05 May 2014

ABC of Indian Elections 2014

I have already discussed about the elections under a veil. Now, let me open the veil a bit and discuss the ABC of Indian Elections 2014. A is for AAP (Aam Aadmi Party), B is for BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and C is for the Congress or INC (Indian National Congress).

The Congress has a national following because it is identified with the country's independence movement. It is this identity that made the Congress to be the ruling party for about 50 year's in the nation's 67 years democracy. The Congress party of yore was thought to represent all kinds of views - the left, the right, the centre, the left of centre. the right of centre and so on and so forth. Over the years, the party's leadership got identified with a single family - the Nehru-Gandhi family (they have no relationship with Mahatma Gandhi) and its current President and Vice-President are Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi respectively. They have also been the leading party of an alliance that has been ruling for the last ten years that was marred with corruption. In the current election the Congress faces serious anti-incumbency on account of corruption and dynastic politics.

Taking advantage of this, the BJP and its allies have made a head start. They have announced Narendra Modi to be their Prime Ministerial candidate. This itself charged the adrenalin of many extreme right wing party cadre and supporters while for some others it brought back the memories of divide and misrule aligned with one of the worst communal violence of India that rocked Gujarat in 2002 only a few months after he was sworn in as its Chief Minister.  Today, after being in charge of the state for more than 12 years, he is being championed as a poster boy of development whose report card by Arvind Panagariya drives the punters with one feet in the share-bazaar gong-ho, but independent analysis by Maitreesh Ghatak and Sanchari Roy show that the claims of development do not add up

The BJP is not leaving any stones unturned and has set up pre-poll alliances, taken back into its fold people who were recently distanced on account of corruption and given tickets to candidates who are turncoats from the Congress and other parties. Thereby, making it obvious that it is NOT a party with a difference. What is more, BJP's campaigning has made use of Modi's persona to such an extent that many supporters are not keen to know who the party's candidate is from their constituency. This should be an important case study in marketing, but then the basis of representative democracy is made to stand on its head.

To bolster the case for representative democracy, to be a party with a difference, to question dynastic politics and to rake up the case for corruption is a recent entrant in India's democratic polity, the AAP. For many, this party is identified with another poster boy - Arvind Kejriwal who was the Chief Minister of Delhi for 49 days as a minority government. His sudden resignation from this has become a scoring point for the other parties and a sore point that its candidates have to answer the electorate. But then those interested in these answers should keep a watch on Varanasi where Kejriwal has pitted himself against Modi and it is dubbed as the mother of all battles for elections 2014.

While many opinion polls have dismissed AAP in the current elections, my lay guestimate is that they could reach at least 10 to 15 per cent of the popular vote share. Many of my friends and colleagues with whom I discuss may not agree, but let me explain the reasons that I have.

First, AAP is beyond Arvind Kejriwal. It is a conglomerate of views. There are people who are to the left, some other with views to the right and many others that are spread between the two. While this may look like cacophony to someone at one end of the spectrum but then this is what democratic polity is all about - reasonable pluralism.  It gives space to deliberations for a wide spectrum of views. It is like the Congress of yore. Different political entities, including the BJP to a very limited extent, tried to take this space that Congress lost long back, but they have not been successful. This space is being taken over by AAP.

Second, being open to a conglomerate of views has allowed AAP to connect to different kinds of movements that various groups have been independently spearheading - anti-nuclear, crisis in agriculture, displacement, slum housing, and tribal rights among others. This may not lead to an outright increase in votes for AAP by all these disgruntled groups, but it cannot be ignored that there is a consolidation happening.

Third, some people would be interested in a candidate's capability to address issues that matter for the constituency. Many candidates of AAP have done this - they have made attempts to directly engage with their voters and this will be an important motivation for some to vote for these candidates.

Fourth, AAP is contesting in 434 constituencies that is spread across the country. Given the limited resources (time, people and money) they have spread themselves thin and if voters would not like to waste their vote then they may cast it in favour of an winning candidate. While such an impression creation is possible, but this does not cut much ice because most of the winning candidates could get less than half the vote share (say, around 35-40 per cent) indicating that more than half the voters still may not cast their votes for the winning candidate. In short, those who have decided to vote for AAP because of the first three reasons could still vote for them and this would be spread across the country and this will add to their vote share.

