The Aam Aadmi and the BJP

What does the rise of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) in Delhi mean?

The party is poised for a remarkable debut in politics, if recent opinion polls are accurate. The latest one shows the party picking up 18 of Delhi’s 70 seats, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress winning 25 and 24, respectively.

Another poll shows the AAP taking 15 per cent of the vote and winning 18 seats in the assembly. This was compared with the BJP’s 28 and the Congress’s 22. A third poll says the AAP will get 11 seats, with the BJP and the Congress taking 29 and 26, respectively. This poll gives the AAP an even higher vote share of 21 per cent. This is a surprise and many observers, including me, had not expected such a strong performance from a new party against the two giants of Indian politics.

The polls are bad news for the BJP in Delhi because they see the voter split three ways in what has always been a two-party state. Dissatisfaction with the Congress, which has ruled Delhi for a decade and a half, should normally result in a sweep for the BJP in the capital. However, the intrusion of the AAP into the field means that the BJP is expected to have a very narrow margin of victory, if it wins a majority at all. Some internal problems, publicised recently, concerning squabbling by chief ministerial contenders have not helped the party either.

But the big story of the rise of the AAP is that it is excellent news for prime ministerial aspirantNarendra Modi and his strategic planners. Why do I say this? The fact is that despite its proletarian name, the AAP is a party of the middle class. Its primary issue, that of state corruption, is something which, though it concerns all Indians, mainly makes the middle class angry. It is the morchas and hunger strikes against corruption, and in favour of a totalitarian Lok Pal, that made the AAP popular.

If such a party, on the basis of such a platform, can win a large chunk of urban votes, so can Modi. This is because one crucial aspect of the appeal of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate is aimed at the sort of person who is excited by the AAP. This aspect is built around a non-communal theme around issues like corruption and nepotism, better management of the economy through encouraging the corporate sector and a firm and tough position on the borders against China and Pakistan. All of these may be seen as urban, middle class issues and the things for which Modi is believed by many to be the perfect executor.

It has long been believed by psephologists, sociologists and commentators, that elections in India are totally dominated by caste and not issues. This is the reason why the Congress might sweep one state, say Andhra Pradesh, and in the same election, get hammered in an adjoining state like Karnataka.

The projection of vote share and seats for the AAP indicates that for many people, in urban India at least, the decision will be on the basis of issues rather than identity. This is something that will change the way all politics is done in India and at the moment, the person best positioned to take advantage of it is Modi.

The Congress swept urban India in 2009. It cleaned up Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad while its allies swept Kolkata and Chennai. It was only in Bangalore where the Yedyurappa-led BJP defeated the Congress.

If the opinion polls are right about the AAP, we are in line for a total reversal of fortunes for the BJP in the metros. This is why, despite the BJP’s concerns about the way in which Delhi will swing, its leader will be delighted with the way things are going for his 2014 campaign.

Published in The Express Tribune

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