A new socio-economic group

The AAP’s victory is the result of a new kind of socio-economic formation where religion is not a fault line.

Published : Feb 18, 2015 12:30 IST

THE results of the just-concluded Assembly elections in Delhi mark the completion of a process set in motion with the Anna Hazare movement of April 2011 and the subsequent formation of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in November 2012.

The AAP’s rise to power goes beyond the routine electoral victories and defeats and the mechanics of government formation. The AAP has created a new coalition of various social groups that now lays claims to political power. While the AAP in its spectacular debut in the December 2013 Assembly elections had the majority of the urban poor and Dalits (principally Valmikis) rooting for it, in 2015, the minorities also voted en bloc for the party. Muslims not only jettisoned the Congress, a party they had supported since 1998, but also refused to split their vote for Muslim-centric parties such as the Peace Party.

The voter turnout in 2015 set a new record, with 67.1 per cent of the voters exercising their franchise. The AAP had a staggering 54.3 per cent vote share, which yielded a mind-boggling 67 seats. The BJP came a distant second with a vote share of 32.8 per cent and had to be content with just three seats. The Congress, with 9.8 per cent, failed to open its account. The scale of the victory of the AAP is testimony to the fact that it got support from across all categories: socioeconomic, religious, caste, region, gender, income and age group.

Underclass majoritarianism

The AAP’s attempt to become the “natural party of governance” has resulted in a new kind of underclass majoritarianism, a socio-economic formation where religion is not a fault line. It may not be an exaggeration to suggest that the AAP represents the rebellion of the underclass, Dalits and minorities, against the tyranny of the Bania-Brahmin-Sikh dominated Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) alliance and the Punjabi-Muslim-centric Congress. The AAP’s rise to political power has been accompanied by the emergence of a new social group that is defined by an overlap of social and economic privileges.

It is important to construe the signals of the February 2015 verdict politically and statistically. Before we look at the precise shape and nature of the new social bloc, let us first take a look at the overall picture of flow of votes between the December 2013 elections and the latest round of elections. The BJP has been able to retain the support of a large chunk of those who voted for it in 2013. In fact, the vote share of the BJP is by and large static and the party has not been able to consolidate the gains made in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

A closer look at the change in the voting pattern between 2013 and 2015 shows that most of the gains made by the AAP came from the erstwhile Congress. The minorities (especially Muslims) voted enthusiastically for the party and did not even require the last-minute directives from the mosques and maulvis of Delhi. The average Muslim knew he had to vote AAP.

A study of the division of votes on caste and community lines underlines the contours of this new social bloc. The AAP has secured the support of every single caste, religious, language bloc. While many upper-caste Hindus may have still preferred the BJP or the Congress, the bulk of the upper-caste votes has gone to the AAP. The dominant Hindu castes such as Jats, Gujjars, Yadavs and Tyagis voted for the AAP, breaking ranks with the BJP and the Congress. The relative share of the AAP goes up as one moves down the socio-economic hierarchy from the upper castes to the other backward classes (OBCs) and Dalits. The lower the category, the higher its contribution to the AAP’s vote share. The vote share of the AAP among Dalits is overwhelming. Valmikis, a subcaste among Dalits who form the bulk of the city’s sanitation staff, were among the early supporters of the AAP. The Valmikis not only identified with the AAP election symbol (the broom), but also took ownership and were amongst the earliest foot soldiers and cadre of the party.

The AAP has had a fair share of the votes of Sikhs. The party won four of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The abandonment of the Congress by Dalits, the minorities, the urban poor and Sikhs has ensured that the once mighty Congress, which ruled Delhi uninterrupted for 15 years, has been reduced to a single-digit vote share.

If an economic profile of the AAP’s voters were to be done, it would reveal that the poorer the voters, the higher the chances that they would vote for the AAP. The AAP’s vote share among the poorest of the population is about two-thirds more than its share among the upper classes. The AAP enjoys tremendous support among the poorest voters, who live in unauthorised colonies, the resettlement colonies, slum clusters and jhuggi-jhopris (JJs). Caste hierarchy and class hierarchy have reinforced each other in contributing to the support for the AAP in the underbelly of the city. The AAP has replaced the Congress as the “big tent” under which all castes, classes, religions and regions can find space. This is not to suggest that the AAP did not get support from the middle class and the elite. Polling-booth-wise analysis suggests that people of even these sections deviated from their traditional voting patterns and voted for the AAP in a big way. Polling booths in Vasant Vihar, Greater Kailash, Defence Colony, and East of Kailash recorded votes in equal measure, if not more, for the AAP as they did for the BJP. The role of individual candidates was limited as many newly elected MLAs are rank outsiders to politics and do not have political lineage or roots.

In Delhi, before 2013, the Congress used to get the votes of the lower strata by default. The party is now a shadow of its former self, and the voters’ hostility towards the Congress is yet to dissipate. To recapture the imagination of the voter, the Congress needs to forge a new vision, overhaul the decrepit organisation and ruthlessly discard the political deadwood that substitutes as state leadership. It is a very tall order indeed, but in the realm of the possible.

The BJP made the catastrophic decision to project a discredited Kiran Bedi as its chief ministerial candidate. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, in a break from the tradition of appointing chief ministerial and prime ministerial candidates from its stable or from frontal organisations like the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), committed political hara-kiri by inducting Kiran Bedi. Not only was there a wave of revulsion amongst the State leaders; the ordinary BJP worker also did not identify with the former Indian Police Service officer. For the BJP, the 2015 Delhi elections were perhaps the most internally sabotaged in recent memory. While the AAP had finalised most of the candidates in the first week of December 2014, and was able to hit the ground running, many of the BJP candidates were announced on the last day of nominations, leaving little room for campaigning.

The BJP also unleashed more than a hundred Members of Parliament, many members of the Union Cabinet, and the much-vaunted RSS election machinery, and yet came a cropper.

The vote for the AAP was a positive vote for the party, which had a positive agenda which it tried to promote through “the Delhi Dialogues”. It enlisted participation from the grass roots on issues such as water, electricity, education and health care. The AAP’s brutal majority confirms that this vote was also a negation of the toxic Hindutva ideology, which raised divisive issues like “love jehad”, “ghar wapsi”, and Godse temples. The distinct anti–Narendra Modi sentiment was visible in almost all the constituencies and across all socio-economic groups. The elections also proved the declining power of Modi to transfer votes to hitherto unknown candidates.

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