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AAP's existential dilemma largely its own creation

Thursday, 29 May 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

A strongly negative feature of the Bharatiya Janata Party's raucous multi-billion-dollar election campaign — and the key to its victory — was its remarkable success in polarising voters along caste, class and ethno-religious lines. Post-poll surveys by Lokniti-CSDS, our most credible election-analysis agency, show that the election saw India's greatest-ever polarisation, with almost 60 per cent of upper-caste Hindus voting nationally for the BJP, and over 40 per cent of Muslims for the Congress.

In states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which gave the BJP spectacular victories and bulk-numbers, three-fourths-plus savarnas backed the BJP. Polarisation was strongest where Muslims have a significant (10-40 per cent) population share: the BJP's vote was twice higher than the Congress's. Similarly, college-educated rich and middle-class layers voted overwhelmingly for the BJP, the less educated poor mainly for its opponents. So Narendra Modi's victory has a strong elite-driven, majoritarian, sectarian-parochial, rather than national-popular, content.

The corporate-sponsored Right's triumph expectedly marginalised broadly-secular Centre-Left and "social justice" forces. The biggest losers were the Congress, the Left, BSP and Aam Aadmi Party. AAP did reasonably well only in Punjab (24.4 per cent vote and 4/13 seats). That's because the BJP, working with ally Akali Dal, didn't engineer polarisation there; both Congress and Akali Dal faced anti-incumbency; and widespread drug addiction discredited all major parties, giving AAP a leg-up.

In Delhi, AAP's vote-share rose since December from 29.5 to 32.9%—because the Congress's collapsed by almost 10 percentage-points to 15%. AAP stood second in all seven seats, but won none. Elsewhere, in 420-odd seats, it lost disastrously — barring exceptions like Varanasi — despite running energetic, although poorly-funded, campaigns amidst inner-party discontent over ticket distribution.

Many voters punished AAP for quitting the Delhi government in 49 days to contest the Lok Sabha election, a patently opportunistic act. Its anti-crony capitalism stance evoked little resonance in the communalised pro-corporate middle class it targeted. It largely failed to attract secular votes because it ducked the secularism/communalism issue, wrongly dubbed "ideological", right till the end.

Logically, AAP should have drawn three lessons: practise what you preach —integrity, transparency, political honesty and inner-party consultation; link crony capitalism and (policy-related) corruption to other issues, especially communal authoritarianism, because the BJP embodies all these and is clearly the main enemy; and third, join a broad-based national campaign against neoliberal Hindutva-capitalism with other forces, which focuses sharply on the defence of poor people's livelihood rights.

Instead, AAP chose to focus on the coming Delhi elections and failed to broaden its agenda. Worse, it made two rapid U-turns. It wrote to the Delhi Lt-Governor asking him to allow it to explore forming a government, when it had pleaded before the Supreme Court that the Assembly be dissolved. When this boomeranged amidst reports of absence of any inner-party discussion, it withdrew. Since then, Arvind Kejriwal earned popular discredit through his ludicrous stance of refusing to sign a bail bond — only to reverse it after six days in jail, which won him no sympathy.

AAP would be ill-advised to concentrate on the Delhi election, which it's likely to lose given the current pro-BJP sentiment and a 46.4 per cent BJP Lok Sabha vote. Unless it joins a broad national-level struggle against Hindutva-capitalism, and executes major changes in its leadership by democratising and expanding it, AAP has a bleak future in its present form. The idea of an AAP-style people-oriented participatory politics will survive, but the space could be occupied by other civil society groups and grassroots mobilisations. This is a moment of crucial decision and consequence for AAP's leadership.

The author is a writer, columnist, and a professor at the Council for Social Development, Delhi

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