GAYETI SINGH | 12 FEBRUARY, 2020
Lessons from the ground
The Aam Aadmi Party swept the Delhi assembly elections, winning a massive mandate of 62 of 70 seats. “I love you,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal addressed the people of Delhi in a speech after the results, adding that the “politics of work” delivered the victory.
AAP leader Manish Sisodia, who defeated the BJP’s Ravinder Singh Negi in Patparganj by a narrow margin of 3000 votes, said that the “hate politics of [the] BJP has been defeated.” Sisodia was referring to the BJP’s efforts to polarise the polls, with party president Amit Shah going as far as asking voters to “press the button so hard the current would be felt in Shaheen Bagh.”
Even so, AAP’s victory in Delhi is unprecedented: Arvind Kejriwal secures a third term as Chief Minister, and the party has retained almost its entire 2015 vote share (it had won 67 seats in 2015), securing - yet again - an overwhelming majority. And while both the “politics of work” and the “rejection of hate” play a role in the post-poll analysis, there’s more to AAP’s win. Here are Five reasons why AAP swept Delhi.
The politics of work
Reporting assignments took us to different parts of Delhi, where we heard a uniform narrative. AAP had performed. Residents spoke of an improvement in their lives; water and electricity supply is now regular and subsidised, education reform has bettered public schools, and mohalla clinics have enabled access to affordable quality healthcare.
“AAP has given suvidha (facilities). Schools, electricity, water … no government has ever done so much,” a paper plate seller in Yusuf Sarai said. “This is the first time a Chief Minister has done good work,” tailor Mohammad Aslam told us in Trilokpuri. “This election is about vikas (development). We now have a sewage system, a proper road, water and electricity,” fruit seller Vikas said in Sangam Vihar.
So even as Trilokpuri’s residents complained of dirty water, and people in Sangam Vihar were frustrated at the delays in laying the water and sewage lines - the fact that work was done took electoral precedence. “Even if there is inconvenience, at least some work is being done. And people will vote for AAP because of this. No other party had bothered doing anything before this,” paan seller Anuj Gupta had prophetically told us in Sangam Vihar.
“The main point is - life is better than before,” Trilokpuri resident Ramesh Gupta told us. “There has been development in the last five years. Cameras have been installed in every street, we have three mohalla clinics in this area, and schools have seen a massive transformation.” “In India’s history, has any Chief Minister given residents free water and electricity? In my view, Kejriwal’s done more than enough to get our vote,” another resident, Roshan Lal, had said.
You can read our pre-poll ground reports from Sangam Vihar, Yusuf Sarai and Trilokpuri - for more voters’ speak on the impact of the politics of work.
Workers on the ground
A key piece of the election-victory puzzle is an effective organisation on the ground - through volunteers and cadre. This is where the BJP stands out in both state and national elections. As reporters covering state and national elections, we have often come away pinning the result entirely on the party’s boots on the ground. The sweep of saffron has been halted in states with an effective counter in the form of on-ground organisations challenging the BJP.
AAP’s frontal organisations worked through the year. informing people of the party’s deliverables through a targeted campaign. "In the first phase, it was general campaigning. The second was campaigning that connected with floating voters and now in the third phase of campaigning, we would be identifying points that could give the AAP a jump or an advantage,” the party had said of its frontal organisation campaign strategy.
Voters told us that AAP MLAs were accessible, and party workers in the area helped address citizens’ concerns. Every corner in Delhi had buzzing AAP party offices, with volunteers distributing pamphlets and other party paraphernalia. Rallies were well organised, and party meetings well attended. Kejriwal masks outnumbered Modi masks on the streets of pre-poll Delhi - with AAP putting up an effective campaign from the ground up.
A visit to Trilokpuri on the last day of polling demonstrated this. A huge AAP rally whizzed past us, with locals joining in, chatting to the party’s candidate and workers. At the Congress office less than a kilometer away, the mood was almost sombre - with workers barely chatting amongst themselves. “We’ll win,” women workers at the Congress office told us, promising to feed us celebratory sweets if we come again on results day. They and us both knew that promise was with little conviction.
