AAP’s ideology-agnostic governance model isn’t the answer to Modi
In between the two core, ideological, voters of the BJP and the Congress lies a new kind of floating voter who chooses the BJP under Modi in the Lok Sabha without necessarily committing to the party in assembly polls.
Amid much euphoria over the Aam Admi Party’s resounding victory in Delhi, a few recent patterns are lost sight of.
The BJP did much better in Lok Sabha polls than in state assembly polls immediately before or after it. This pattern started with the last Gujarat assembly polls, continued in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh in 2018, and is strongly visible in Delhi, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and even Haryana after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Does the Delhi result – where AAP romped home with 62 out of 70 seats – signal a reversal of the fortunes of the BJP or simply a pattern where Lok Sabha polls, with Narendra Modi as the face of the BJP, is different from state assembly polls, where the BJP contests without Modi as the visible face of its campaign?
Let us see the numbers in some previous polls to make sense of the voting patterns.
The BJP got 38.5-percent votes in Delhi in the recently concluded assembly election. However, months back, it had secured 56-percent votes in Delhi in the Lok Sabha polls. Similarly, while the BJP got 36-percent votes in Haryana and 33-percent in Jharkhand in the 2019 assembly polls in the two states, it secured 58-percent and 51-percent votes in the two states, respectively, in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
This may not indicate that the party’s fortunes are falling, however. For, the BJP did much better in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in the Lok Sabha than in the assembly elections of 2018 months before it. It secured just 41-percent, 38-percent and 33-percent votes in the 2018 assembly polls in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, but its vote percentage jumped to 58-percent, 59-percent and 51-percent, respectively, in these three states in the Lok Sabha elections.
This pattern – for which we have some data by now – suggests that there is a significant section of voters in states where the BJP has a good presence that votes differently in the Lok Sabha polls and the assembly polls.
It may not be entirely off the mark to suggest that the core BJP vote – ideologically committed to Hindutva irrespective of the context – is best captured in the assembly elections in these states.
The Congress’ core vote in these states, however, is best captured in the Lok Sabha elections. While the swing vote has ended up decimating the Congress in Lok Sabha polls twice in a row, its vote percentage – either core Congress voters or committed anti-BJP voters – isn’t insignificant in the Lok Sabha polls. It got 29-percent, 34-percent, 41-percent and 34-percent votes in the Lok Sabha in Haryana, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and MP, respectively, even in the Lok Sabha polls. However, the swing in favour of Modi as PM decimated the party.
In between the two core, ideological, voters of the BJP and the Congress lies a new kind of floating voter who chooses the BJP under Modi in the Lok Sabha without necessarily committing to the party in assembly polls. The difference in the vote percentages of the BJP in assembly and Lok Sabha polls in these six states – all within the core zone of the BJP’s influence – is anything between 17 and 22 percentage points.
This chunk perhaps provides the swing factor in polls, leading to clear majorities for the BJP and decimation for the Congress.
These swing voters are not clearly ideological in a traditional sense. They are possibly enamoured of a strong leadership at the Centre and vague emotive calls around nationalism. In the state, they may vote for change or an alternative strong leader like Arvind Kejriwal.
If one closely examines the campaign strategy of Kejriwal in Delhi, he seemed intent on getting this swing voter to vote for AAP. So, Kejriwal was not keen on addressing the anti-BJP social constituency. He felt this constituency would anyway have no option but to vote for AAP. He was keen to get those swing voters who may have voted for Modi at the Centre, and may be seeing him (Kejriwal) as a powerful leader – or Delhi’s Modi – in the assembly polls.
Kejriwal, thus, stuck to his governance record – which is impressive by Indian political standards – and chose to deflect rather than confront the BJP’s aggressive Hindutva campaign. He chose, as I wrote in a previous column on this website, not to fight the battle on the BJP’s turf. He chose to present himself as a delivery man who is ideology-agnostic.
However, this may not work in the Lok Sabha polls, going by present trends. The floating voters can as easily deliver a one-sided BJP victory as a comprehensive BJP defeat.
Kejriwal can afford not to address the swing voters ideologically -- on issues of justice and on constitutional values -- as he sees Delhi and not India as his turf. He is aware that his efforts at expanding outside Delhi haven’t borne fruit.
However, the Congress cannot afford to do the same. It has to fight the battle on the BJP’s turf – i.e., hard Hindutva, countering it with a pitch for an inclusive India – sooner or later. Otherwise, it will be able to wrest some states from the BJP but will as easily be decimated when Modi is the leader of the BJP in Lok Sabha polls.
In the last analysis, the battle will perhaps have to be on constitutional grounds. It will have to offer an inclusive idea of India as a counter to hard Hindutva.
Rahul Gandhi failed to galvanise voters in 2019 despite his visits to Hindu temples and his promises to address the farm crisis. The national election saw the Congress being reduced to its committed core but the BJP having a floating, non-ideological, voter siding with Modi in the name of national security, “strong leadership” and a “strong government”.
Delivery of goods – something Kejriwal sold very well to Delhi voters who had experienced things like public education and health care improve under him and seen their power and water bills plummet – is not the answer to Modi in Lok Sabha polls, as of now.
And the Congress, the only alternative to the BJP till date, is in the opposition and cannot “show” that it can provide better governance than Modi. Its work in the UPA years wasn’t bad, but much propaganda against the UPA years makes it very difficult for the Congress to make its last government its unique selling proposition.
The Congress and other opposition parties will perhaps have to distinguish themselves from the BJP clearly with an alternative idea of inclusive India to take on Hindutva. They may or may not win if they do so. However, they will not win even if they don’t.
This is how things stand at present, though the state of the economy will also impact politics in the years to come. The economy can damage the BJP. But if the economic damage is constantly obfuscated by the ruling party through recourse to cultural politics, it may still find traction with sections of Hindus despite economic hardship.