General Election: Delhi

It is AAP vs BJP

Print edition : April 04, 2014

AAP supporters protesting outside the BJP headquarters in New Delhi on March 5 against the detention of Arvind Kejriwal in Gujarat. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi (left), Harsh Vardhan (centre) and other BJP leaders after registering a complaint against the AAP with the Election Commission in New Delhi on March 6. Photo: PTI

It is a straight contest between the Aam Aadmi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Delhi.

WITH the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) performing stupendously in its maiden Assembly elections in December 2013, the seven parliamentary constituencies of Delhi that go to the polls on April 10 are witnessing a drastic transformation of political equations. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) practically shared the votes among themselves in the past three decades but after the AAP emerged as a significant third force in December and ruled Delhi for 49 days, political perceptions and equations began to be reinterpreted. As the Lok Sabha elections draw closer, elections in Delhi appear to be a tough contest between the fledgling AAP and the main opposition BJP, with the Congress, which won only eight Assembly seats in December, nowhere in the picture. This is ironical as the Congress holds all the seven parliamentary constituencies of Delhi at present. Out of the seven MPs, three are Union Ministers.

Despite the fact that voters have different preferences in parliamentary and Assembly elections, the rise of the AAP has forced political observers to take into account the voting patterns of the Assembly elections in their analyses. Further, the novelty of the AAP’s campaign against crony capitalism and its anti-corruption drive has forced both the Congress and the BJP to rethink their electoral strategies.

An analysis of the AAP’s performance in the Assembly elections, therefore, is necessary. A cursory glance shows that the AAP has replaced the Congress, both in terms of vote bank and electoral constituencies. Using geographical information systems of electoral constituencies, Srinivasan Ramani of Economic & Political Weekly concludes in one of his articles: “It is clear that in the relatively rural and more far-flung (from the urban agglomeration) areas in west and north-west Delhi predominantly, the AAP’s vote share was lower than in the urban concentrations of south, central, east and even some places in northern Delhi.”

This means that the BJP, which won 32 seats in the Assembly elections and was the single largest party, performed better than the AAP in west and north-west Delhi while in the rest of Delhi, the latter performed much better than any other party. Ramani goes on to add that the AAP had the maximum traction in urban slums, or jhuggi-jhopri clusters. These slums traditionally voted for the Congress. Most slum dwellers are rallying behind Kejriwal, who has managed to convince them that his resignation was forced as both the BJP and the Congress did not let him pass the Jan Lokpal Bill. The AAP has been appealing to the slum dwellers to give the party at least 40 seats in the next Assembly elections. This appeal has clearly worked as most of the slums Frontline visited announced support for Kejriwal.

It is for this reason that the BJP is trying to consolidate its rural vote base in outer Delhi and the peripheries of the city while expecting that the perceived popularity of its prime-ministerial candidate Narendra Modi will help alter the voting patterns in favour of it in the urban parts of the city. “Modiji will help us consolidate the urban votes for us. And the caste equations in outer and rural Delhi are working in our favour,” said a senior Delhi BJP leader.

However, many political observers believe that things may not be easy for the Delhi BJP. Recent tussles between the BJP and the AAP in Delhi and elsewhere have helped consolidate the reluctant Muslim votes in favour of the AAP. Kejriwal and other leaders of the AAP have focussed their energies on targeting Modi and his development model. The Muslim community accounts for a sizeable chunk of the population in Delhi: 11 per cent of about 1.2 crore people, who have always voted for the Congress and against the BJP. Political observers believe that Muslims did not vote for the AAP in the Assembly elections as they were not sure how it would perform considering its nascent state. Similarly, the AAP seems to enjoy huge support among Dalits, who constitute 17 per cent of the population. The party managed to win nine out of the 12 reserved Assembly constituencies of Delhi. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) lost around 10 per cent its votes to the AAP. The Dalit-Muslim combine can surely help the AAP against the BJP. However, it is safe to say now that the AAP has successfully replaced the Congress as the primary opponent of the BJP. Fifty-one Congress candidates lost in the 2013 elections. The fact that the Congress, which had polled 57.11 per cent of the votes in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, secured only about 25 per cent of the votes in the Assembly elections, suggests that it stands to lose.

BJP’s strength

The BJP continues to be the single largest party, in terms of cadres, too. Its electoral campaign has primarily been against the AAP. The State BJP has prepared a list of failures of the AAP government and has been canvassing against Kejriwal’s resignation by terming it a “betrayal”. However, whether its campaign will work on the ground, considering the large support the AAP enjoys among the poor at present, is doubtful. In the Assembly elections, it saw a drop of 3 percentage points in its vote share despite ending up as the single largest party. Internal squabbles on leadership issues have troubled the party for a long time. Right after the Assembly elections, Vijay Goel, trouble-shooter and the then president of the State BJP, had tried to unite the national leadership of the party against the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, Harsh Vardhan, who could not guarantee a simple majority. However, Goel’s manoeuvres were overturned by the national leadership, which appointed Harsh Vardhan as the State president.

During the Assembly elections, many people had echoed the slogan “Kejriwal in Delhi and Modi at the Centre”. However, with the AAP placing itself against Modi and the BJP despite staying away from the communalism-secularism debate, the equations in the parliamentary elections are bound to change. At least in the perception of the public, the AAP has emerged as a party that works for the poor. The BJP, on the other hand, is being seen as a party for the aspirational middle class and the upper caste, with Modi as the icon. The unity of the middle class and the poor that the AAP built with its anti-corruption campaign could break along class lines in the parliamentary elections.

It is for this reason that Poorvanchalis, or migrants from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, who constitute almost one-third of Delhi’s population, will matter most. In the Assembly elections, this section voted against the Congress, in favour of the BJP in some constituencies and for the AAP in some areas. Considering Modi’s rising popularity in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, it remains to be seen which way this large segment of voters go as their urban identities are vastly different from their rural ones.

Class, instead of caste, has dictated voting preferences in the last few elections in Delhi, according to a study done by the psephologist Sanjay Kumar of the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Here, survival matters more than any religious or caste identity.