how come caste does?
Finally, let us reject the hypothesis that what explains this historical election is the non-support of the rank-and-file of the BJP, or the famed political prowess of the RSS workers (this rank-and-file has not won a Delhi election in more than 20 years) or their non-acceptance of Kiran Bedi as an interloper, or the sheer political ineptitude of Bedi. To be sure all of these things mattered, and they chipped away at BJP seats, but really, the story would be no different if the AAP had obtained “only” 55 seats.
Because what has happened in the Delhi Election 2015, purely and simply, is history. The accompanying table lists the 10 biggest wins and losses in Assembly elections countrywide in 21 big states of India since the coalition era began, post the 1989 VP Singh election. Obviously, there have been more elections but the criteria limits our selection to only those Assembly elections held within one year of the preceding Lok Sabha Election (a total of 29 elections). The highest win/loss is the 2015 AAP victory in Delhi (a swing of plus 21.4%!); the second-highest was the loss by BJP in Haryana in 2000—a swing of minus 20.3%.
Okay, okay, we agree on what does not explain history—but what does? The story about explaining this election has just begun, both by me and other self-styled experts. My partial, but not small, interpretation of what happened proceeds as follows. First, the conclusion. Just eight months ago, Narendra Modi had pulled off one of the most stunning victories ever. His platform, and appeal, was the delivery of both economic growth and governance. He has delivered on economic growth on several fronts—and I am not basing this conclusion on the new GDP data. A lot of initiatives, and initial steps, towards a reformed economy have already been taken, and Budget FY16 is likely to take this process considerably ahead (the rationale for this is given below). But where Modi has failed is in providing political governance. Ever since May 2014, India has been subjected to a barrage of actions oriented towards the encouragement of social disharmony.
The list is long but here are some examples: Love jihad or attempts to interfere with the private lives of young Indians; the non-discouragement of honour killings in the name of caste; ghar wapsi or attempts to go against the basic tenets of Hinduism in aggressively pursuing proselytisation; the initiative to make the learning of a dead language like Sanskrit as one of three “compulsory” languages; the continuous attempts to make the lives of minorities even more insecure (burning of churches in Delhi, a city going to the polls); the non-condemnation and non-removal of a minister stating that those who were not Hindus were bastards; the tolerance of statements that Hindu women should have four kids in order to boost further the 80%-plus Hindu population; the continuous pursuit by high-level officials to prove India is a Hindu nation and the attempt to revive the building of a Ram temple in Ayodhya; the tolerance of a BJP-appointed Censor Board official, Ashoke Pandit, who attempted to censor humour and free speech by being even more vulgar, and in a non-jovial way, than anything that the AIB could ever say, let alone said (congratulations guys, but I am disappointed by the fact that you are apologising for hurting “sentiments”); and the wearing of an expensive R10 lakh or whatever embroidered suit in the meeting with President Obama. For the quarter of Delhi’s households which live on less than R1.4 lakh a year, that is seven years of food, shelter and well-being.
These social disharmony tendencies have been condemned by many, including supporters of Modi, professor Jagdish Bhagwati, and well-wishers like US president Obama. This all adds to the anger of the middle-class and the rich—in addition to the anger of the poor.
What happens next? I think the Delhi election will turn out to be a win-win election for India, Delhi, Modi, and Kejriwal. The Delhi wake-up call is likely to considerably improve governance under Modi—and improve the chances for economic reforms and growth initiatives. Modi is one of the most astute politicians the world has seen, and he is likely to see what he needs to do in order to achieve his goal—everyone’s goal—of a free and prosperous India. Equally, Kejriwal knows that he now has to deliver on governance by actually governing. With great mandates that both Modi and Kejriwal received, come great expectations—and not meeting those expectations even half-way bring about greater disappointments.
The Delhi lesson for Modi is that he should not see the AAP victory as having relevance for only Delhi. And the lesson for Kejriwal (and the AAP) is that he should not see the Delhi election as having meaning beyond Delhi.
Bhalla is co-author, with Ankur Choudhary, of a recently-released book Criconomics—Everything you wanted to know about ODI cricket and More. Twitter: @surjitbhalla