Posted by: John Elliott | February 10, 2015

Modi’s BJP routed in massive AAP Delhi election victory

India’s prime minister Narendra Modi has today suffered the biggest defeat of his political career with his Bharatiya Janata Party being routed in elections for the Delhi state-level assembly. The Aam Aadmi or common man party has swept the polls winning  67 of the 70 seats, driving the BJP down to just three and the Congress Party to an astonishing zero.

kejriwal-main1Eight months ago, Modi was swept to power in a landslide BJP general election victory because voters wanted a new style of government leadership that would meet their aspirations for a better life, more efficient and less corrupt government, and stronger economic growth.

Today, the people of Delhi have shunned Modi and turned to Arvind Kejriwal (right, during the campaign), the AAP’s founder and leader, to drive change in the capital city’s deeply corrupt and ineffective state-level government. There was a record turnout of 67% of the mostly urban electorate, with more than 8.9m people voting.

There are many reasons for this result. One is that the BJP – along with most observers – assumed that it would win Delhi easily and that the AAP was finished. It also over-estimated Modi’s charismatic vote-winning ability and underestimated a growing feeling that his national government has not become the promised agent of change during the eight months it has been in power.

BJP panic

When it began to emerge last month that the AAP had been quietly re-building its reputation among voters, especially the poor, the BJP seems to have panicked, and ran a negative campaign that tried to undermine the AAP’s, and especially Kejriwal’s appeal. It poured top politicians and and other MPs into the campaign, even deploying several senior cabinet ministers so that it looked as if it had abandoned governing the country in order to win Delhi.

kiran bediIt then made a ludicrous decision, just two weeks before the February 7 election day, when it side-lined its Delhi political leadership and made Kiran Bedi, a 65-year old former controversial police chief and social rights campaigner with no political experience and little charisma, its chief ministerial candidate (left, after she had been picked).

It thought she would counter Kejriwal’s appeal but she quickly foundered while electioneering, and has even failed to win her own seat.

This raises questions about how such experienced politicians as Modi and his chief lieutenants, Amit Shah, the tough party president, and Arun Jaitley, the finance minister, could have made such a blunder. (There is some sympathy for Shah because his son is getting married today and the celebrations have been blighted!)

Significantly the AAP has gained a bigger popular mandate in Delhi, winning about 54% of the votes cast, than the 46% that Modi and the BJP achieved nationally in the general election.

Even more remarkable, this has happened in the city that Kejriwal and his band of well-meaning volunteers failed disastrously to govern effectively when they led a minority government (with 28 seats – the BJP had 32) after December 2013 polls. They spent more energy on street-level protests than trying to run the city, and resigned after 49 days in February 2014. Since then Delhi has been run by bureaucrats under the city’s lieutenant governor.

It has also happened after the AAP failed to win any of Delhi’s parliamentary seats in the general election when its candidates were elected in only four constituencies (in Punjab), despite fielding candidates across the country. The party then seemed to have been marginalised in both national and Delhi politics. But it has rebuilt itself and has replaced its former image of rebellion and protest with a constructive approach.

AAP decimates Congress

The BJP has however managed to hold on to its basic vote bank in Delhi, winning around 33% of the votes, which is roughly the same as in 2013. This indicates that the aspirational vote that brought Modi to power nationally last year has switched in Delhi to the AAP, deserting Congress.

Kejriwal celebrates - PTI photoThese aspirational voters are not just the young, but include all strata of society, especially the poorer sections who suffer the most from corrupt bullying officialdom. These people feel that, despite the apparent lack of direction during the AAP’s 49 days in power, they suffered less from brutal police and other officials than they had in the past.

Both Modi and Rahul Gandhi, the leader (along with his mother Sonia) of the Congress Party, both have lessons to learn from the result.

