First the obvious. The surprising part of the result is not the victory of the AAP but the huge margin. This clearly indicates that this is not a negative vote. There are two important reasons for the AAP victory. The first is that a great majority of Delhi – especially the deprived – found the 49-day government to be one which had yielded positive results: petty exactions by police and government personnel had disappeared, electricity and water bills were favourably impacted for the consumer. Retrospectively this seems to have produced a sense that AAP provided a representative party of governance and was not just a party of Opposition.
The second important feature is that AAP not only managed to survive the Lok Sabha verdict but actually consolidated their organisation. Elected councillors implemented schemes with their allotted money and the conviction of volunteers was energised again by the Delhi Dialogues which brought them into close contact with local needs of especially the underprivileged and produced local manifestos. All of this brought back the involvement with practical activity and the belief in using the political machinery to serve the nation, which is the real core of the conviction that propels the AAP volunteers. These initiatives kept alive the memory of the benefits of the 49-day government, gave conviction to the volunteers and produced a sense of participation within the processes of party functioning in the voters.
In general what we are seeing is a politics of practical results, of which the main beneficiaries are the underprivileged. These benefits may not be very large – indeed may be much less than what is promised by election manifestoes. But it is a visible testament to the fact that voting can make a difference to one’s everyday life – after the elections are over. What is surprising here is that the middle class too appears to have been influenced by a wave that was apparent only in the lower sections of the social ladder – quite reversing the trend where any pro-poor measure was seen as populist and hence illegitimate. Clearly, in its success in the city state of Delhi, the AAP has tapped into an urban phenomenon. This condition of acute diversity – regional, caste, religion – in a megapolis appears to have made the language of class politics acceptable as a universal language that can overdetermine and bring together the pulls of region, religion, and caste.
Further, it’s a language of class that does not threaten the middle class. The latter seems comfortable with a politics that aids the poor without posing a danger to their status and interests. This is a new language of class politics. Its bedrock is a politics of delivery that can bring together different classes. On the other side, the BJP’s dismal showing is as astounding. The first important reason is the unabated anti minorities campaign by the RSS. This has the obvious impact of posing a security issue for the minorities and for committed secularists, but it has also exceeded the amount of negative religious mobilisation that even committed voters of the BJP may be prepared to tolerate. And across all sections, the statements and actions of the Hindutva parivar has been seen as a distraction from concrete issues of livelihood and living conditions. To this may be added the perceived non-performance of the BJP government especially Mr Modi who has projected himself as the face of the government. There may not be anger against the government but it is seen as working at advertising its governance than in performing governance. Worse, the BJP government is now firmly perceived to be a pro- big business party without providing corresponding benefits to the rest of the population which includes not just the poor but also the middle class trader and government servant. The benefits of liberalizing reforms for the people at large seem like what the revolution was for many skeptical leftists: it was always coming and never arriving. Finally it is the many mistakes of the BJP leadership that had left its workers unenthused. One saw more posters of the BJP than the workers in this election. It was bound to lose with this lack of inner conviction.
It is difficult to forsee the impact of these elections. But one thing is clear and that is that a two party electoral contest is going to cripple the BJP especially if they keep on with their anti-minorities and anti-secular drive. The second is that all parties – especially the Congress that pioneered this path and the BJP that has followed with uncritical enthusiasm in its path – have to recalibrate the liberalization programme. It will mean more caring measures for the poor (and for the environment) – in addition to tightening up the delivery system. All major parties will have to think creatively and not follow the line that comes from neo-liberal think tanks in Washington. Thirdly, this will lead to confusion in the BJP organization and it will certainly shake the position of the BJP leadership under Amit Shah. It will be interesting to speculate what is going to happen if one of the legs of the Modi-Shah combine gets seriously weakened. Finally there is the possibility that the new class politics of delivery may spread elsewhere, especially to other parts of urban India. Finally a caveat. All of this will depend on how well the AAP government functions and is perceived to do so. It can no longer take a cut and thrust method like it did the last time round. It will have to manage many fronts over a period of time, dealing with a hostile central government, implementing (a good part) of their programme and last but by no means the least, tackle the growing communal polarisation that constantly threatens to break out into riots. This will not only impact on its core constituency of Delhi. It will also determine if AAP is to represent the new urban politics of the country and spread to other social constituencies.
(The writer is a professor of political science at Delhi University)