R Srinivasan

A different kind of change

R. SRINIVASAN | Updated on December 08, 2013

If the BJP has created a ripple, the Aam Aadmi Party has generated a wave.

The election results give hope on two fronts — traditional vote bank politics has been tested and it is possible to come up with an alternative method to raise funds.

It would be unwise to draw too many sweeping conclusions from the results of the four assembly elections, which have resulted in a couple of convincing wins in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, a somewhat less resounding one in Delhi and a near-tie with the Congress in Chhattisgarh for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP, perhaps understandably, has concluded that the results are an endorsement of the BJP as the alternative of choice of the public and, by inference, that a ‘wave’ in favour of its Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has powered it to victory in these states, and will undoubtedly sweep it to power in the Lok Sabha elections next year.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has said that its showing in Delhi is a clear indication that the people are fed up of corruption and mis-governance and, in choosing the AAP, that they have essentially rejected the old school of politics represented by both the Congress and the BJP.

In fact, this was a recurrent theme in the party’s campaign in the run-up to the elections, with AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal repeatedly stressing that the BJP’s track record on corruption and governance was no better than the Congress party’s.

The Congress, understandably, has been unable to come up with a convincing explanation for its performance, other than to claim that the results are not an endorsement of the kind of political alternative offered by Modi.

India Inc has concluded that the mandate for change witnessed in three of the four states — Madhya Pradesh has been retained by the BJP — was also a mandate against poor governance and that the electorate will favour those parties which are able to deliver growth and tackle corruption in governance.

Many factors at play

Which of these is correct? Are these elections a precursor of the way the mood will swing in 2014? Has corruption become the key issue? Is this, indeed, Narendra Modi’s semi-final victory, a signal of the triumph to come? Or, as the Congress appears to suggest, these results are indicative of specific factors in each state, and not indicative of the nation’s mood?

Actually, the reality may be that all of them are partially correct. The anti-incumbency factor, particularly against the Congress-led regime at the centre, has definitely played a part. This is reflected in not just the record turnout of voters witnessed in all the states which went to polls, but also in the decimation of the Congress in Delhi, where it has been in power for 15 years. However, one cannot conclude that this was the sole factor, since the BJP was the incumbent government in Madhya Pradesh.

It is also clear that the common man’s growing fatigue with lack of delivery on governance, the failure of the government to tackle inflation, and the growing stress on simply finding a viable means of living in a slowing economy, played a major part in this definitive search for an alternative.

This, combined with the widespread perception — fed by a succession of scams and scandals — that those in power were growing rich at the expense of the public clearly cost the Congress dearly, as demonstrated by not only its loss of power and seats, but the substantial erosion in the share of votes that it garnered.

For the BJP, there is as yet no clear-cut indication that Narendra Modi will be able to return it from the wilderness in the general elections. In Delhi, for instance, though it has emerged as the single largest party, it has not only failed to obtain a clear majority, but has actually lost share of vote compared with the previous election. In fact, it needs to introspect on how much the infighting and factionalism, as well as its inability to name a viable Chief Ministerial candidate till late in the fray, ended up costing it votes in the booth.

Leadership issues

In fact, the resounding win in Madhya Pradesh may well re-ignite the leadership debate within the party. Modi has been a polarising figure, not just with the electorate but within the party itself. The differences which were papered over by Modi’s crowd-pulling ability may well revive with many hoping that Shivraj Singh Chouhan, with his own impressive record of delivering at the hustings, combined with his own model of development — an alternative to Modinomics — and his perceived ability to deliver governance, may make him a more acceptable candidate, not just with voters, but with other political parties when it comes to the inevitable post-poll manoeuvres for support.

The Congress, too, has leadership issues of its own to contend with. The party being unable to publicly commit that Rahul Gandhi will indeed be its Prime Ministerial candidate, and its lack of credible leadership at the state and local levels, leave it with a mountain to climb before the next general election.

India Inc too, is likely to be more worried by the rise of AAP than it is willing to let on. Kejriwal’s nascent political party has already demonstrated that it has the ability to raise funds for elections in a transparent manner – and that it has managed to tap into an alternative source of funds as compared with the old-style political parties. If the bankrolling of the old school parties by business interests is the obverse, then surely, crony capitalism, and the extraction of benefits through patronage, is the reverse.

Competitive populism

The AAP’s shrill, almost one-point agenda of ‘sweeping out corruption’ — as symbolised by its evocative selection of a broom as its election symbol — would also indicate that it will also be against the kind of crony capitalism this represents. Its largely middle-class support base certainly thinks so. This makes the prospect, howsoever a distant one at present, of the AAP emerging as a significant player at the national level an uncomfortable one for those who have benefited from the present set-up.

The AAP may have proved its point that the electorate is fed up of the prevailing atmosphere of corruption and misgovernance. But the results have not made clear what the voters actually want as an alternative. In fact, the poll manifestoes of all parties — the AAP included — have been exercises in competitive populism. Whether the voters — particularly the millions of young voters who exercised their franchise for the first time in these elections — actually endorse this is by no means clear.

What is clear is that traditional vote bank politics, with the cynical calculations based on caste and money power which go with it, have been seriously tested. It has also been demonstrated — by the AAP — that it is possible to come up with an alternative method for raising campaign funds. These two factors alone are not merely the biggest takeaways from these elections, but the biggest cause for hope.

Published on December 08, 2013

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