Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Delhi State Election Results

The Delhi State election results, which swept the AAP to an unprecedented win in the Delhi State election are extremely interesting and can be interpreted at different levels:

(1) BJP's vote share was 32-33% around the same as in earlier State elections, but possibly on a mildly declining trajectory, while AAP jumped to an unprecedented 50-55%. This means that the vote bank of the Congress, BSP & other small parties switched en mass to it. Exit polls suggest that this switch was greatest among low income voters of the non-BJP parties.

(2) The common thread among AAP voters seemed to be disgust with conventional parties who were seen as part of an arrogant, corrupt, unresponsive local administrative system. Despite any other failings (that political/economic pundits often harped on) they hoped that a completely new party like the AAP would change the system, reducing corruption and force administration to serve the people instead of lording it over them.

(3) Though pundits focused on the negatives of the AAPs 49 day rule, the non-BJP voters focused on the signs of helpfulness that AAP workers had demonstrated at that time, on corruption related administrative problems. This impression may have been strengthened in low income areas if AAP workers continued to be helpful after it demitted office(as reported in the Hindu). The Delhi public is quite aware that all parties (including the AAP) promise all kinds of goodies and these promises have to be taken with a large pinch of salt. This applies to both the positive benefits and the negative side-effects of such "give-aways." Neither the potential beneficiaries nor the potential sufferers (higher cross tax-subsidies) gave this issue the importance that some analysts were giving  it (and continue to give it).

(4) Mr Kejriwal who turned from a very humble man to an arrogant one in nine months of 2013, when the pre (central) election pols projected 50-100 seats for AAP and the media crowned him a Prime Ministerial candidate, seemed to have learned his lesson from the CG election disaster. He appeared to have re-discovered his humility. This also helped restore his credibility with (temporarily) dis-illusioned potential voters. In my judgement (a high minded) arrogance also contributed in the rout of the Congress as it delayed corrective economic measures till it was too late and therefore provides a lesson to the leadership of all parties, including the BJP.

(5) Delhi voters have an idea of the difference between what the Central Govt. can do (macro economy, jobs opportunities across country etc.) and what State & local Govt. can do at the local level (public amenities, permissions and certificates). Thus the image of the Delhi BJP and its past performance (indifferent) was much more important than the performance or non-performance of the Central Govt., Though Shrimati Kiran Bedi was seen by some as an anti-corruption crusader, others saw her as a part of the high handed (rather than high minded) police fraternity of Delhi. So any potential advantage was negated.

(6) One interesting puzzle is what happened to 10-15% additional vote that Shri Narendra Modi added, during the General Election of 2014, to the core vote of the BJP in Delhi?  Though the point made at (5) above is part of the explanation, it is not sufficient. The second part has to be the unease created by what these swing voters believed to be disturbing manifestations of the (so called) "Sangh Parivars" social agenda. Many of these voters ("Right Liberals") support the economic program of the PM but not what they percieve to be the social agenda of the RSS/"Sangh Parivar". They are actively opposed to any use of violence and coercion to achieve social objectives and to an undermining of the economic agenda through divisive statements. The PM was unable to convey to these swing voters that he did not support such statements and actions. His credibility on this issue was therefore a factor that affected the swing voter, who had voted for him in the General election.

(7) The Delhi media helped greatly in conveying and magnifying these impressions and helped form firm judgment that brought people out to vote (when many may have been unsure and afraid to take a risky bet and stayed home). This included a general impression that the Congress was at least temporarily finished in the State and that the AAP could successfully challenge BJP in Delhi State to form a stable government. The prominence given to extremist voices in the Sangh Parivar and the violence of some fringe outfits under the Parivar umbrella played a role in helping consolidate the non-BJP vote behind AAP.  
          It is unclear whether the Delhi media (especially the English language media) has much influence outside the Delhi metropolitan region, even in parts of neighboring States like Haryana that lie beyond the Metro region.

(8) The above analysis throws up several lessons for the major political parties. How much of an effect is felt beyond Delhi will depend on how these parties learn the right or wrong lessons from it. For instance Delhi is a City State with the highest per capita income, low poverty, high average education & media exposure, and very high average growth rate (city of opportunity), but poor governance like every other City in India. Any implications drawn for the rural areas and for poor States and less educated regions are likely to be wrong. 

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