Fifth, because of efforts by the Election Commission of India, the Association for Democratic Reforms and Satyamev Jayate there has been an increase in people coming out to vote in this elections. If this increase is by people who did not want to vote because they were disillusioned by the system then it is quite likely that many of these first time voters may cast their preferences in favour of AAP.

It is possible that my guestimates are on the higher side and even it it is correct then it may not transfer into seats. But, if my guestimate is correct then the other parties may better watch out for AAP in the next elections. And, yes the next election could happen very soon if this election gives us a hung parliament, which seems more likely.

To sum up, AAP seems to be a party that gives space to multiple views and also one that makes a difference. The former makes it like the Congress and the latter makes it like what BJP would have  perhaps wanted to be. It is in this sense that AAP is a B team of Congress and a C team of BJP.


  1. Very good reading...AAP will certainly make an impact in due course...it will just have to hang in there for long enough...

  2. well said srijit..it is true that AAP is a broad high way that is capable of accomodating extreme right to extreme left..and its no coincidence that we see many from across the spectrum see this as a new hope and are jumping in..wish it takes off in the right direction..

  3. Some comments discussion in two fb threads:
    Ram Garikipati: Good article, but my dissenting comments!
    1. ‘AAP is beyond Arvind Kejriwal’: His marketing agenda worked in a small space like Delhi for a short while, but will not work across the country. Afterall the first rule of any marketing is that a product should stand the test of time. His has not. He is the creator and destructor of a party that had high ideals and many non-political persons like me supported, but no longer; all because of his high ambitions and arrogance.
    2. ‘it cannot be ignored that there is a consolidation happening’: Yes, all the anti-incumbency votes which should have gone to AAP or other regional parties are now going to BJP.
    3. ‘some people would be interested in a candidate's capability to address issues that matter for the constituency’: Experience has shown that an MP does not have much power for changing the constituency realities (and constitutionally they do not have much powers, apart from the Parliament sessions)…even a high-profile one like Rahul Gandhi. It is the local corporators/MLAs/MLCs who can make a difference on the ground, and people have woken up to the fact.
    4. ‘In short, those who have decided to vote for AAP because of the first three reasons could still vote for them and this would be spread across the country and this will add to their vote share.’: As I explained in the previous three points, there is a reason why voters may not agree with your analysis.
    5. ‘If this increase is by people who did not want to vote because they were disillusioned by the system then it is quite likely that many of these first time voters may cast their preferences in favour of AAP.’: Possible, but unlikely. Voters come out to vote when they are disillusioned with the present government ture. But when they have an alternative that promises better governance, it seems more tempting. Not a bunch of ex-JNU student activists who can only agitate, not govern.
    6. ‘the other parties may better watch out for AAP in the next elections’; I agree with you on this point…it will be 2019. If they can get rid of Media/ex-corporate/failed movie actor candidates who just want a share of the limelight. What AAP needs is genuine activists who know the ground realities, not high-profile candidates who join just before elections.
    5 May at 14:04

    Nandini Garikipati: I totally agree with u man. Have been discussing this with Srijit all along.
    5 May at 14:18

