Aam Aadmi Party supporters celebrate AAP's win in the capital | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Aam Aadmi Party supporters celebrate the party's win in the capital | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
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History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. This is one of the oft-quoted statements from Karl Marx, which alerts us that the re-occurrence of an event carries very different meanings in history. The Aam Adami Party’s repetition of its grand victory in the 2015 Delhi election is neither a tragedy nor a farce. In many ways, it does more to alter the equations of national politics. But it is no longer the victory that could change the established models of governance or the ways of Indian politics.

Judging by the craft of electoral battlefield, this is undoubtedly a memorable victory, bigger than the previous one. Coming at the end of a full term marred by a hostile central government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an electoral victory is rare and should call for compliments. Repeating the unmatched scale of victory — nearly 54 per cent votes and about 90 per cent seats — in the wake of a washout in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, a central government determined to deny the AAP another term, one of the most aggressive and vicious campaigns by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and a diffident Election Commission makes it even more historic.

Add to it the special sociology of voting. India Today’s exit poll that provides social break-up of votes confirms that the AAP actually consolidated its vote share among women and poor voters. It seems that the AAP lost a 4-5 per cent votes to the BJP but made up for it from the gains it made from the Congress. In terms of education and class, the correlation is straightforward: the poorer and less educated the voter, the greater the AAP’s lead over the BJP. That suggests an enduring alignment of voters that is here to stay. Arvind Kejriwal must be complimented for holding his nerves during this campaign and guiding his team to this success.

While the AAP’s victory in 2015 was a one-off exception that did not alter the national equations, the 2020 election result brings good news for the entire country. Since 2018, Delhi is now the ninth successive assembly election (Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Delhi) where the BJP failed to win, despite being a serious contender (excluding Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Mizoram where it was not). This may not be an indicator of a decline and eventual fall of Narendra Modi from national centre stage. Nation-wide opinion polls attest to the continuing popularity of Modi. Opinion polls in the run-up to the Delhi election had shown that most AAP voters prefer Modi as the national leader and BJP as the party of their choice for Lok Sabha. Yet, another defeat in state assembly elections would puncture the narrative of BJP’s rising tide. It would also mean stronger federal resistance to the Centre’s attempts to ride roughshod over states.


Also read: 5 reasons why Modi-Shah’s BJP lost to Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP in Delhi election


Cause for relief

This defeat of the BJP carries a bigger message. The BJP’s election campaign in Delhi was a new low in India’s electoral history. From national leaders to local minions, this was a full-throttled communal polarisation. Short of officially calling for Hindu-Muslim riots, the BJP leadership did everything that it could — branding its opponents as terrorists, anti-national, Pakistanis and whatnot — as the Election Commission made polite noises. Had this model succeeded, this would have become a national template — incite-hatred-win-elections — with ethnic, caste and regional variants. Its defeat may not put an end to the polarisation strategy. The BJP may well read the increase in its vote share as an indicator of the success of polarisation. And the party is bound to try this in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. But this result would surely sow seeds of doubt in the minds of those who argue for this. That is a cause for relief.

Yet, it would be misleading to compare this victory of the AAP with its path-breaking electoral debut in 2013 and 2015. At the time of inception, the AAP promised nothing short of a new model of governance, even if the contours of that model were yet to be worked out. Its ideology of swaraj promised a new vision for India, breaking free of ideological rigidities of the past. Above all, it promised a new kind of politics that would challenge the established rules of the game.

This second victory is not a realisation of that promise. Instead, it confirms that this new player has learned the rules of the game better than the older players, and proven that you don’t need a new model of governance or vision to succeed in India’s politics. 

Far from inaugurating a new model of governance, the AAP has replicated, more successfully than others, what is by now a box standard template of re-election. The template was designed by Narendra Modi himself in his second and third assembly elections in Gujarat, replicated and refined by chief ministers like Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh, Nitish Kumar, and Naveen Patnaik. This template of re-election for an incumbent government comprises three elements: assured delivery of select welfare measures that directly reach the people, high-decibel publicity of these measures and the leaders personality to amplify these policies, and a strong election machine to convert these into votes.


