FEBRUARY 10, 1952 TO FEBRUARY 10, 2015: TWO KEY DATES IN INDIA’S ELECTORAL POLITICS

It was February 10 in 1952 when the results of the first democratically held elections in India were announced.

Then, the Congress party led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had won a thumping majority winning 364 of 489 parliamentary constituencies.

On February 10, 2015, the same Congress party has witnessed a humiliating loss in Delhi polls failing to win even a single seat. 63 of its candidates lost their deposits. Its vote share sank to 9.7% from 24.55% in 2013 Delhi assembly polls. And this loss is following a humiliating downward trend. The party could get just 15% votes in the 2015 Lok Sabha polls.

Congress’s fall, from electoral pedestal and from grace in India, is emblematic of the phase of political transition India is in.

After scoring a historic low in Lok Sabha polls with just 44 seats, Congress performed even more miserably in different assembly polls of 2014.

In Andhra Pradesh, it could not open its account. In Telangana, the state it created to reap its act’s political windfall, it was down by 30 seats to 21 seats in the 119 member strong assembly. In Odisha, it could win only 16 of 147. In Maharashtra, where it ruled for three terms, the party came third with 41 seats of 288. After ruling Haryana, it was pushed to the third spot with only 15 seats.

Similar stories were repeated in Jharkhand and J&K where the party came fourth with abysmally low numbers. In further misery, reports from Jharkhand say that four of the six Jharkhand Congress MLAs are ready to join BJP. Add Delhi debacle to the list.

The grand fall of the Grand Old Party of India is proving unstoppable.

February 10 also brought another unexpected turn to this process of political churning with sending BJP packing.

The party that had won 31 seats and 33% of votes in the 2013 assembly polls emerging as the largest, and the party that had won all seven Delhi parliamentary constituencies, leading in 60 of the 70 assembly segments securing 48% of the votes.

BJP’s 2013 performance in Delhi had preceded the Party’s spectacular show in the 2014 General Elections where the party had got majority on its own, becoming thus the first party to do so in 30 years. Before it, no party in India had got a clear majority on its own after the 1984 general elections when Congress, riding on the sympathy wave that had swept the country after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, with 404 seats and 49% vote share.

BJP had won on raising hopes, promising better lives and ensuring all around development. BJP’s winning streak continued in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand and in Jammu & Kashmir, it registered an impressive show and is in talks with PDP to form the government.

But, while all this victories, time was also passing, and anti-incumbency had started making inroads. Now, it is certainly debatable that how much time Narendra Modi needs to deliver on the promises he made, but the electoral behaviour is clear that perform or perish.

Delhi has stalled development to talk about while BJP was ruling Delhi through L-G since June 2014 and the Delhi electorate chose to recruit the option that it had, in hopes that it would deliver.

February 10, 1952 is historic for electoral history of India as it gave the country its first democratically elected government.

February 10, 2015 is historic as the electoral behaviour of Indian electorate saw its biggest churning so far, installing a two-year old party with a historic mandate to run the affairs of the Indian national capital, sending a message to the political class of the country that in future it is performance that is going to matter and the voter would not hesitant if there are alternatives available.

And alternatives are building in India’s political ecosystem.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey–https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

AN EXCEPTIONAL AAP VICTORY IN DELHI: AAP PLAYED ITS CARDS WELL AND PERCEPTIONS JOINED THE SHOW

67 out of 70 seats – it is rare. No one including anyone in AAP had expected it to be so exceptionally well. But the results are here now. What AAP did right was it played its cards well and let the ‘perceptions’ work on public sentiments.

And perceptions did deliver for Kejriwal, based on his performance as the chief minister last time and BJP’s handling of Delhi polls this time.

The apology and overcoming the ‘deserter tag’: Leaving Delhi midway in February 2014, just after 49 days in the government to pursue an agenda to score in national politics, was clearly seen as a selfish act by Arvind Kejriwal.

