The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has a common nationwide policy that it will implement in elections at all levels, across all States. The core of its electoral strategy is that it will offer free basic amenities when it comes to power. It has chosen to showcase and work on education which is the concern of the common man. It will also pander to the most basic instincts of the aam aadmi of which freely available liquor is the most important. It implements this blueprint with strategic realism ruthlessly, exploiting national faultlines for electoral gains. This same format can be seen as contributing to the success of the Aam Aadmi Party in the recently concluded MCD elections in Delhi despite the Bharatiya Janata Party giving a close fight.
The results of Delhi’s MCD elections are out and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has upstaged the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from the local government after a gap of fifteen years in a tough and tight fight. This is being seen as an upset because the BJP had managed to retain its hold on the MCD despite not making a mark in the State Assembly elections.
What could be the reasons that the Aam Aadmi Party has managed to cause such an electoral upset? The local elections are all about local issues of governance. However, the Aam Aadmi Party has a common blueprint for all elections—one that it has successfully implemented in all elections. Policies based on this blueprint have been consistently implemented by the State Government.
Its core voter base comprises the population of Delhi that is largely marginalised and comes from a struggling socio-economic background. The Aam Aadmi Party offers these voters what are called freebies and which for them is a huge relief in terms of saving on their meagre monetary resources. It is a crude form of redistribution that suits their core voter base. The upper middle-class voter will almost always never benefit from free electricity or water slabs. In light of these policies, in wards where the local councillor has been inaccessible or has failed to deliver on core local issues like collection of garbage, street lighting etc, the voter has shifted to the next available contender.
Access To Bar Shalas
Some of the interactions during door-to-door campaigning and nukkad meetings showed that despite the incumbent delivering clean and effective governance, people were swayed by the opening of liquor shops in residential areas. In some areas, the gated colonies held protests against the opening of such shops called ‘Bar Shalas’ that offer easy access to drinking from morning to evening. Such services are not election issues and feed positively into the aspirations of the core voter base of the Aam Aadmi Party. While the middle-class voter in gated colonies may consider these easy drinking hubs a security hazard and in many wards they have registered protests, for the AAP core voter base this is a non-issue.
The Aam Aadmi Party has lost three out of four wards in Manish Sisodia’s constituency. It has also lost considerably in wards that lie within Kailash Gehlot’s and Amanatullah Khan’s constituencies
While normally, anti-incumbency is not a major issue in MCD elections, in many instances, voters have come out against candidates that they consider inaccessible or corrupt. During many of the nukkad meetings, people had an opinion that candidates, who do not meet or have not been on a regular touch with the people of the area, deserve to be voted out and this is the democratic right they have exercised. Thus local government representatives may need to focus on meetings with their constituents as these elections are a test of grassroots links. Even where issues are beyond their jurisdiction, the citizen still looks for accessibility and a patient hearing from the local councillor, who is the first link in the governance pyramid.
Why was MCD BJP’s Citadel?
A lot of the success that the BJP has had in the MCD elections is because of the fact that it is a cadre-based party and there has been intensive and committed campaigning by party and organisation workers on ground. While big leaders of the State have campaigned in Nukkad Sabha, grassroots workers have been active in door-to-door campaigns and people-to-people connect. This has translated into a number of significant wins for the party, as also in increased vote shares to the tune of 39 per cent—which is a couple of points above the figures in 2017.
AAP’s Defeat In Favourite Wards
The Aam Aadmi Party has lost three out of four wards in Manish Sisodia’s constituency. It has also lost considerably in wards that lie within Kailash Gehlot’s and Amanatullah Khan’s constituencies. The former was allegedly a key player in the excise scam that the AAP has reportedly engineered. The local MCD elections in Delhi are an indicator of voter mood for both the BJP and the AAP.
Despite having the advantage of being in power in the State, AAP hasn’t been able to engineer a tidal wave as it is claiming in the media. For the BJP, it sends a message that united, cadre-based and issue-based politics are its best bet in all future elections. For local and State elections, local connection that will matter, keeping them in a good fight.