Also read: BJP failure in Delhi not a referendum on CAA-NRC. But voters have a message for its ideology


AAP’s template 

Arvind Kejriwal used this template better than those who designed it. Free or cheap electricity did provide real relief to the poor and lower middle classes. Education may not have improved, but school infrastructure did. Mohalla clinics were mostly a start-up, but these did hold out a promise of accessible health services. These tangible gains were amplified through very simple and powerful communication, both official advertisements and party political publicity.

As a result, it became an article of faith that Delhi government was about education plus health. Everyone forgot about corruption, employment, pollution, transport and liquor. Arvind Kejriwal managed his image very deftly where it mattered most, the ordinary voters, without bothering much for the opinion-making classes. He too discovered that the public has a very short memory. All this was converted into votes through a powerful and well-oiled election machine, with some assistance from Prashant Kishor. This is not to take away from the brilliance and perseverance of the AAP leadership in executing and improvising on the template. It is just useful to remember that this is not a new model.

The same is true of the AAP’s political strategy. Far from rewriting the rules, the party has reaffirmed the existing rules. One, you cannot do politics without mobilising political entrepreneurs who are agnostic to political principles. Two, vision and principles are for the chattering classes, you don’t need to bother about these much. Three, a political party is all about winning elections, which is a necessary and sufficient test of political success. Four, a political party cannot work without a ‘high command’ that follows a single leader. The amazing thing about the AAP is not that it fell back on this conventional wisdom, but how quickly and eagerly it embraced the rules that it set out to change.

Many of these learnings paid off in the 2020 Delhi election. It could award ticket to every winnable candidate without any moral or ideological hindrance. The ideological flexibility allowed the AAP to quickly adjust to the Right-ward shift of the political spectrum. From welcoming the dilution of Article 370 and abolition of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to welcoming the Supreme Court verdict on Ayodhya, the party quickly shifted to the middle-Right. It managed, brilliantly, to remain ambiguous on the CAA and Shaheen Bagh through its campaign. Finally, it could limit the contest to the local issues of Delhi and paint itself as the only alternative at that level.

And this is the real irony: the party that was formed to break the tyranny of TINA (there is no alternative) won because there was no alternative to it.

So, the question is not whether these strategies work in elections. The AAP has shown that they do. The question we need to ask now is whether these can help us fight the larger battle to reclaim the republic.

The author is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

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16 Comments Share Your Views

16 COMMENTS

  1. All people like yogendra(inJNU) etc created the all the anarchy in JNU, Jamia on CAA and laid at Modi’s feet to defeat him. Poor Congi passed resolution after resolution to keep CAA fire burning only give Delhi on a platter to AAP and rejoicing. Foolish mother and foolish son

  2. Good work is the only way to beat BJP divisiveness. Dont be a poor looser. Get a grip on your ego, focus on the Bigger problem BJP and CONG.

    To begin with start a challenge……..which state is ready to put 25% budget on education.

  3. This is about AAP and Kejriwal. True. But I cannot help wondering how the Congress party allowed AAP to become TINA in Delhi, without even a whimper. It is laughable that some Congress persons are predictably attempting to actually take credit for the massive AAP win by claiming that it was Congress who boosted AAP wins by getting Congress voters to support AAP. This is trying to make a virtue out of an inexorable defeat and is a shameful attempt. The last sentence above poses the question if the ‘Delhi strategies’ can help fight the larger battle to ‘reclaim’ the Republic. One will find it very hard, even acknowledging the writer’s experience and acumen, to accept that the ‘Republic’ is in need of ‘reclaiming’. From what and from who? Is that a strong suggestion to Congress to ‘reclaim’ what was theirs? That is a tragic approach. If any party in India today has shown itself totally unworthy of being entrusted with power, it is the Congress, particularly in its present decrepit state. AAP is still a very localised unit and cannot garner a pan Indian appeal to make a difference across the states.. NO. The lesson from these Delhi elections is for the BJP. as a party, and to its second and third rung ( if not third rate) leaders, who queered the pitch by stooping to levels hitherto achieved only by Rahul’s Congress. The BJP has however received a very timely shock as the next general elections are over four years away. What it makes of that time depends only on Modi and Shah. But, a course correction is certainly called for. And, for its own good, Congress should completely stop pretending that they are the GOP of India with delusions of grandeur, fancying Rahul as PM and their leaders as rulers. One shudders at the mere imagination.