Though Kejriwal tried all to justify his ‘act’ saying it was not a ‘deserter act’ and he didn’t betray the trust of Delhiites, and rather he was forced to take a moral stand as he was not being allowed to pass his Jan Lokpal Bill, he was later on forced to realize and apologise.

However, once the sense prevailed, no matter how, he kept on repeating his ‘apology’ saying ‘we committed mistake’ while requesting people to judge him and his party by his work of 49 days and what he could do based on that if he was given the full five years.

Turning 49 days of governance into an asset: The ‘deserter tag’ had become the main talking point on every political opponent’s agenda for targeting Kejriwal and Kejriwal had to overcome it to win the trust of voters again and the best way to do so was to make his ’49 days of governance’ a lucrative proposition.

And AAP could do it successfully as there were indeed praiseworthy elements to talk about Kejriwal’s governance. There were indeed millions – from the poor in the slums, from lower and middle income areas, street vendors, auto drivers, traders – who experienced extortion and corruption free days when police, MCD and routine office corruption (even in regional transport offices) were effectively kept in check. AAP’s water and power subsidies were implemented as promised.

For voters, oppressed under a system that makes corruption a part of life, these steps were big enough to ignore the wrongs of AAP then (and even now), as evident by the historic mandate to the latest serious debutante in Indian politics.

And the thought of having such days for full five years can be a big motivator for voters of Delhi and Arvind Kejriwal and AAP have been able to convey this effectively countering the ignominy of the ‘deserter tag’.

Comprehensive ground work: It was not in November when the Lieutenant-Governor finally decided that polls were the only option to resolve Delhi’s political deadlock or not in January when the Election Commission notified the polls, in fact, AAP had started working in Delhi soon after the Lok Sabha polls.

Though there were efforts to form a government somehow in Delhi and even AAP was party to such developments, the scene was never clear and the party kept of lubricating its machinery to go in full throttle once the polls were in clear sight and that happened in late last October. On the other hand, winner of the 2013 assembly polls, BJP, was busy in pursuing its political interest in other states, taking Delhi lightly, even if the Delhi BJP was a divided house. And Congress was piling up electoral humiliations one after the other.

Once it became clear that polls had become necessary, AAP launched its campaign to cover Delhi comprehensively, focusing on person to person contact with a positively themed campaign, loaded with freebies and goodies. And it was helped well with their clean image and the background of anti-corruption activism.

Dislodging BJP’s state president: Irrespective of the stature Satish Upadhyay enjoyed in Delhi, whose elevation displeased many in Delhi BJP, his demotion pushing him to the periphery after AAP’s ‘hit and run’ allegation on him having nexus with Delhi power distribution companies (that allegedly hurt the power consumers), helped AAP getting the initial advantage needed to build further on.

The timing of Kiran Bedi’s sudden induction and Satish Upadhyay’s sidelining after AAP’s allegation were certainly not isolated developments.

BJP’s counter reaction on allegation was a routine retort. Instead of taking on AAP with conviction, the party chose to sacrifice Upadhyay. That sent the message that BJP was getting defensive (and so there was some truth in the allegation). Bedi’s sudden elevation, when seen in context of Narendra Modi’s January 10 rally launching BJP’s Delhi campaign that performed below expectations and sidelining of Upadhyay after the allegation, further conveyed that the party was in panic.

It bolstered AAP’s campaign in the final crucial days after the poll date announcement.

Largely positive campaigning: Yes there were negative elements but they were more like aberrations when seen in the context of the overall AAP campaign.

Though AAP reiterated most of what it had promised in its 2013 poll manifesto, its leaders went on talking about them empathically while interacting with people, while appealing for votes. They focused on their own agenda while targeting the opponents and didn’t follow the negative way of campaigning that BJP and Congress resorted to. They seldom got personal, something that we saw in Kiran Bedi’s case. While Bedi did attack Kejriwal personally, senior AAP leaders including Kejriwal desisted from launching personal attack on Kejriwal’s ‘India Against Corruption’ colleague. AAP’s personal attacks on Kiran Bedi were mostly to reply Bedi’s personal attacks, like calling Kejriwal ‘bhagora (someone who ran away).

