AAP’s success in Delhi: Listening Aam Aadmi instead of parachuting an agenda

By Samir Gupta

The recent assembly elections in Delhi have produced a result that seem groundbreaking to many in India and Pakistan. The Aam Aadmi Party’s success is the ultimate feel good Aam Aadmi story one can imagine in South Asia. An in-depth analysis, however, reveals a familiar tale of electoral politics in India

While AAP’s success has been attributed to several factors, from Modi’s 10 lakh suit to the Sangh Parivar’s shrill Hindutva agenda to the freebies offered by the party. An objective psychological analysis reveals that the vote share for NDA fell only 1% while its share of seats fell from 32 to 3 because of voter polarization. AAP managed to attract a whopping 54% vote share, decimating parties like Congress and BSP.

Behind the voting pattern lies a century old story. When Gandhi arrived in India in 1915, many in the Congress party wanted him to lead the independence movement. He turned down the offer and spent four years traveling around the country to understand it better. He recognized that India was more than “a few hundred lawyers in Delhi and Bombay”. He spent the next 28 years in trying to create a broad agenda that offered something to everyone. The small farmers and the landless labour, the zamindaars (wadehras), the middle class, the industrialists and the urban poor. The dalits(lower castes), the tribals and the Muslims. It was a formula that worked very well for the Congress party after independence that milked it for all it could.

What worked for Gandhi and the Congress party was that they did not try to fabricate a monolithic national identity and had a dialog with each section of the society in a language that that section understood. AAP initiated its now famous Delhi Dialog and connected with the voters at the booth level. It collated the voter demands and regurgitated the feedback it got as its election manifesto. Leaving aside the small problem of how it would deliver the promise, AAP did something very simple and very well – it listened to the voters, all of them

The lesson that holds for BJP is that identity politics works for some time but most people care more about their daily grind than an enemy across the border or the danger to religion. The victory in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 on the back of a 31% vote share were a result of its development agenda (cleverly packaged as “Achhe din aanay walay hain”) and a fragmentation of votes. In the long run people really only care about the survival needs of their families. AAP offered cheap power, water, education and wi-fi, things that Aam Aadmi cares about.

While discussing the India Pakistan politics last year, a Pakistani columnist, Helal Pasha said to me, “Every country has a national narrative. India’s narrative is that of a tolerant, secular and socialist nation. The reality may be different but the majority of the population needs that reassurance that the country is on the right path”. With the implosion of the Congress party, the polarization of voters who do not subscribe to a hard Hindutva political philosophy will increase and they will look for credible alternatives to BJP where possible. BJP meanwhile has a choice. It can go back to the development agenda that it had sold to the voters nine months ago or try and further polarize the voters around religion. Current trends indicate that a more centrist line may be beneficial to it

Samir Gupta is an IT professional and an India-Pakistan peace activist based in Ghaziabad, India.

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