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By sticking to their five-year performance on improvement of public education and health, AAP refused to play on the BJP's turf of national security and cultural nationalism.
The elections to the state assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (Delhi) concluded with an outcome that may not have surprised anyone remotely linked with the city. Most of the opinion and exit polls had pointed to a comfortable victory for the incumbent Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the decimation of the Congress party. The anticipation was therefore mostly limited to only two points - (i) Will BJP be able to retain its core vote base of 33-34 percent in the city; and (ii) by how much BJP will be able to increase its 2015 election tally of three. The BJP has been successful on both these counts. In fact, it has managed to capture most of the Congress vote share besides retaining its own. In terms of the number of seats, it has not got much success given that AAP sustained its vote share above 50 percent that is required to sweep any state election.
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Despite the most predictable outcome, this election is significant in many ways. The defendant AAP did most things right and the challenger BJP did many things wrong. The grand old party. Congress, which was displaced by AAP in 2013 after 15 years of uninterrupted rule, did almost nothing.
This election may potentially have a lasting impact on electoral politics in India. For example, consider the following:
(a) So far most of the political parties have used identity politics as the primary election strategy. In many states such as UP, Bihar Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana, the caste, religion and regional identity (Marathi, Dravid, etc.) have played a key role in the elections. The left parties successfully used the class identity as their political strategy in West Bengal for more than three decades.
This election highlighted that polls could be successfully contested without using identity politics as a strategy. We had seen this experiment in Odisha and Sikkim in the past, but that never made the national headlines. This election can potentially trigger a national wave of issue-based politics instead of identity-based politics.
AAP support cut across the caste, class, religion, and regional identities. Backward-forward, urban, semi-urban, rich-poor, Hindu-Muslim-Sikh, all voted overwhelmingly for the AAP.
(b) Since the fall of the National Front government in 1989 over Ram Mandir issue, secularism vs communalism debate has been the fulcrum of national politics in India. Most national alliances against the rise of the BJP as a potent national force have been woven around the theme of secularism. In the political mudslinging, the concept of secularism (equality of religion) degenerated into a Hindu vs Muslim divide. This, on one hand, gave rise to the aggressive demonstration of religious identity and practices by both the religious communities; on the other hand, it has led to the alienation of a large section of the population from the religion and spiritualism that has been the core strength of Indian society since ancient times. A large section of the political class in India shunned religion for the fear of being branded communal; while another section used the religion as a symbol of nationalism.
Using religion in a secular way
The strategy of AAP in this election has successfully demonstrated how religion could be used in a secular way. It showed that a political leader need not be anti-Hindu to be secular.
(c) The BJP brought the national discourse of ultra-nationalism to the city elections in an attempt to undermine the local civic and developmental issues and economic challenges which are bothering the common people. Building upon the anti-CAA-NRC demonstrations in the city, the BJP tried to make the national security narrative most prominent. This may have benefitted the party as its vote share increased significantly in the city. Regardless, there were local developmental and civic issues that found favour with the large majority of people, especially women.
The election strategy of AAP may, therefore, be a useful case study for many regional parties. Without any inhibition, AAP pre-empted the BJP's strategic moves extremely well, staying a step ahead always. By sticking to their five-year performance on the improvement of public education and health, AAP meticulously refused to play on the BJP's turf of national security and cultural nationalism. The BJP was rather forced to come of AAP's turf of local issues and commit many unforced errors.
As a matter of election strategy, AAP has been able to demonstrate that local issues could be successfully used to counter the massive election machinery of the BJP.
It is not clear whether this victory will enhance the role of AAP leadership in national politics, but it is more likely that the AAP strategy may be replicated by many regional parties to change the political narrative in the country that has degenerated materially over the past two decades.
Remember, last year, Shiv Sena, a key ally of the BJP, had crossed the line and embraced the so-called ‘secular’ parties, materially weakening the secular vs communal narrative in the process.
Vijay Kumar Gaba explores the treasure you know as India, and shares his experiences and observations about social, economic and cultural events and conditions. He contributes his pennies to the society as Director, Equal India Foundation. The views are personal.
Read his columns here.
First Published: Feb 12, 2020 3:18 PM IST