Elements like asking voters to film those offering money to vote for other parties and the subsequent duel for it that he had with the Election Commission, or campaign rhetoric like ‘some manipulated sting operation may be shown to tarnish AAP’s image in the final days of campaigning’ were in acceptable line of survival instincts for a party with limited resources that was taking on the might of the likes of BJP and Congress with billions on their disposal.

Kejriwal is not an angry soul anymore: Arvind Kejriwal looks much more relaxed and composed now. The mufflerman has become a face that mostly smiles back. That tells how quickly he has transformed to understand the nuances of Indian politics. The ‘activist to politician’ metamorphosis is complete it seems.

He did not target Narendra Modi. He said he would not respond to the personal attacks on him and maintained his stand. Kiran Bedi targeted him but he invited her for public debate requesting the BJP CM nominee to unblock him from her Twitter account.

Except Satish Upadhyay ‘expose’ (in fact, no expose at all), he largely did not practice his ‘hit and run’ style of campaigning. Instead, he utilized his energy in intensive campaigning addressing people and holding over hundred public meetings across Delhi. He was accessible to everyone.

He did not slip even when the government declined his request for the Republic Day Parade invitation and BJP leaders including Kiran Bedi mocked him. Even if Kejriwal had threatened to derail the Republic Day function in 2014, the government had no right to ridicule him this time, and that too, when Kiran Bedi was there in the front row of the Republic Day Parade. It certainly didn’t go well with the watchers (the voters).

His humility, coupled with his hard work, has served him an exceptional return, and all who have voted for him would pray that he returns it with an equally exceptional governance.

Acting politically correct: To correct a system, one needs to be part of it – okay, it cannot be said that AAP is here for political activism to cleanse politics as they always say unless we see them doing so consistently over some years – but they are well, part of the system now – and they are trying to act politically correct, speaking to every religion and class, not sounding pro to some while discriminating against others.

A day before Delhi votes, Arvind Kejriwal visited holy places of all four major religions that matter in Delhi polls to seek blessings. His party vocally declined Imam Bukhari’s pledge of support. His party’s spokesperson was detained while protesting against the acts of vandalism in Delhi churches.

Also, he was readily accessible to media this time. The media bashing by AAP didn’t make for headlines in these polls. Instead, he used media mileage to further his campaign meticulously, making it an important element of his campaign mix.

Targeting voters across the sections of society while maintaining the secular plank: AAP’s immediate refusal to Imam Bukhari”s offer of support was to further consolidate its position, especially in targeting and attracting the vote share of Congress and how successful it has been becomes evident from the poll percentage of different parties.

While BJP had a marginal dip from its 2013 poll % (32.3% from 33.07%), it was Congress that lost its major chunk to AAP, coming down to 9.7% from 24.55% of 2013. Also, AAP’s rise from 29.5% in 2013 to 54.3% now, a jump of 24%, tells that in addition of Congress, AAP ate into the pie of others as well, if not BJP.

AAP tried to reach out to its traditional votebanks as well as those who had been traditionally voting for Congress. It also tried to reach out to those who voted for BJP in the Lok Sabha polls – upper middle class and youth. AAP designed its campaign and manifesto not on caste and religion and but on income and age-groups and Delhi’s population composition has majority of low and middle income people and migrants who came in search of livelihood.

More than half of the votes cast, something that happens rarely in India, tells us that AAP got support from every section of the society. According to different post-poll analyses, while poor, lower and middle income segments, Muslims and youth voted overwhelmingly for AAP, even in the higher income groups, a considerable chunk voted for the party.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey–https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

THE KIRAN BEDI GAMBLE THAT WASN’T

Paradropping Kiran Bedi to win Delhi, when Delhi BJP was facing problems of factions and internal feuds and a waning public interest (of Delhi’s public) in Modi Wave with letdown of the January 10 Abhinandan Rally that was marketed in the name of Narendra Modi, proved out to be what it had to be.

