The outcome of the Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi assembly elections suggests an overwhelming national wave that augurs ill for the battered Congress party in the 2014 general elections. At the same time perceiving the crucial poll verdicts as a national surge in favour of the BJP led by Narendra Modi would be foolhardy; the phenomenal performance of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi and the nail-biting finish in Chhattisgarh would question such a simplistic political assumption.
This winter’s assembly elections have signalled the emergence of the AAP as a credible alternative political experiment. Born out of a popular anti-corruption movement, the AAP should be remembered for its novel promise of transacting alternative politics and the revolutionary changes it has brought to the entire process of electioneering. The feasibility of online reporting of donations, funding and managing low-cost campaigning, and sticking to the Election Commission norms on election expenses have been demonstrated to the country by this extraordinary débutante.
The BJP can rightly celebrate the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh results. To portray these victories as proof of a “Modi-wave” however would tantamount to ignoring key local factors. The Congress had no credible answer to Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s developmental record and his long-running welfare schemes in MP other than parachuting Jyotiraditya Scindia into the heat of the election campaign and hoping his charisma rubbed off on voters. In Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot unveiled many welfare schemes, but all were poorly implemented. The Congress should be worried that it has not only lost states where it has ruled, but also failed in performing as an effective opposition in BJP-ruled states.
Where Narendra Modi has played his part was to fire up morale among the BJP cadre and guide the central leadership. In contrast, Rahul’s leadership has enthused neither party cadre, nor citizens. The Congress’ attempts to shield Rahul from blame for the four setbacks will rebound on both Rahul and the party. In the candid admission of failures and the acceptance of defeat, may lie the seeds of the Congress’s political resurgence.
The assembly poll drubbing shows up the long standing fault lines within the Congress. On the one hand, the party has been battling severe corruption charges one after another, compounded further by the rising food prices and continued confusion over economic policies. On the other, obsessed with dynastic leadership, the party has ignored the imperative necessity of nurturing regional leaders — a job done well by the BJP.
Politics is essentially about popular perception. The ruling Congress, in power at the Centre for nearly a decade, seems to have lost much ground on this score. In recent months, the Congress has unleashed a basket of welfare schemes to supplement existing ones, hoping to endear itself to voters at the eleventh hour. There is however no clarity about whether the implementation of these hurriedly pushed-through schemes will reach the intended beneficiaries. The wave against the Congress is for real. We have known this for over two years now.
The phenomenal performance by the AAP indicates the space that exists for a non-Congress, non-BJP political alternative. True, the AAP may find it difficult to replicate the Delhi experiment nationally. But a significant message has gone out from the Capital’s heart. The trumping of the veteran Congress politician and three-term chief minister Sheila Dikshit by Kejriwal, a greenhorn in electoral politics, could well suggest the onset of a different electoral process. The electorate is clearly seeking greater accountability and transparency from the political class. This is where AAP — being untried and untested in power — has a clear advantage. The Congress will need to do some serious self introspection to recover from the tremendous loss of credibility suffered in this crucial round of elections.