Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

Through the looking glass in Delhi

Aam Aadmi Party has won Delhi resoundingly. Challenges eagerly await it

The Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) victory in the Delhi assembly election is historic by any standard. In a house of 70 members, AAP has won 67 seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won just three seats, its tally coming down sharply by 28 seats from the election in 2013. The Congress has been wiped away from the assembly precincts.

AAP’s resounding win should be seen in a comparative perspective. Most political parties have humble beginnings. In India, the route to political power has two hurdles. One, the transformation from a movement—be it based on caste, social issues or insurrectionary ideas—to an organized political party; two, from a political party to a party of governance. It took the Congress 52 years to cross the first hurdle—from its founding in 1885 to its first independent ministries in 1937 and then another 10 years for the second step. In independent India, this period has been shortened considerably but AAP has dramatically telescoped this to a mere 2.5 years. It should serve as a warning.

It has successfully crossed the first hurdle and become a powerful regional political party. The huge swell in AAP’s vote share, from 29.5% in the 2013 election to 54.2% now, an increase of 24.7 percentage points, shows Delhi voted en masse for the party. The success of Arvind Kejriwaland his team lies in the fact that they waged an imaginative political campaign that cut across caste, class and religious barriers. At the root of this success lies a very important factor: AAP dramatically reduced the entry barriers to a political career for individuals across all divides. Of the 67 incoming members in the assembly, only a handful have been elected for the second time; the majority comprises new faces. This is the secret of its strength.

What the results in Delhi show is that the second phase of AAP’s evolution, to a party of governance, will be challenging. A cursory look at AAP’s manifesto and the promises it has made shows this clearly. To give one example, these promises have enabled political mobilization in a city beset with acute shortages of water and electricity. But Delhi has little control over the generation of these resources. AAP wants to reduce electricity tariffs, something it cannot do in an economically efficient way. Similarly, Delhi is dependent largely on Haryana and Uttar Pradesh for its water. Any increase in consumption will require these states to give more water to Delhi. That will be a hard task. Other promises, such as employment, schools, hospitals—all promised with a socialistic bent—will be even tougher to implement given Delhi’s limited financial resources. As with the BJP in the 2014 general election, AAP will have to temper the expectations of its support base.

This is where the party’s toughest challenge will lie. Meeting these promises is easier for a party that has come to power at the centre as it has resources available from across the country. A city, paradoxically, is harder to manage for this very reason: mobilization is easy but delivery of promises far tougher than that for the country as a whole.

This should alert all citizens, including the ones who see the Delhi results as the start of a new revolution. Delhi is home to a mere 1.38% of the country’s population; it sends seven members to the Lok Sabha out of 543 (1.28% of the total). India, like all diversity-rich developing countries, has its unique problems that refuse to heed any generic solutions. Each region has its own peculiarities and problems. Delhi is the capital of India but it is not India. This humbling fact should not be lost sight of.

As he steps into the chief minister’s shoes for the second time in just over a year—this time with a thumping majority—Kejriwal needs to get cracking on solving Delhi’s daunting problems. He will need all the help he can muster.

Is Delhi the beginning of the BJP’s political troubles? Tell us at views@livemint.com

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