Looking at her as someone a panacea for all BJP woes in Delhi was the final element to complete the reversal of BJP’s electoral fortunes. Before bringing in Bedi, senior BJP leaders were not taken into confidence. Also, with her induction, the local leadership was virtually disengaged from campaigning that further alienated the Delhi BJP workers who were already bogged down by the factions.

Considering Kiran Bedi a masterstroke when there were equal chances that the decision could have backfired also – was a poorly devised electoral strategy as the party had no time for an alternative in case of a negative progress report and that is exactly what has happened.

Kiran Bedi, before it, was never tested politically, and did not have the privilege of a credibly clean figure, something that Kejriwal enjoyed. She had her fair share of controversies like allegations of inflated airfare bills, controversy on her daughter’s admission in a medical college, her U-turn on not joining politics, her U-turn on Narendra Modi and controversies related to her career as an IPS officer including the spat with lawyers in Delhi that make her an un-middle class personality as well.

BJP miscalculated on Kiran Bedi’s appeal thinking it could be linked to Narendra Modi’s mass appeal and could well be used as an alternative, local face for BJP.

BJP miscalculated that it could take on an activist-turned politician with another activist-turned politician hoping their days when they worked together would give the party strategists insight into countering Kejriwal’s campaign more effectively – pinning Kejriwal in his own way.

BJP paradropped Kiran Bedi just 22 days before the polls to face and already established player who was enjoying consistently higher popularity ratings with virtually no opposition on the scale. Kiran Bedi did not have the time even to re-compose herself, let alone the basic essentials like reading the politics of Delhi in the context of an AAP Vs BJP contest, speaking the political language and thus making moves accordingly.

Instead, she kept on speaking like a police officer, narrowed down by her administrative experience and remaining confined to that when the need was to widen politically, when the canvas was not the certain defined realms of a professional obligation but an undefined, political landscape open to the dynamic changes as the campaigning progressed. That could have worked for an activist but certainly not for a politician.

Kiran Bedi’s induction and immediate elevation in BJP was based on perceptions around her with almost no time and no exercises to taste how these perceptions play out in the electoral arena. She was made the commander of the final stage of the battle when there was no time left to strategise further and the results are before us today.

In the 70-member Delhi assembly, AAP is expected to end up with 65 seats (it may be even 67) while writing this and BJP’s ‘three seats don’t include Kiran Bedi’s assembly constituency Krishnanagar’.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey–https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

BJP’S HISTORIC LOW WITHIN A YEAR OF THE HISTORIC HIGH OF LOK SABHA POLLS: THE CARDINAL BLUNDERS

Aam Aadmi Party is headed to win an unexpected over 60 seats in the 70 member Delhi assembly – a first by any party in Delhi.

Congress is expected to fail totally – failing to win even a single seat – a first for Congress party in Delhi.

Bhartiya Janata Party is expected to reduce to sub-10 bracket, possibly with 6-8 seats – a first for the party to go below 10 in the Delhi assembly polls since 1993.

And it is because of BJP’s own doings. Yes, blunders, one after the other.

Sheer negligence and over-confidence: Riding high on the Lok Sabha victory, the Modi Wave and the assembly victories with Modi as the face, BJP did never take Delhi seriously – until it had become too late.

Winning the Lok Sabha polls with clear majority, first party to do so after 1984, and winning three assembly polls in quick succession, Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and emerging as the second largest party in Jammu & Kashmir – the confidence thereafter made Delhi a light affair for BJP strategists who believed things could be managed but when they realized the seriousness of affairs, of their faulty handling of Delhi elections, it had become too late to reverse the tide.

In two minds on its chances in Delhi: BJP was always in two minds on its chances in Delhi and that ultimately resulted in the mess that we saw in these assembly polls, as it could really never assess its ground properly and that made it try to delay the Delhi polls until polls became inevitable.

