The last major elections of 2013 had its share of action, excitement and anticipation. With the results trickling in, a bright winter morning in Delhi saw a welcome breeze of idealism and hope spreading across the city. In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, voters articulated their assessment of the political competition presented before them and gave voice to their expectations. The battle lines for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls have clearly been drawn.

The Sunday verdict had multiple messages. First, a government that performs will be endorsed by the voters. Secondly, non-performance will be frowned upon and treated with the harshness it deserves. Thirdly, there is still space for idealism and alternative politics when presented to the voter in an imaginative manner.

Of the four state polls, Delhi attracted the maximum attention for a clutch of reasons. It is the capital city. It had a government in power that had completed three terms. It had a lead opposition party which was hoping to capitalize on the anti-incumbency against a 15-year-old government.

The most important element that added to the excitement and curiosity was the entry of a new political force, which promised change and was at the helm of a visible anti-corruption, anti-establishment crusade. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) projected itself as a party that was unlike all others. It entered the political fray in a state which had been used to a straight contest between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The AAP challenged both mainstream parties and offered itself as an alternative with a difference that made a difference. Its manner of candidate choice, style of campaign and electoral focus sought to re-define the way of doing politics. It compelled the mainstream parties to respond and take a re-look at their own strategies.

In a clear two-party competition environment, the AAP carved a niche for itself and has now emerged as the principal opposition party in the state. The BJP may have emerged as the largest party in the state, but the focus of attention in the capital city is clearly the AAP. Developments in Delhi have provided a glimmer of hope that idealism still has some space in the world of politics. During the campaign, the AAP forced the two mainstream political parties to shrug off their complacency and respond to the innovations introduced by the new maverick.

The real test for the AAP begins now as it settles down to its role as the principal opposition and builds up the momentum. The AAP had promised to spread its wings and show proof of the same as one approaches the Lok Sabha elections. The next few months will provide proof of whether the AAP is a single-state phenomenon or can spread its message on a wider political canvas.

The BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh received the endorsement of the voters for a third successive term. The victory in Madhya Pradesh was more emphatic while the return to power in Chhattisgarh is more subdued.

The Madhya Pradesh victory is clearly linked to the public image of the performance of the state government and its chief minister. The leading opposition party, the Congress, remained faction-ridden. The BJP was able to provide the electorate with a visible and tested local face (Shivraj Singh Chouhan) to lead the party. The Congress anointed its leader too late in the day and he too (Jyotiraditya Scindia) was seen as more Delhi-based.

In Chhattisgarh, the political mood in the tribal belt seemed to have clearly changed. The sympathy factor caused by the slaying of the top leadership of the state Congress was very much there in pockets of the state. This accounted for the much closer fight between the BJP and the Congress.

Rajasthan and Delhi are classic examples of a ruling party having to face a double whammy. Dissatisfaction with the performance of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance at the Centre on the one hand and the Congress-led state governments on the other. In both states, the unhappiness with the work done by the state governments was alarmingly high. The discontent against the central government was even more intense. In Rajasthan, the BJP was able to capitalize on this voter frustration. In Delhi, it got channelized to both the AAP and the BJP. The BJP was able to inch close to the halfway mark in Delhi, thanks to its traditional vote bank in the capital city.

The Sunday verdict has important implications. Credible state-level leadership that has a mass base can make a critical difference. The election results prove the point. The verdict also demonstrates the fact that the politics of idealism, when packaged in an appropriate manner, can garner electoral support.

The takeaways from the Sunday results for the two major national parties are significant. The Congress has suffered one of its most humiliating defeats. It would need to marshal its strengths in the states where it has the potential to do well and relook at its strategy in the states it has now lost in. The high command culture of the Congress party would need to also recognize the need for strong state-level leaders.

The BJP has won in what can be termed as its strongholds. This may not necessarily be an indicator of what is in store in the next Lok Sabha elections. While the BJP would like to credit its prime ministerial candidate for having got them victory, the local leadership and factors cannot be lost sight of. The BJP may well believe that a good north-west monsoon is likely. They also need to contend with a possible south-east drought.

Sandeep Shastri is pro vice-chancellor, Jain University and national coordinator, Lokniti Network.

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