Some lessons from the Delhi polls
WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
The outcome of the latest Assembly elections of Delhi has been miraculous, stupendous and breathtaking by any standards. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that had come to power in 2013 as a minority government with outside support of the Congress and had to quit after just 49 days in power, came back to power like a thunderbolt winning 67 of the 70-seat Assembly thus leaving only three seats for the BJP and its ally the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). This represents 95.71 per cent of seats and 54.3 per cent of the total votes. Both are electoral records for independent India. The Congress, which had won eight seats in the elections of 2013, was uble to win a single seat. What is indeed noteworthy is that the percentage of votes that the Congress had won in 2013 seems to have been added in toto to the AAP tally this time. In 2013, the AAP had won 29.49 per cent of the votes against the Congress tally of 24.55 per cent. This time the AAP had 54.3 per cent of the popular vote as opposed to 9.7 per cent of what the Congress had. Adding the vote percentages of the two parties in 2013, we have 29.49 + 24.55 = 54.03—a tally stunningly close to the 54.3 per cent votes that the AAP got this time. In other words, this time, practically all the votes that had gone to the Congress in 2013 went to the AAP.
The first obvious question is: What is it that prompted the people of Delhi to vote for the AAP of Arvind Kejriwal that could not survive for more than 49 days when it last came to power? Obviously, the people of Delhi must have decided to give the AAP a second chance just as the people of Assam had decided to give the AGP a second chance in 1996. Arvind Kejriwal and his followers were contrite and went back to the electorate with humility to seek a second chance. They worked very hard, they went from door to door and the results are there for all to see. By contrast, the BJP somehow gave the impression of being both complacent and arrogant. To make matters worse, many of the BJP members did not carry out the responsibilities entrusted to them. In most cases, this was due to complacency. After all, had the BJP not won all the Lok Sabha seats of Delhi in 2014? And had Arvind Kejriwal not eaten humble pie when he contested the Varasi seat against rendra Modi at the Lok Sabha elections of 2014? So, when the time came for the Delhi Assembly elections again to get an elected government in place, it was only tural that the BJP should have been very complacent and quite a bit overconfident. What is indeed significant is that compared to the results of the 2013 Delhi Assembly elections, the BJP’s percentage of the popular vote was down by only 0.87 per cent (from 33.07 per cent in 2013 to 32.2 per cent in 2015), but even this margil loss in the vote share has brought about a significant loss in the total number of Assembly seats for the BJP. But that is not all there is to the startling debacle for the BJP. A section of the dedicated workers of the BJP felt badly let down because new entrants like Kiran Bedi were preferred to the loyal old-timers. And Kiran Bedi’s projection as the BJP’s choice of Chief Minister did not go down well with Delhiites. To make matters worse, when she lost the election she declared that it was not she who had lost but the BJP! That was the kind of loyalty to the party that a newcomer evinced. This was a major error of judgement for which both Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Amit Shah were responsible. The Delhi Assembly elections had been projected as rendra Modi’s elections. So he and Amit Shah will have to take a major share of the responsibility for the BJP debacle. In the first place, Modi’s promise of better days (achche din) has not even revealed its contours in eight months of BJP rule. Diesel prices have come down drastically without this having the slightest impact on inflation. If anything, there has been a rise in the retail price inflation. Since even margil increases in fuel prices have an impact on all prices, why should a government promising better days not be able to induce manufacturers and traders to lower prices for the benefit of consumers when fuel prices are down? After all, for most people, “better days” are counted in terms of lower prices in a country that is uble to provide any major benefits of a welfare state. During the last eight months there has been more rhetoric than performance within the administration. There has been very little by way of actual development. There has also been very little initiative to amend or scrap outdated laws relating to manufacturing or other economic activity. But better days apart, neither rendra Modi nor Amit Shah seem to have succeeded in taking the desired steps even to get across to all voters in the way the AAP has maged to do. Thus it is possibly a case of humility having scored where complacency and arrogance were counterproductive. And one cannot entirely ignore the adverse impact that rendra Modi’s million-rupee suits, embroidered with his full me in gold thread to form stripes, must have had in the capital city of a country that has witnessed an increase in the number of people below the poverty line despite all promises of better days. However, all this cannot possibly account for the kind of unprecedented 95.71 per cent share of seats in the Assembly or 54.3 per cent of the total votes. As such, the more important reason for the kind of miracle witnessed in Delhi is not so much votes against the Congress or the BJP but rather votes for the Aam Aadmi Party because the electorate saw it as a party of the common people and one that could be counted on to take pro-people and popular decisions rather than populist ones—despite its ignominious failure the first time it was elected to power. Quite obviously, the AAP had maged to convince the electorate that it was aware of its earlier mistakes and was determined to eradicate them and make amends. That, coupled with a modicum of compassion on the part of the voters is what accounts for the kind of resounding popular mandate that the AAP got this time. This time, the possibility of an AAP victory was very much in the air well before of the opinion polls and exit polls. However, the exit polls erred in not being able to anticipate the extent of the popular mandate in favour of the AAP. The BJP’s statement after the exit polls that it did not accept or rely on the exit poll findings turned out to be a bit of a joke.
The kind of unprecedented majority that the AAP has secured in the Delhi Assembly is not only a miracle but a very frightening kind of mandate that any political leader can ever hope to get. In so many words it says: “We have given you the most absolute kind of mandate that any political leader can dream of. In a House of 70, only three members are not with you. This is the kind total mandate that entitles us to expect total responsibility and total transparency when you deal with issues that have a bearing on the people of Delhi. We shall never permit you to forget either the extent of our mandate or the extent of your responsibility to the people. This is a responsibility that we shall expect you to discharge with transparency and accountability at all times and with the humility that is appropriate for such a massive mandate.” In fact, this is the urticulated collective message that goes out after every major electoral victory, especially those with huge margins. The trouble arises in democratic set-ups from leaders failing to read the writing on the wall.