Message from the Latest Assembly Polls and the Big Battle of 2014

Results from the last round of Assembly elections before the big battle of 2014 have been stunning to put it in just one word. The trends revealed in the polls were discernible to political observers for quite some time, most exit polls had also given a fair indication, but it is the intensity of the final outcome which is really telling. In Rajasthan and Delhi, Congress seat share has been reduced to ten percent or even less. The Congress had gone to these polls with three states in its kitty, the BJP having the other two. Among the five, the Congress is now left with only Mizoram; the BJP has added one more state to make it three, while Delhi has been left with a tantalisingly hung Assembly where coalition engineers are finding it hard to produce a post-poll arrangement with the magic number of 36.

Outside of Chhattisgarh and Mizoram, the Congress has been virtually decimated in these polls. If this sounds like a vindication of Modi’s aggressive call for a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ (Congress-free India), it has not exactly translated into an unchallenged domination of the BJP. Even in Madhya Pradesh where the party got a 2/3 majority, several ministers were roundly defeated. In Chhattisgarh it was a close battle till the end. And in Delhi, the BJP just marginally managed to stay ahead of debutant AAP and fell five short of the majority mark. The BJP may well attribute its victories to Narendra Modi, but the jury is still out on how much of an electrifying effect Modi really had in the polls. Of the six seats for which Modi held rallies in Delhi, only two elected BJP candidates.

AAP has indeed been the biggest story of these elections. For a party that is not propelled by any of those conventional factors like caste, community, nationality or regional identity to make such a powerful impact in its first electoral appearance and rewrite the political landscape in the national capital is indeed a remarkable feat. While there is a lot to be studied within the AAP success-story, the spectacular emergence of AAP perhaps also tells us a larger story about the churning going on in India today. What we see here is a political reflection of India’s changing urban demography and the popular quest for an answer to the growing systemic rot. AAP’s idea of change however seems to prioritise legal change, some sort of ‘governance modernisation’ if you will, over basic socio-economic transformation and we will have to see how AAP evolves in terms of economic policies and key questions of democracy and social, environmental and gender justice.

It is interesting that while AAP began by tapping into the popular anger against corruption and the Congress, it attracted not just anti-Congress votes but perhaps primarily erstwhile or traditional pro-Congress votes. As AAP walked away with a highly impressive 29.3% vote, the Congress saw its vote-share drop by 17% while the BJP too lost 2%. From the results it is clear that many sections of traditional or core Congress voters – whether in the resettlement colonies or in Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods or among government employees – have voted for AAP, triggering a collapse of the Congress and placing AAP objectively in contention with the BJP. It will be interesting to see how AAP handles this new phase of contention. An internal AAP survey had apparently indicated that 31% AAP supporters would like to see Modi as PM.

The polls have been widely described by the media as semi-final before the big 2014 final. Well, there are always two semi-finals before a final. Beyond the states where the polity is marked predominantly by Congress-BJP bipolarity, there are vast areas of multipolarity including areas where the BJP has little presence and the Congress presence has also got marginalised over the years. The big message from these elections is that even one of those conventional bipolar bastions has also turned tripolar leading to a hung Assembly in Delhi. By all indications the battle for 2014 will be an intensely fought multipolar battle in many parts of the country and the key issues of corruption and corporate plunder, communalism and democracy, and the rights and resources of the people will loom large. We must turn it into a battle of the people, for the people, by the people against the dangerous corporate-communal nexus.