Assembly polls could have been held soon after the Lok Sabha polls and that would have given BJP the advantage of the fresh national mandate that was hugely in its favour.

That would also have taken away the window of opportunity that Arvind Kejriwal and AAP got with time at their hand to apologise for the ‘deserter act’ in February 2014 and campaign to mobilize the opinions in their favour with ‘we did commit mistake by leaving Delhi’s government just 49 days and we would not do so again, please give us a second chance’ request, while hard-selling the perceived goods of the governance of those 49 days. Humility first came as the big leveller and then became the decisive advantage for AAP.

Instead, BJP chose to keep on delaying the polls. Let’s safely assume that had the BJP’s central leadership decided on facing the polls earlier, the Lieutenant-Governor nod, with L-G being a central government appointee and representative, would never be an issue.

The Delhi house disorder: BJP could not pay attention on setting its Delhi house in order even if there was enough time, a year, between Arvind Kejriwal’s resignation in February 2014 and assembly polls in February 2015. Delhi BJP was a divided house with factions furthering their agenda. This factionalism was evident when none of the MPs took active interest in mobilizing public for the January 10 Abhinandan Rally addressed by Narendra Modi. Delhi BJP remained a divided house even as the polls approached. Now, with such a humiliating loss, doing the course correction may be even more difficult.

Making Delhi a prestige issue: Though BJP did prop up Kiran Bedi after the lacklustre show of Narendra Modi’s Abhinandan Rally, that was publicized as the launch event of BJP’s Delhi campaign, the whole BJP campaign remained centred on Narendra Modi with party asking votes in Modi’s name and his governance, and thus winning the polls became a prestige issue, even if the signs were headed in a reversed direction. BJP was still fighting the Delhi polls as if it could never have erred, as if ‘an electoral defeat’ had become an improbability for the party. The first glimpse of loss, with the Abhinandan Rally, thus set a series of responses that further derailed its prospects in Delhi.

In panic mode: Reacting in panic on almost every development had become a hallmark of BJP that began with the January 10 rally that was marketed in the name of Narendra Modi with a big media push but that turned out a letdown. The expected range of crowd, in the range of one lakh, was a morale busting 30,000-40,000. After it, BJP kept on changing its strategy regularly that further muddied the waters leaving the ground workers flabbergasted who didn’t have idea what was happening and who to reach out to as the campaign was totally hijacked by the outsiders.

The hijacked campaign: BJP’s central leadership hijacked the campaign totally, dispelling the local leadership.

Now, these bombarded ministers, MPs and workers (including RSS workers) from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (to target the voters with Eastern UP and Bihar roots) and leaders from other states were strangers for the local voters.

And when the local line of connect, the field worker in the assembly constituencies, starts acting disenchanted, the exercise becomes counterproductive wiping out in the process any advantage that it could have accrued.

And that is what exact happened with BJP in these polls. We have good enough number of reports talking about the disconnect of the dissatisfied field workers of BJP. Clearly, they added to the negativity on BJP’s chances adding thus to the prospects of AAP and Arvind Kejriwal as evident first by the pre-poll and exit poll projections and by the results today with AAP emerging as the clear winner beating all expectations, even AAP’s internal surveys.

The negativity accrued from a negative campaign: While Arvind Kejriwal kept on smiling and did not respond to the personal attacks, BJP’s campaigning became more and more stinging. BJP resorted to a clearly negative campaign with no care for elements of subtlety and satire. It was all out in the open.

It had fought the Lok Sabha election on development plank with a campaign that was largely positive. The advertisement with Anna Hazare’s photo or the ‘upadravi gotra’ advertisement was unnecessary. BJP had to fine tune its campaign in the context that there was no anti-incumbency against AAP’s previous government but it failed to do so.

Like Narendra Modi was the central target of the opponents in the Lok Sabha polls that helped him in the end, increasing his visibility when others failed to declare a credible name against him, BJP unwittingly allowed Kejriwal the same advantage with its negative person-centric campaign.