  4. Mr. Yadav, in your write up, I sense an unease about a victory for the party you too were part of and which you had to leave (not going into who was right and who not). And this frustration shows off just about everywhere in the write up. What you have done well (and that’s commendable) is that you have checked yourself into going too far with this frustration.

    • You are not right to that it is his frustration. We had lot of expectations from AAP and Kejriwal. You can question your self or analyse based on Anna Hazare dreams and compare Kejriwal Governance. Kejriwal enough clever with his strategies to win over Modi. Modi is very very clever to change minds of citizens by telling stories about dead leaders, particularly Nehru , Indira. Rahul is very much lagging behind these strategies formation and fight against Modi. Other congress leaders are busy with their alternate jobs.
      Now neutral like me got bored of Modi’s accusations on separation issues.
      But definitely there are some good things were done by Kejri and he could work out ways win Modi tactics.
      But do not blame Yogendra Yadav for his election analysis.

  5. Why can’t YY follow Kejriwal’s model to win at least one seat for his party? Answer is obvious as YY can’t follow Kejriwal who had kicked YY out of AAP. Whom will YYl kick out?

  6. I agree with the author that AAP has left its dream of Swaraj behind and played according to existing rules. But I think any kind of Swaraj dream cannot be brought to fruition unless all of the junta become really aware of their rights and become conscious of themselves being part of a whole republic. For making that happen, it needs a social movement at the grassroot level and not a political movement. No party in the current scenario can bring in Swaraj. It will take us at least 20-30 years of consistent effort to make it happen. In the meantime, all political parties will work as a centralised power machinery. Unless that transformation happens, electoral campaigns will be dominated by promises of basic minimum.

    • You are right for saying we need a social movement. But socioeconomic needs by citizens call for movement. Every party party giving short term benefits with out studying their repercussions on social and moral impact one society on long-term. Indian Communist slogan for Roti, Kapda aur Makan has no significance today because everyone is getting them because of past scientific revolutions for food by agriculture, cloths by petroleum products, political leaders share in real-estate/housing products business.
      Now due to liberalisation govts get loans from world bank and politicians get lot of money by bad or nil monitoring over maintenance schemes and projects. No political party is keen on removal of corruption. Corruption is main cause erode morals in the society.

  7. Hey, one-eyed intellectual, why didn’t you also record the fact that Muslims voted for AAP because this man, Kejriwal, bribed them by doubling the salaries of Imams and mosque workers? If the BJP had done something like that–say, doubled salaries of temple priests–wouldn’t you have cried ‘foul’ and ‘communal’ from the rooftops? Do you really believe that ONLY BJP is communal and others are not?

    As for my Muslim brethern, well, till now they let themselves be cheated by Congress, now they are letting themselves be cheated by AAP. Some day they will realize that they are much better off under the BJP, which, if you look beyond political rhetoric and statements of the party nuts, only strives for the tide that lifts all boats, including Muslims’.

    • Modi haters cry foul any way for anything done by Modi. What BJP has neglected is caring of it’s ground workers and extending favor its supporters as Kejriwal has done openly and with conviction. Modi can try SABKA VIKAS but can’t get SABKA SAATH. There is more learning from anti-CAA protesters. If Modi had interest of all people in mind, he should not have allowed blocking of road by Shaheen bag protesters in first place.

  8. Yeah, Modi did all that and more…………………. I mean you do not even flinch printing all such crap???. But then, Got to do what you HAVE to do.

  9. Very soon AAP will expand. It is a ppl’s party, honest ppl. Public has to come out in large numbers and take this party forward.

    • AAPs standards for Honesty or corruption less governance or Lokpal or rajyspal theory has been removed on the day when Yogendra Yadav and Peasant Bushan were ousted. On relatively when compared, AAP is better than many other parties in India.

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