The exit polls are out but results are awaited. Despite the vagaries of opinion polls in India and their patchy track record, every bird in every branch of every tree in Delhi seem to sing only one tune, that is of the BJP’s defeat. Let’s take that as correct for now.
In every democracy, each major or minor party has a certain number of core, die-hard voters. This percentage varies with time, but the core nevertheless exists. These are the sort of voters, who would vote for a donkey (to quote MG Ramachandran or was it NTR?) if their party fields one.
But then there are also voters that shift their allegiances depending on a variety of factors, some of which may make sense to us, some don’t. Charismatic leadership, anti-incumbency, fatigue, non performance, sympathy for underdog, populist promises, caste or religion and a whole host of other factors can swing the choice of these transient voters. Needless to say, parties go after these voters as they make a difference.
Although one cannot agree with voters switching loyalties lured by populist promises and other such ‘negative’ factors, we have to respect these ‘neutral’ voters. Because in their own way, they don’t care for a particular party or ideology, but care for themselves and their families and indirectly and effectively for the country. It is voters like this that build an effective and powerful democracy, even if they make a few wrong moves along the way. Voters that mechanically vote for one party or leader, come what may, do not add value to the system. They encourage corruption, inefficiency and non performance. And we have had lots of that.
Coming back to Delhi, it is clear that the voters of the sort mentioned here are the ones that are going to make or destroy BJP’s fortunes. If BJP lost (and/or AAP gained) 10% or more voters in barely 7 months, it is because these voters are not hardcore Sanghis or Hindutva fans. They simply felt Narendra Modi was a better choice for leading the country out of the mess UPA2 had landed it in. They were hoping for a better future for themselves, and as we mentioned earlier, indirectly for the country.
Similarly, now they feel Kejriwal is the best bet for Delhi. Firstly he is seen as better than anything BJP was able to throw at him, Bedi included. Secondly, some of them also perhaps feel it is ‘fair’ to give Delhi to AAP since Modi already has won a much bigger prize.
The “Bhagoda” factor exploited by Congress and BJP clearly did not matter even in May 2014 since AAP managed to improve its vote tally even as it lost all seats. It would matter even less now.
It is also these transient voters that hold out the best hope for BJP going forward. Obviously, being a new party, AAP does not have a dedicated committed voter base. Every single vote it gets is because of Kejriwal, his image of being ‘different’ and his promise of improving their daily lives. If he fails to do much, these voters will simply walk away.
AAP will encounter entrenched forces that will resist its push to end corruption and improve public services. A lot of petty corruption is by lower ranks of civil services that can easily hold up the red flag and cause chaos, as other greenhorn Chief Ministers have found to their dismay. Many a new CM cracks down on small crimes like late coming or absenteeism, only to give up after a while because it is much easier to immediately pander to a group of well organized employees than chase the mirage of being rewarded in the distant future by disparate groups of people affected by corruption and sloth.
Lessons for BJP to learn
It is stupid for it to conclude that May 2014 was about voters suddenly becoming Hindutva fans or hardcore nationalists. Just as it is crazy for the professional seculars to conclude voters ‘reject divisive politics’ because BJP lost or were swayed by ‘communal polarisation’ if it wins. A vast majority of voters are simply insulted by such conclusions.
Endemic corruption has been tolerated by too many for too long. Same is the case with pathetic, insensitive, arrogant public servants and services including electricity, water, hospitals, schools etc. It is a problem everywhere in India. Delhi seems to show the way in terms of letting the widely held sense of revulsion with state of affairs become the No. 1 factor overriding all other factors such as religion, caste, region, language, film star appeal etc. Obviously BJP, while seen better than Congress for now, but is still seen as part of the problem and not the solution when a clean new alternative crops up. This has to be fixed ASAP. As mentioned earlier, this is not going to be easy, but this has to be done.
Public services in India are so under funded, badly run and are in most cases simply non existent that there are several low hanging fruits for any sensitive and sensible CM or PM to pick. To take a simple example, state run primary schools or hospitals that provide basic healthcare. Narendra Modi may have to launch, at Central level as well as in states ruled by BJP a program on war footing to improve them visibly and quickly.
Above all, BJP should learn to take it easy and not come across as “My way or highway, take no prisoners” sort of political player. This has to be obviously done carefully without giving up the competitive spirit and the killer instinct that has served it well. This will help defuse tense situations and take the sting out of defeats that are bound to come along its path, given India’s divisive politics.