Delhi Assembly Election

A Referendum Against Modi

Santosh Rana

In Delhi Assembly election, the Aam Admi Party [AAP] has got spectacular victory. Their main contender, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party in power has faced ignominious defeat. The AAP has got 54.3% of cast votes and won 67 out of 70 seats. In contemporary Indian politics, it is very often found that a party gets a majority of seats in Parliament or Assembly with as low as 30% or a little more of popular votes. They are ruling on the basis of a minority support base because they managed to get majority of seats. For example, the BJP is ruling at the centre though it got only 31.3% ie less than one-third of votes. It puts the Indian electoral system to serious questioning and demands some mechanism to reflect proportional representation.

The AAP victory in Delhi was not like that. They have not only won majority of seats but also majority of popular support. In India's parliamentary history, the incidence of a party winning with a majority of votes, does not occur too often. In Delhi Assembly election, it had occurred only twice. In 1952, the Congress had won with a little more than 50% votes and in 1977, the Janata Party won with 52% votes. The incidence of a party getting more than 95% of seats has no precedence in any other state, the only exception being Sikkim.

The election of 1952 was the first election after independence. In the struggle for national independence, the Congress played the leading role. So the Congress getting more than 50% votes in 1952 can be seen as an expression of post-independence euphoria. In the election of 1977, the people voted against emergency. In a sense, the election of 1977 can be compared to the freedom struggle. That was a referendum. Keeping aside other issues, the people voted either for or against emergency.

How to look at the Delhi election results in 2015 ? The AAP has got more votes than the Congress of 1952 or the Janata Party of 1977. Did the people take it as a referendum?

In 2013, the AAP formed through a civil society movement contested the Assembly election. It got 29.5% of votes and won 28 seats. In this election the BJP got 33.1% of votes and won 31 seats while the Congress got 25% of voles and 8 seats. AAP formed the government with Congress support. This government took significant steps on three issues concerned with the livelihood of the people. One of them was measures against corruption in government offices. Nothing moves in a government office unless a bribe is paid. The AAP government tried to stop it and got some success. The second was the problem of drinking water. The AAP government recognized the right of the people to safe drinking water. The third was power tariff. It took steps to audit the income and expenditure of the power supply companies and reduced the power tariff to half. Apart from these, it took another significant step which gave the people of Delhi a sense of empowerment. It divided Delhi into some wards and formed people's committees to supervise the developmental work. This work was at its primary stage but the people saw this step as one towards self-rule of people.

Before the Loksabha election of 2014, the AAP Chief Minister resigned on the issue of Jan Lokpal Bill. The AAP had sticked to its position taken during the anti-corruption movement.

In the Loksabha election of 2014, AAP's vote share increased to 32.9% but it could not win any seat. It got lead in 10 Assembly segments. On the other hand the BJP got 46.4% votes and won all Loksabha seats in Delhi. It got lead in 60 Assembly segments. The vote share of Congress was reduced to 15% and they did not get lead in any Assembly segment. Comparing the Assembly election of 2013 with the Loksabha election 2014, it can be said that the major shift of votes from Congress was to the BJP, while the AAP got a smaller share.

8 Months Later
Eight months have passed after the Loksabha election. During these months, the Modi government has taken several steps—all in the interest of domestic and foreign big capitalists. It has abolished the Planning Commission and replaced it with Niti Ayog. Mr Panagariya, a pro-reform economist and a US citizen has been appointed its vice-chairman (the Prime Minister is the Chairman). He is against a rights-based approach to the problems of jobs, food, shelter, health-care and education. The market will take care of these problems, he holds. He is for abolition of MNREGA, Food-Security Act, Forest Act and Right to Education Act. The Modi government has already taken steps to dilute the Right to work under MNREGA, the Food Security Act and the Forest Act. The UPA government was forced to pass an amended Land Acquisition Act under pressure of countrywide mass movements. The BJP government has passed an ordinance to avoid the Consent Clause of that Act and thus take country back to the days of 1894 Act. Insurance has been opened to foreign capital and coal mines are to be privatized. The impact of these steps has not yet effected the livelihood of the people of Delhi directly but the people with rural background are getting inputs from their relatives living in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhatishgarh, UP and Uttarakhand that reduction in 100-days’ work is effecting the rural wages. The people understand that these steps are being taken in the interest of the rich. In some areas of outer Delhi there is movement of peasants against land-acquisition. The people in these areas are already feeling the heat.