Issues disowned: By making the campaign Modi and Modi Vs Kejriwal centric and by maintaining silence on issues like ‘Delhi’s full statehood’, something BJP had always been crying about or on ‘independent audit of power distribution companies of Delhi’, BJP went further downward on the credibility scale of voters. It did not release its manifesto. Yes, in an age when ‘political corruption’ has become a catchphrase about ‘politics, taking seriously a manifesto doesn’t make for much, but then what was the need for the party to come with a vision document, than too, just three days before the polls?

BJP didn’t address the issues of Delhi locally, instead it kept on talking about big governance promises of Narendra Modi’s union government expecting the voters to look for their pie in them. Now, who has the time and who cares for generic approaches in an assembly polls? Yes, BJP’s generic approach to the Delhi-specific issues worked to reduce its credibility even further.

Conditional campaigning: BJP’s conditional campaign or campaign focusing heavily on a conditional proposition was another major reason behind BJP’s massive fall.

‘The voters should vote for BJP if they have to see a developed Delhi’ was BJP’s straight message – repeated time and again by its leaders including Narednra Modi – saying doing so would ensure the coordination between union government and the government in Delhi. In direct words, it is like – if you don’t vote for us, don’t expect our help in Delhi’s development then – certainly an undemocratic proposition.

Now, the poll outcome says Delhiites refused to buy this conditional offer in the world’s largest democracy.

The Kiran Bedi gamble that wasn’t: Para-dropping Kiran Bedi to address these concerns, looking at her as someone a panacea for all BJP woes in Delhi was the final element to complete the reversal of BJP’s electoral fortunes. Before bringing in Bedi, senior BJP leaders were not taken into confidence. Also, with her induction, the local leadership was virtually disengaged from campaigning that further alienated the Delhi BJP workers.

Considering Kiran Bedi a masterstroke when there were equal chances that the decision could have backfired also – was a poorly devised electoral strategy as the party had no time for an alternative in case of a negative progress report and that is exactly what has happened.

Kiran Bedi, before it, was never tested politically, and did not have the privilege of a credibly clean figure, something that Kejriwal enjoys. She had her fair share of controversies like allegations of inflated airfare bills, controversy on her daughter’s admission in a medical college, her U-turn on not joining politics, her U-turn on Narendra Modi and controversies related to her career as an IPS officer including the spat with lawyers in Delhi that make her an un-middle class personality as well.

BJP miscalculated on Kiran Bedi’s appeal thinking it could be linked to Narendra Modi’s mass appeal and could well be used as an alternative, local face for BJP.

BJP miscalculated that it could take on an activist-turned politician with another activist-turned politician hoping their days when they worked together would give the party strategists insight into countering Kejriwal’s campaign more effectively – pinning Kejriwal in his own way.

BJP paradropped Kiran Bedi just 22 days before the polls to face and already established player who was enjoying consistently higher popularity ratings with virtually no opposition on the scale. Kiran Bedi did not have the time even to re-compose herself, let alone the basic essentials like reading the politics of Delhi in the context of an AAP Vs BJP contest, speaking the political language and thus making moves accordingly.

Instead, she kept on speaking like a police officer, narrowed down by her administrative experience and remaining confined to that when the need was to widen politically, when the canvas was not the certain defined realms of a professional obligation but an undefined, political landscape open to the dynamic changes as the campaigning progressed. That could have worked for an activist but certainly not for a politician.

These blunders were magnified even more when seen with the increasing fringe voices from within BJP and the RSS-affiliated outfits – furthering the controversial religious agenda with events like ‘Ghar Vapasi for religious conversions’, statements on making India a Hindu nation, efforts to rewrite the text books in a particular context – the politics of intolerance – a total antithesis of development politics – and this mix didn’t go down well with an increasingly demanding electorate that is running out of patience and needs real development in real time.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey–https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/