  4. Comments from the 2nd thread
    Bibhuti Ranjan: AAP has reshaped the entire political discourse of India, no doubt about that...The Aam Admi culture is praised worthy...Corruption and Inflation the two issues raised by the party is really important and far greater than other things...Still the resignation of Keijirwal is the main reason for the breaking up momentum in favour of AAP. With many ups and downs still AAP has credibility to govern...However your estimate of 15% vote share seems overestimated. I hope in the next general election it will surpass all present parties and can usher a new era in Indian Democratic set up...
    5 May at 13:57
    Amit Mahapatra: AAP has definitely created a sense of awareness in the country, especially leading from the popularity of the Anna Movement. However, people like true leaders who fight through adverse situations over a period of time. Sadly, AAP has let down many a people on that front and many a people feel that AAP has destroyed a serious cause in the process.
    5 May at 14:54
    Srijit Mishra: Well there will be disappointment by some and that could also lead to some votes going away. This means people who would have otherwise voted for AAP. This best possible scenario would have given them a 30 per cent vote - all those disgruntled with the Congress Ram, your comment elsewhere). My claim here is 10-15 per cent.
    5 May at 16:18
    Amit Mahapatra: AAP was definitely a serious possibility - but have they lost it is the question?
    5 May at 16:49
    Srijit Mishra: Well, it could have been better. But, the point here is that some of the disappointed supporters will still vote for them. My guestimate was half (or even one-third) of those who would have otherwise voted while some of you think that it could be lower than that.
    5 May at 17:00
    Bibhuti Ranjan: Dear sir although the AAP has effectively campaigned in city and influenced the middle class...But in villages, the poor people who are lured by meat, alcohol and money AAP could not make a dent. Many people are ignored about such a party like AAP...that's why I thought AAP can get seats in Punjab and Delhi..but will take some time to influence the nation as a whole...But it touched the heart of educated mass...
    5 May at 19:39
    Srijit Mishra: The fact that they could not make an impact in large parts of rural India is because they had spread themselves thin. I did have Delhi and Punjab in my mind. In addition, I had a larger hope in UP because of the voter disillusion among the existing parties. It is to be seen whether and how much BJP takes advantage of this and the nature of candidates that AAP put up there excluding Amethi and Varanasi.
    5 May at 20:02
    Amit Mahapatra: AAP definitely has a lot of attachment amongst the people associated with educational process (young voters ) - mostly idealistic . However, amongst the majority of the middle class- who are more interested in realistic issues like employment and price rise- BJP scores over AAP. Most people feel the real impact of corruption in Price rise. BJP has captured price rise while AAP has captured Corruption. In the villages most people cannot relate to Serious Corruption - not the petty one, hence Price rise and opportunities of employment may be the more popular tune.
    6 May at 12:06
    Srijit Mishra: AAP obvious has miles to go, but I fees that they could reach that much sooner then I had initially thought. After Delhi elections I thought that they could take another 15-20 years to make a mark at the national level. Today, i feel that they could make that mark by the time of the next elections if they take up people-centric issues. They are going to alter the meaning of democracy
    6 May at 12:17
    Amit Mahapatra: Its all about representing people issues in people's language. Just see how MODI is changing his colors in every state. At a idealistic level we might disagree - but he is connecting with the masses. Secondly, this might be selling the Magical Lamp- good for one election but cannot be repeated - hence the AAP comeback proposition.
    6 May at 14:17

  5. Srijit Mishra: Amit, the strategy is worth studying and one only has to wait till 16th to note its success
    6 May at 14:17+

    Ram: My response
    1) There are many in AAP who observed from the sidelines during Delhi elections and they have joined after AK resigned and these are from a wide spectrum. If I look at many of the candidates then I am justified in saying that AAP is beyond AK.
    2) No, the anti-incumbency would have in any case helped BJP. It is now that AAP has put up an alternative. The consolidation that I am referring to are those who were unhappy with Congress and now see an alternative outside BJP. Agree, that this could have been better if the resignation was not suddenly done by AK.
    3) This should also matter at the MP level and that is the meaning of democracy tht AAP is planning to change.
    4) Well I am referring to a small section who would go by that. Your agreement was the best case scenario, which could have given them a 30-35 per cent vote share. I am still thinking that about half or one-third of them will still vote for APP. Hence, the guestimate for 10-15 per cent.
    5) There are many who are not convinced with the better governance alternative. And AAP is not about ex-JUN. In fact, AAP seems to have a greater support among IITians and beyond than among JNUites.
    6) I agree that AAP will have to watch out for two kinds of people. One is the opportunist who have jumped into their bandwagon to take advantage of them coming to power in the next 5/10 years. The second group will be infiltrators from both BJP and Congress. In addition, they have to be active at the ground level to address people-centric issues.
    7 May at 17:21