While the central government is pushing reform measures to the extreme, organizations of Sangh Parivar are spreading violence throughout the country in the name of "Ghar Wapasi". These outfits are being actively encouraged by the Central Government. At the same time, there is a move by the central governments to place Hindutva ideologues as heads of public institutions. There is a concerted move for saffronisation of education and culture. They are out to destroy the democratic and secular fabric of the country. It has already been proposed that the words "secularism" and "socialism" be removed from the Preamble to the Constitution.

The Delhi election results have to be seen in the context of BJP rule at the centre over the last eight months. The Muslims and the Christians have voted for the AAP in order to defeat the BJP. In a different context they might have voted for the Congress or any other secular party. Apart from the minorities, a section of majority who apprehend the danger to secularism have also voted for the AAP. A large section of the workers have voted against the BJP as a protest against the anti-working class policies of the central government. The Hindutvawadis had asked the Hindu women to carry four children each. The conscious section among the women have not taken it well. Because of all these sections voting against the BJP its vote share has reduced from 46.4% in the Loksabha election to 32.2%. This amounts to 30.6% reduction in popular votes. If the BJP got 100 votes in the Loksabha, then it has got less than 70 votes in the Assembly election. On the other hand, the AAP got 32.9% votes in the Loksabha, which has gone up to 54.3%, nearly 65% increase. It is clear that the AAP's vote share has increased in two ways. A section of voters who had voted for the BJP in the Loksabha election have voted for the AAP in the Assembly election. Another section who had voted for the Congress in the Loksabha polls have voted for the AAP. This section is numerically smaller than the former. It can be fairly assumed that the voters who have shifted support from the BJP to AAP do not belong to the minority communities. It is difficult to locate their identity but from various observations, it seems that the Dalits and Poorvanchalis (workers from Bihar and UP) are major sections among them.

It will be wrong to look at AAP victory simply as a negative vote against the BJP. It is at the same time a positive vote for the AAP. It is true that the AAP does not have a well defined programme against neo-liberal policies. But the move to ensure safe drinking water for all and reduction of power tariff go against the reform agenda. So the people of Delhi have voted not only against the pro-corporate and communal policies of BJP but have positively voted for a policy that recognizes the right to food, drinking water and health care as basic rights of the people.

Delhi is a half state. Even the Delhi police is not under the state government. For finance, the state is wholly dependent on grants of the central government. In such a situation, it is to be seen whether or how far the AAP government can fulfill the demands of the people.

The AAP leadership had emerged from a civil society movement. They do not criticize the neo-liberal policies. Their stand on the ordinances recently passed by the central government is not known. Moreover, they have not criticized the communal agenda of the Hindutva forces. People will certainly notice the position of AAP when these contradictions are further intensified. But there is no doubt that AAP's victory has put an obstacle before the corporate-Hindutva forces.

In this election, the RJD, JD(U), JD(S), the Trinamool Congress and the CPI(M) supported AAP in order to defeat BJP. It shows that the gravity of the situation is pushing secular parties to some sort of understanding and joint action. It is difficult to tell whether any new political equation will emerge. But with intensification of contradiction with corporate-Hindutva forces, such a scenario cannot be ruled out.

In an election like this, some Left parties and groups campaigned for NOTA. It may be that they have saved their purity, but of what use is this purity, which is divorced from mass practice?

Vol. 47, No. 36, Mar 15 - 21, 2015