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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 10 New Delhi, February 22, 2020

AAP’s Massive Comeback beyond Liberal Triumphalism

Friday 28 February 2020

by Prannv Dhawan and Ishaan Bansal

The Delhi State Assembly election results represent a comprehensive electoral setback for the ruling political establishment. This is the second clear electoral loss in a string of State Assembly defeats for the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in close succession of their domination in the general elections. In addition to that, the results come as a much-needed relief because the hate-filled, divisive and communal rhetoric has failed to garner the political legitimacy of popular approval that an electoral victory represents. That an inclusive civic agenda has vanquished the BJP’s toxic hyper nationalism in a frontal battle lends moral support to the larger resistance against the majoritarian establishment. It holds value for those who are conscientiously fighting the battle to safeguard the republic on the Capital’s streets, a quasi-referendum on Shaheen Bagh.

Chinks in BJP’s Armour?

The first key trend has been the clear distinction made by the Delhi voter between the State and Central elections. While giving a massive mandate to the BJP in the Lok Sabha, the voters have chosen Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP for the local Assembly. This trend points towards a larger pattern not only

 Source: Collated by authors from media reports

Source: Collated by authors from media reports

 peculiar to Delhi. The BJP’s vote-share has been declining in every State Assembly election held after the Lok Sabha. Figure.1 shows this decline in BJP’s vote-share in the Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and now Delhi elections. While this continuity reflects more starkly in the decline of the seat-share of the BJP, the clear takeaway is about the failure of the electoral machinery to deliver favourable verdicts.

The consistent conclusion from the diminishing utility of hate-filled election campaign led by heavyweights like Modi, Shah and Adityanath is that the Indian polity could have probably averted the electoral template that emerged after the Gujarat 2002 pogrom. The credit for the AAP’s spectacular victory goes in equal parts to the rejection of hatred and polarisation by a majority of Delhi-ites as well as lack of a popular CM face of the BJP. Kejriwal also succeeded in playing out the ‘Delhi kibeta’- ‘Shravan Kumar’ persona card that was shrewdly juxtaposed with Prakash Javdekar calling him a ‘terrorist’. Critics say that he went overboard with his personality transformation agenda by reciting the Hanuman Chaalisa and publicly declaring himself to be a ‘kattar Hindu’ [staunch/ hardcore Hindu]. Whether that was done with the laudable intent to reclaim Hinduism from the appropriation by exclusivist Hindutva or as an imitation of a “me too” tactic to gain ‘majoritarian’ sympathy remains unclear.

The question that must be asked then is whether the BJP’s decline at local levels is only symptomatic of differential preferences at State and national level or is it starting to reflect the electorate’s desperate voice against the BJP’s divisive politics which they couldn’t express during the national elections due to lack of Opposition at the Centre. If the latter is true, the Opposition parties, including even the Congress which has been decimated in the Delhi elections, may take this result as a sign of opportunity to regroup and rise from the ashes. In reality, however, the former is still likely to be the bigger factor. While the AAP’s vote-share has remained almost constant, the BJP’s vote-share—if compared to last year’s vote-share—has risen by about seven per cent.

Turnout Analysis

One of the surprising trends of this election has been a dramatic fall in the voter turnout percentage compared to the 2015 State elections from 67.47 per cent to 62.59 per cent. The declining trend has been going on for a while now (figure 2). While it is hard to pinpoint who is the voter who failed to turn up to vote in the 2019 elections, it is likely to be from the demographic section that is likely to be the non-BJP voter (Muslims, lower-caste Hindus, poor and migrants). These could be primarily the Congress voter, which would also explain why after 2015 in particular with the Congress decimated in Delhi, the voter turnout has been falling.

Source: Collated by authors from media reports

However, it must be kept in mind these figures are in percentage, in absolute terms; on the other hand, the number of voters as compared to 2015 elections has gone up by 1.6 lakhs.

Anti-Incumbency

One important insight that the Delhi elections gives is on the politics of incumbency. Usually in the political discourse, the presence of an anti-incumbency in India is assumed in itself to be a cause of the failure of the ruling regime. If the ruling party loses, the political commen-tators are quick to blame the presence of anti-incumbency as the reason for their defeat as if it was something out of everyone’s control.

Rather, the incumbency is only a descriptive result of the governance and electoral cam-paigning. The AAP campaigned on the basis of the work they put in during the five years of their regime which resulted in 40 of their incumbent MLAs getting re-elected. Political pundits should realise by now that incumbency wave cannot be taken as an external factor or a reason for a good or bad electoral result. It is the direct outcome of the work and campaigning.

Congress Missing

In Lok Sabha 2019, the AAP came third and was beaten not only by the BJP but also the Congress. Therefore, it is rather shocking to see that the INC vote-share was reduced to only 4.26 per cent and 63 of their contestants did not even recover their deposit. It seems the INC has taken a calculated chance to not appear as a serious third alterative purposefully to prevent the BJP’s rise in the State. It will be naïve to think that suddenly so many senior leaders of the INC couldn’t have put up a fight even if they wanted to. The bi-polar contest between the BJP-AAP necessarily benefits the AAP. Now, whether this was a good decision for the future of the Congress in Delhi will have to be seen.

Source: Collated by authors from media reports

The above analysis shows that the ‘liberal triumphalism’ of a secular victory by the AAP is probably overstretched. The pragmatic campaign tactics by the AAP to sidestep the narratives of Shaheen Bagh, anti-CAA protests, Article 370, might seem smart to some, but it was certainly not a rejection of the BJP’s divisive agenda. The fruits that it brought in Delhi won’t be easy to extend at the national level. If at all the AAP sees itself making a national move in the near future, it will have to take stand on the issue of identity that has the nation out on the streets in protest. This is a cause of concern for citizens in Delhi who wanted to teach a lesson to the sectarian forces because such manoeuvering gives ideological credence to the BJP. As the AAP fails to act as a principled opponent, it risks further shrinking of the subversive space of dissent and resistance.

One needs to look beyond the applauses for this pragmatic approach because there is a very thin line between principled silence and convenient submission. There is a clear risk of being on a slippery slope of ideological convenience. Hence, if the AAP needs to sustain as a force to reckon with, it must differentiate between strategies of prioritising governance and showing apathetic attitude towards core political issues that have a pronounced impact on India’s future as a secular democratic Republic.

Prannv Dhawan is a third-year law student at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. He leads the Law and Society Committee at the University. Ishaan Bansal is a final year liberal arts student at the Ashoka University, Sonipat.

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