A staggering victory

Modi’s juggernaut halted, Indian political equations altered

By Praful Bidwai (THE SCEPTIC)

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Published: Sat 21 Feb 2015, 10:43 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 11:17 PM

The Aam Aadmi Party’s staggering 67-out-of-70-seats victory in Delhi has delivered a seismic shock to India’s political system. It has been called Narendra Modi’s Stalingrad, the turning-point battle in the Second World War. It was doubtless the Bharatiya Janata Party’s first complete, humiliating electoral rout since May. It happened in a region where it had won all seven Lok Sabha seats. AAP’s win has major consequences for the Congress too. 

AAP swept 54.3 per cent of the vote, even higher than the Janata Party’s share in the historic post-Emergency “wave” election. The vote had a strong class angle: the dispossessed. According to a Lokniti-CSDS survey, 66 per cent of Delhi’s poor voted for AAP, only 22 per cent for the BJP. AAP also got 57-per cent support from the lower-middle class. These two groups form 60 per cent of the population.

Dalits and OBCs strongly favoured AAP. Seventyseven percent of Muslims and 57 per cent of Sikhs voted for AAP. This gives AAP a far more inclusive character, centred on the poor majority, than the BJP can even dream of.

The BJP ran an energetic, well-micromanaged, opulently financed, Modi-Amit Shah-designed campaign. Its strategy followed the Lok Sabha recipe: polarise voters on caste, class and religious lines; appeal to Hindu-supremacism and jingoism; and hype up the inequality-enhancing globalised “Gujarat model” to win upper-caste-upper-class votes.

Yet, Modi failed to draw crowds, so Kiran Bedi was drafted in, along with the entire Union cabinet, 120 MPs, and one lakh RSS volunteers.

The BJP was trounced primarily because Modi’s national popularity is declining. The BJP is seen as arrogantly pro-rich, sectarian, divisive and loutishly communal. Modi has failed to deliver jobs — a hugely important (if mythical) promise. His “Swacchh Bharat”, Jan Dhan Yojana and “smart cities” schemes sound like empty slogans.

Modi’s vanity stands exposed. He changes his attire thrice a day. His Rs 10-lakh suit with his name woven into its fabric has been described by a British paper as the Emperor’s “new clothes”, needed by a “self-aggrandising and insecure megalomaniac”. Although he’s auctioning it off, the suit will damage him for years.

Worse, Modi’s government is seen as pro-Big Business and anti-poor. It raised rail fares, and failed to lower petrol/diesel prices. It savagely cut the National Rural Employment Guarantee budget. And it’s preparing to severely restrict the Public Distribution System for food, and remove all labour protection.

The government’s land acquisition ordinance will displace millions of farmers, without social or environmental impact assessment. This is one reason why the BJP lost all 14 seats in rural Delhi; in 2013, it won 13.

The Delhi defeat caps the BJP’s relative decline post-May, with poor performance in 54 Assembly byelections. Its showing was below-par in Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Haryana, and Jammu and Kashmir. In Maharashtra, it spurned an alliance with the Shiv Sena, but had to crawl back to it. In Jharkhand, its score plummeted from 12/14 Lok Sabha seats to 37/81 Assembly seats. In Kashmir, its “Plan 44+”crashed.

Meanwhile, the Sangh Parivar’s mayhem created serious insecurity among numerous religious-ethnic groups, including Northeastern Indians, described as “immigrants”. Its anti-minority campaigns, including “ghar-wapsi” and Godse-worship, are tacitly backed by BJP bosses. At work here isn’t the “lunatic fringe”; it’s the BJP itself.

AAP projected itself as a credible pro-poor moral force, of the kind the Left once was — irreverent towards authority, militant in opposing privilege based on birth, and ready to bring “the world’s largest democracy” down to earth through expanded people’s rights and greater public accountability.

AAP’s victory has generated incredible exuberance among the underprivileged. It will alter national political equations and revive the opposition, with an impact in Bihar and Punjab (four AAP MPs) where Assembly elections are due soon.

AAP’s victory has further marginalised the Congress. This isn’t good for Indian democracy, which needs a middle-of-the-road multiple-current umbrella party, in place of a system strongly dominated by the Right-wing BJP. But the Congress must realise that the Gandhi family, in particular Rahul, is a millstone around its neck.

The Left and regional parties will do well to learn from AAP’s local democracy-based approach, and its unabashed populism.

Populism is a much-maligned word. But in its original sense—prioritising redistribution over growth, advancing social justice, and attacking the political establishment “for being self-serving and deaf to the needs of the ordinary citizen”—it’s a healthy thing. India needs more populism and less pandering to the rich.

Central to AAP’s future is its Delhi performance. To deliver on subsidised water and power, AAP should avoid hasty decisions and consult equity-oriented experts from Prayas Energy Group (Pune) and Yamuna Bachao Abhiyan.

AAP must also be more open to working with other parties and civil society groups on issues of broad popular concern: land acquisition, rights to food, housing, healthcare and education, and minority rights. That’s where its future lies.


Praful Bidwai is a Delhi-based columnist, social science researcher, and activist on human rights, peace and environmental issues.

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