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Business News/ Politics / Policy/  Delhi elections: Key takeaways from AAP’s landslide victory

Delhi elections: Key takeaways from AAP’s landslide victory

AAP's victory and its magnitudecompletely underestimated by exit pollspresent many takeaways about India's political topography

An AAP supporter in New Delhi on Tuesday. Photo: Sneha Srivastava/MintPremium
An AAP supporter in New Delhi on Tuesday. Photo: Sneha Srivastava/Mint

67 seats out of 70.

A vote share of 54.3%.

Reducing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) whose campaign was headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to three seats.

And decimating the Congress, which failed to open its account, perhaps for the first time in its history.

These are some of the achievements of the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that will now form the government in Delhi.

The victory and its magnitude—completely underestimated by exit polls—present several takeaways about India’s emerging political topography, which had been looking increasingly one-dimensional since December 2013, when the BJP started its golden run with wins in three of five states and emerged the largest party in the fourth (Delhi).

Here are some:

Modi’s cloak of invincibility remains, but it has a big rip

This is the first electoral defeat suffered by Modi in 14 years—a very impressive record by any yardstick. Since he jumped into the formal electoral fray, the Prime Minister has won every election—three consecutive assembly elections in Gujarat and, of course, the 16th general election. Yes, Kiran Bedi will end up taking the fall, but Modi has shed his cloak of invincibility. This could mean a revitalized opposition that has been in the wilderness since May 2014 when results to the Parliamentary elections were announced. Still, this will take some doing. The Congress, which managed only 44 seats out of 545, in the Parliamentary elections, won no seats in Delhi

There is space for an alternative

The AAP, which morphed from an anti-corruption movement into a political party, has what marketers call a “competitive differentiator"—a relevant (to the voters) way in which it is different from other parties. The AAP rode to power on this difference in December 2013 but frittered away the opportunity. Its loss in the Parliamentary elections and the BJP’s successful run since seemed to indicate that there was no room for an alternative. This AAP victory has changed all that.

Inequality is emerging as a hot-button issue

The verdict is not so much a referendum against the BJP as it is a vote for change by aspirational have-nots. The 2014 election was won by the BJP by tapping into the aspirations of a nation. The verdict in Delhi reaffirms this trend, but a big difference is that this time, going by the passion of the AAP’s core voter base, the economically disenfranchised, it was a collective cry against inequality. Fighting growing inequality of income and opportunity may now find its place in the lexicon of public policy.

It won’t be easy to re-create the AAP model outside Delhi

Delhi provided the perfect constituents for forging such an experiment; this combination of circumstances cannot be replicated so easily elsewhere. The prevalence of class over caste is less easy to achieve outside of this metropolis.

The Congress is even less relevant than it was in May 2014

The wipeout of the Congress reconfirms that the country’s oldest party has been reduced to being a footnote of the electoral story in yet another state. In electoral rankings it is already fourth in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and third in Maharashtra—together these states elect 168 MPs to the Lok Sabha. The party survives only where it is in direct contest with the BJP—in states such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. And where an alternative has emerged, the Congress has retreated. The writing is on the wall. The party is looking at political extinction. If there were a time for it to reinvent itself, this is it.

The BJP will, no doubt, react in terms of policymaking, but it isn’t clear how

In some ways, the 2014 Delhi assembly elections were like the 2004 national elections which the BJP approached with a confident and complacent “India Shining" campaign. The Congress retorted with an Aam Aadmi Ko Kya Mila (What did the common man get?) campaign and registered a surprise win. This time, the BJP has suffered a shock to the system, courtesy the AAP, relatively early in its stint in power. How will it change the party’s economic philosphy? Will reforms suffer? Will the party become more populist in an effort to showcase itself as pro-poor? And, in the short-term, will the tone and tenor of the Union budget reflect some of this populism?

AAP no longer an under-dog

The AAP has now formally shed the tag. It used this position to immense advantage in this election, showing up the BJP as a consummate bully. It now has to get down to the business of governance. The successive decisive mandates given by the electorate, beginning with the Lok Sabha elections ,suggests that voters are rapidly losing patience with non-performers. From now on the AAP will have to bear the burden of the verdict.

It is a gift, but also a curse.

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Published: 10 Feb 2015, 10:31 AM IST
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