Collapse of the Congress
In 2015, the Indian National Congress -- which had governed Delhi for 15 consecutive years till just two years ago -- failed to win a single seat, securing just 9.7 percent of the vote share. In 2020, the party’s vote share has fallen even further - to 4.26 percent, and it finished third in all 70 seats. The fact that voters did not see the Congress as a viable contender worked in favour of AAP, as the vote wasn’t fragmented three-way.
“Congress is khatam (over)” utensil seller Kanhaiya said in Sangam Vihar. This was repeated across Delhi, even though the party had performed better than AAP in the 2019 general elections.
The party’s dismal performance was expected, even by its own leaders. “There is nothing shocking about Congress party's defeat, we already saw it coming,” Congress leader Sandeep Dikshit said after the results. Delhi unit chief Subhash Chopra blamed the BJP and AAP’s “politics of polarisation,” saying, “reason for the drop in our vote percentage is politics of polarization by both BJP and AAP."
The era of personality politics
“Kejriwal in Delhi, Modi at Centre,” was repeated by many voters across Delhi - as personality politics increasingly determines voting patterns. “Many who voted for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections will vote AAP for Vidhan Sabha,” Rahul told us in Sangam Vihar, explaining why voters did not find this contradictory. “Lok Sabha is about the Prime Minister; it’s different,” he said, adding that as a Chief Ministerial candidate, Kejriwal offered a strong and capable leadership.
A large percentage of AAP’s voters did not see the vote as a choice between Arvind Kejriwal and Narendra Modi, but as a vote for a strong Chief Minister and a strong Prime Minister. AAP won 53.57 percent of the vote share in this election. In the 2019 general elections just a year ago, BJP had 56.58 percent vote share, with AAP securing just 18 percent of the vote.
The vote share numbers and ground reports indicate that many of those who voted for the BJP in 2019, voted AAP in 2020. Why? “Kejriwal in Delhi, Modi at Centre” sums it up better than any analysis we can offer.
Side-stepping hate politics
The BJP put up a polarising electoral campaign - dragging in bullets, biryani and even Pakistan. BJP MP Parvesh Verma called Kejriwal a “terrorist.” UP Chief Minister and BJP leader Yogi Adityanath said bullets would work against those protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act if dialogue didn’t. Adityanath also claimed that Kejriwal was sponsoring the protests at Shaheen Bagh, and offering biryani to the protesters. And Amit Shah asked voters to “press the button so hard the current would be felt in Shaheen Bagh.”
The Delhi verdict, then, was hailed as a “rejection of the BJP’s hate politics.” “This is clear vindication that development trumps communal politics,” DMK leader MK Stalin tweeted. “You have defeated negative & blatant hate politics decisively. Your verdict marks the defeat of politics of polarisation and division,” RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav said.
But others have pointed out that AAP did little to counter the BJP’s polarising agenda. Kejriwal and the party have not directly countered the BJP on Shaheen Bagh, the Citizenship Amendment Act, or the issue of police violence on student protesters - in fact, AAP has been visibly silent.
Former AAP politician Ashutosh explains this in a column for NDTV. Calling the Shaheen Bagh protests “a non-issue for AAP”, Ashutosh wrote: “ It may be puzzling for political pundits as to why AAP, which was born out of a social movement and which was once famous for hitting the streets at the drop of a hat, is not seen even in close proximity of Shaheen Bagh.” Ashutosh points to the rise of Hindu nationalism, and says AAP side-stepping issues such as CAA and Shaheen Bagh are part of a carefully thought-out electoral strategy - so as to note lose the wider majority vote. In another column titled, “Yes, Kejriwal Peddling Soft Hindutva. Why That's Very Smart” Ashutosh applauds Kejriwal for reciting the Hanuman Chalisa, calling it “an electorally smart move to avoid being painted as a leader who only cares for Muslims and feeds biryani to Shaheen Bagh protesters.”
Sources say that election strategist Prashant Kishor had a part to play here - making Kejriwal avoid direct confrontation, and focusing instead on the delivery of promises and the “politics of work.” “A key part of the strategy was to stop targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The argument was that a lot of BJP voters would vote for AAP in assembly elections, so there was no point antagonising them,” a media report said.
Voters by and large told us that the Citizenship Act and Shaheen Bagh will have limited impact on the vote, with vikas (development) remaining their primary concern.
The Delhi election results are more indicative of AAP’s successful effort to side-step hate politics, rather than an outright “rejection of hate.”