Today marks the end of Modi’s political honeymoon period of being a national icon who could wreak almost magical change in the way that India is run. He needs therefore to curb his egotistical style and to focus more on changing the way the government works and produce evidence of results, not just slogans. Many observers are looking to the Budget on February 28 for significant policy initiatives. Modi also needs to be more tolerant of fellow ministers, and less autocratic to the BJP’s MPs. Opposition parties will be encouraged by the result to challenge the government’s pending measures in parliament.

The Gandhis and other Congress leaders now have the humiliation of their party winning no seats, compared with eight in 2013 when they lost power after running Delhi for 15 years. Voters, including the Muslim minority, have deserted Congress and gone to the AAP, underlining the dramatic decline of India’s once grand old party. Rahul Gandhi played a significant role in the Congress electioneering and, repeating what has happened in other campaigns, failed as a vote winner. Congress knew it would do badly, but did not expect total failure.

AAP task “scary”

Kejriwal (above, celebrating today with his wife) is a former tax official who first attracted national attention during mass anti-corruption protests in 2011. He now has a huge job to try to run the Delhi government. This would be difficult enough if the government was totally in charge of the city, but it is not because the central government covers law and order and urban development, and there are inefficient separately elected municipal corporations (currently run by the BJP) which are notoriously corrupt.

Kejriwal said today that the overwhelming result is “scary” and “frightening”. That could apply not just to the job of governing Delhi, but also to the opportunity that now looms of maybe gradually becoming a national centre-left party, replacing Congress.

Modi reacted sensibly by congratulating Kejriwal and inviting him to have a cup of tea. Both men would gain from working together.

For Modi, it is a test case of his ability to build partnerships with states where the BJP is not in power, and of becoming a prime minister who can lead the country.


Responses

  1. Thanks John,

    Brilliant and timely and you only missed that some 100000 ex servicemen, their double families and servants and friends voted away from BJP for denying promised OROP to Brigadiers and below to Jawans , bureaucrats are unhappy the way Modi sacks, makes them work weekends and nights like a Dictator and his henchman Amit Shah needs your study …….go on the net and read the murder of ex Home Minister Hiren Pandya a good and capable guy…..and how CJ of India was made Governor of Kerala

    Love the Elephant you ride.

    RR

  2. Fair analysis.No doubt,Kejriwal has a very difficult task ahead but I would like to be optimistic rather than cynical as I think cynicism doesn’t lead us anywhere.This is a refreshingly new experiment in politics and ideas and I am curious to see how it is going to play out.I,too,thought that it was wise of Modi to reach out to Kejriwal after a rather bitter campaign.The bitterness of the campaign damaged BJP more than the AAP and hence it would benefit Modi if he works positively with Kejriwal- it could be a win win situation for both.

  3. Any bets on how long it’ll take for Kejriwal to become as rotten as the CMs that preceded him? Who was it that said power corrupts? I truly hope I’m wrong but frankly the history of post-independence India doesn’t leave much room for optimism. How many times can you remember this country swept up in an all too brief wave of optimism at the arrival of this or that political movement promising to sweep away corruption only for everyone’s hopes to come crashing down with the passage of time. Power DOES corrupt, and I doubt Arvind Kejriwal and his band of merry men and lasses will be any different to those that came before – sorry, but we’ve been here before

  4. John
    There is a saying “Hunooz Dilli Door Ast” or Delhi is still quite a way away”.
    Modi must learn from this. Your ilk also made the mistake when they shifted capital from Calcutta. Delhi is a funny and wierd place. I believe that this thunderbolt from the heavens (people from ground zero) is very timely to check the trio of Modi, Shah and Jaitley. In the so called wolf cry of investor confidence they had indulged in crony capitalism a la Adani, SpiceJet etc. Nothing or little has been done to improve life. All three being intelligent must learn and introspect and shed their arrogance. This city must not be taken for granted and this is not Gujarat. syngal

  5. Modi could use this as a reason to curb corruption in BJP / Govt which no doubt has been resisted internally todate , thus speeding up change…


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