Demographic dynamics

Print edition : April 18, 2014

Narendra Modi and yoga guru Baba Ramdev during a Yoga Mahotsav in New Delhi on March 23. Photo: ADNAN ABIDI

WHEN the Congress secured all the seven parliamentary constituencies of Delhi in 2009, riding an unprecedented wave of popularity, it looked as if there was no turning back for the grand old party of India. Such an epic victory from the National Capital Region had significant strategic impact for the party at the national level. First, it galvanised the powerful secular-urban intelligentsia of the city to move into the fold of the Congress. Secondly, with around 60 per cent votes polled in its favour, the party re-emerged as the flag-bearer of the city’s poor and a sizeable number of migrants.

In 2014, however, the tables are turned. In the Assembly elections held in December 2013, voters showed the Congress the door by giving it just eight seats in a 70-member House.

A resurgent BJP and the fledgling AAP were the beneficiaries of a perceptible anti-incumbency sentiment against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre. Not surprisingly, therefore, the Congress has renominated the same candidates for all the seven constituencies. “We could not have taken the risk of fielding new candidates, given the anti-incumbency sentiment against our party. We had to rely on the sitting MPs to perform well in the election,” a senior Congress leader told Frontline.

With the Congress still recovering from the shock of the Assembly election defeat and with hardly any time to launch its political campaign on a different note, repeating candidates was the safest possible strategy. The idea is not just to exploit the traditional caste equations that have worked in its favour until now but also to cash in on the celebrity status of some of its MPs.

For instance, in constituencies such as Chandni Chowk and New Delhi where a large number of literate, urban voters dictate the results, the candidatures of political bigwigs Kapil Sibal and Ajay Maken have helped the Congress make the contest tougher for the opposition parties.

Similarly, the Congress believes that fielding Ramesh Kumar, brother of the tainted Congress leader Sajjan Kumar, will help it garner the support of the Jats, a force to reckon with in South and Outer Delhi. With Mahabal Mishra’s candidature, the Congress hopes to cash in on the Poorvanchali (migrants from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) votes again.

The Congress clearly has no novel electoral strategy. Despite a growing anger against price rise and other problems bothering the common man in the metropolis, the Congress candidates are still beating the old drums of infrastructure development during the party’s regime. While the message from the urban poor was clearly against the Congress in the last Assembly elections, the party seems to have learnt little. For instance, Sandeep Dikshit, its MP from East Delhi, listed the redevelopment of highways and the removal of traffic bottlenecks as one of his primary achievements.

On the other hand, both the BJP and the AAP are talking about issues such as sanitation, living conditions of the poor and issues of livelihood. Political analysts say that for these reasons Delhi will vote for a party with a political vision and not for individual candidates. The political discourse in Delhi, they say, is held together by a vocabulary of idealism that the AAP has initiated in the capital.

At a time when the general election is being sought to be projected as a referendum on the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, Delhi seems to be an exception. Here, the AAP’s campaign on livelihood issues has forced the BJP to shun its “development” discourse and, instead, talk of the actual concerns of people in every constituency.

The BJP, therefore, is leaving no stone unturned. It is talking about a corruption-free government, better facilities for people, and its plans for greater social expenditure in the city—a break from its national campaign that relies on the neoliberal development model. To counter the AAP’s influence among the Delhi’s poor, it has prepared a list of the “failures and lies” of the 49-day AAP government, using it as its primary campaign material.

It has fielded Bhojpuri superstar Manoj Tiwari as one of its candidates as part of its efforts to give representation for the sizeable Poorvanchali population of the city. This is the first time the BJP has fielded a Poorvanchali candidate. The Congress fielded Mahabal Mishra, a Poorvanchali candidate, in the last election.

There seems to be a discernible shift in the BJP’s strategy. Unlike the last few elections, the BJP has fielded national leaders such as Meenakshi Lekhi and the recent recruit, Udit Raj, a Dalit leader, to counter the celebrity faces of the Congress. The party also hopes that Modi will become a huge factor in influencing people’s choices as the elections draw nearer. Modi, therefore, is the face of its campaign in Delhi.

The AAP has fielded candidates from various backgrounds. Ashish Khetan, a journalist known for his investigation into the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat and, more recently, for his sting operation on the Gujarat Police tailing a woman allegedly at the behest of Modi, is contesting from the New Delhi constituency. Author and Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Rajmohan Gandhi has been fielded against Sandeep Dikshit in East Delhi.

“The kind of electoral representation that each political party is giving weight to suggests that political equations have drastically changed in Delhi in the last 15 years. I would have never imagined such diverse representation a few years ago. Every political party tried to exploit only the traditional Punjabi-Khatri and Jat votes in the city. This is a significant moment in Delhi’s politics. Adequate representation of all communities and an equal stress on the anti-corruption dialogue, a politics of idealism, are coming-of-age factors in Delhi’s politics,” said Sanjay Kumar of the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

Such change in electoral dynamics was only possible because of the changing demography of the city, which got adequately represented in the delimitation exercise in 2008. Now there is not one constituency in Delhi where a political party can bank on the support of just one dominant caste group for victory. For instance, North West Delhi constituency, which was carved out of the erstwhile Jat-dominated Outer Delhi constituency, is the largest of the seven Lok Sabha constituencies (17.9 lakh voters) and has the highest percentage of Dalit voters (21 per cent).

The constituency, which shares its border with Haryana, also has a sizeable Jat population (16 per cent). Among the other communities that make up the constituency are Brahmins (12 per cent), Banias (10-11 per cent), Other Backward Classes (20 per cent) and Muslims (5-8 per cent).

The BJP and the Congress do not have the bipolar electoral advantage that they have traditionally enjoyed because of the predominance of any one caste segment. The composite demography of Delhi, in a way, has aided the grand entry of the AAP, which was the first political party to have successfully addressed the concerns of the public in this scenario. Therefore, despite the BJP playing up the “Modi factor”, it is clear that Dalits, the urban poor, and a significant section of the lower middle class are supporting the AAP. “Muslims did not vote for the AAP in the last Assembly elections. However, in the last two months, we see a significant number of Muslims shifting towards the party,” said Kumar.

The BJP will be banking upon the upper caste and upper class votes. Kumar says that the elections in Delhi will see a great divide between the rich and the poor voting for different parties. “The upper class and the upper caste could vote for the BJP, given Modi’s projection as the Prime Minister candidate. However, if it has to win, it cannot do so without the support of the poor in Delhi. Delhi will see a clear division of votes in terms of class,” he said.

At present, therefore, the elections are pitched as a tough battle between the BJP and the AAP, with the Congress hoping to benefit from an unprecedented division of votes that Delhi will witness for the first time in its electoral history.