India – the land with 5000 years of history of corruption, deception and exploiataion- has also been breeding ground of short lived revolutions- the revolutions in a saucer. In post freedom period, India had Jai Parkash Narain who called upon Army to revolt and result was two years of national emergency. Then there was Mr. Clean- Mr. VP Singh who defeated Rajiv Gandhi and withon eight months disillusioned his starry eyed followers. And now Kejriwal who describes himself as an anarchist. Such short lived revolutionaries flash like a comet , but do have a transitory effect.
During the Sixties, the students’ movement exploded across developed countries. After a dozen years of full employment and steady growth, students took to the streets to fight the Establishment. The elders were bewildered. At first they ignored, then abused the students, but soon they found that this was new politics. They conceded defeat. The anti-Vietnam War movement prevented Lyndon Johnson from seeking a full second term. In France, Charles de Gaulle had to resign his presidency. The Prague Spring made a mockery of the Soviet Union’s fake charges against Alexander Dubcek.
Yet, few of the then leaders entered politics. Jerry Brown, the Governor of California, is one, but he has dynasty on his side. Danny Cohn-Bendit, the hero of Sorbonne, is now a European MP. Movements that were effective in throwing off big regimes melted away once the objective had been achieved; as one generation graduated, the next one could not care less.
India has an assembly line whereby political parties recruit students for their student wings and these ‘leaders’ try to get to the top. I cannot recall many top leaders who began in student politics, but there are some names. In the Congress, you don’t need to be a student leader, you are born into a leading family and that alone is necessary. Rahul Gandhi’s Gen Next team is all yuvarajs and no aam aadmi.
Movements which rise on the spur of the moment and harness public anger do sometimes throw up leaders. The student heroes of the JP movement, Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Nitish Kumar, are now veteran politicians, though one should not remind them of their idealism when young. Movements thrive on constant pressure, total action and a lot of suffering for the devout. They move away from one topic to another. They have no patience. As one slogan during the LSE troubles of 1968 said, ‘When you concede our demands, tomorrow we will think of new ones’.
But what about the Aam Aadmi Party? Here is a movement which is refusing to become a party. To its surprise, it has become a government about to celebrate its first month in office. Within that short time period, its fortunes have waxed and waned faster than its own actions. The dharna outside Rail Bhavan tried many a Delhiwallah’s patience. People began to write Arvind Kejriwal off on January 20, but by the 21st, he had effected a nifty retreat and survived to fight another day. It was the retreat rather than the dharna which was a clever ploy. This man will not go on fast unto death like Anna Hazare. He knows his weaknesses and knows how to leverage the small power he has. He will, I have no doubt, begin to govern properly one of these days. But where is the hurry? He has a tight window till the general election and needs to stay in the public eye continuously. It is not as if previous new governments taking power had set a 100-day programme or done much of note even by the end of their first year. The established parties were gleeful when they saw citizens being inconvenienced by Metro closures and thought the people would begin to go off AAP.
This is to misjudge the game Kejriwal is playing. People have lost faith in the institutions of government thanks to UPA and so, if Kejriwal does not behave like other CMs, no one will blame him. It is normal ‘dignified’ behaviour — getting in and out of lal batti cars, with dozens of security personnel, jobs for their supporters and contracts for their financiers — that people resent. This is the big sea change that the Congress as well as the BJP cannot fathom.
The BJP has an outsider at the top, a chaiwallah whose status brings tears of laughter and contempt to the pristine Brahmin eyes of Congress leaders. Narendra Modi still has much to pick up from Kejriwal if he is to win and rebuild trust in institutions. He must remember that the Janata Party, which came to power in 1977 at a historic moment when India’s first experiment of Fascist rule was defeated, failed because the winners could only contemplate their navels.
Two things were manifestly clear. The first was, unsurprisingly, the sentiment against the UPA. Anti-incumbency is all too common in democratic polities. Continuation of incumbents beyond two terms is normally unhealthy for a democracy. In many polities, there is a two-term limit for incumbents, for an unbroken hold over power often leads to arrogance and corruption. The enormity of anti-UPA anger is all too obvious.
The second trend was also unmistakable. The AAP was experiencing a wave in urban India. India’s political conversation had changed. When a polity experiences a wave, conventional political analysis cannot be undertaken. Will the APP get only 8-10 seats, or 50-60? We simply can’t be sure. All we can say is that waves can be exponential, engulfing much that comes in the way. But waves can also crash. Especially after the Rail Bhavan dharna, we not only need to ask how far the AAP will go, we also need to inquire whether the
AAP wave will abate in the next three months. Let us first understand why the AAP rose so rapidly. The AAP managed to combine the support of the urban elite and the urban masses. Normally, mass politics and elite politics dance to very different tunes. The AAP has brought them together. Playing only the middle class game has inherent limits in a country where the underprivileged are still the vast majority. But attending only to the poor, while politically attractive, often leads to reckless fiscal behaviour, which in turn engenders economic and political problems. If one can put the two together and begin to extend it to rural India, a solid foundation of new politics can be created. That is the great promise of the AAP.
After over two decades, the urban middle class appears to be enthused about politics. It has lined up to acquire AAP membership. When you learn that membership lines have formed even in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, places where the AAP was least expected to attract attention, you know a wave is emerging. Funds have also poured in. Equally important, the AAP is going for clean and accountable financing in a polity where campaign finance is murky to the core. Businessmen are writing cheques. Some have joined the party.
Who would be hurt most, if the wave continued? The Congress will in any case go into an eclipse in May. The BJP was to be the biggest beneficiary of the anti-incumbency anger, but the AAP is threatening to split that vote in urban India. In UP, Rajasthan and Haryana, the semi-urban vote, too, might be shared. Moreover, a partial rural penetration of these states cannot be ruled out.
The BJP never had a lion’s share of the rural vote. Its fate is made or unmade by the urban vote. It slipped badly in 2009. According to Pradeep Chhibber and Rahul Verma, political scientists at Berkeley, there were 216 urban and semi-urban parliamentary seats in 2009. Of these, the Congress won 95, and the BJP 55. According to conventional political analysis, that was to be reversed in May 2014, until of course the AAP burst on the scene. Even if the AAP gets only 20-25 seats, which Delhi, Haryana, UP and Rajasthan can provide, it might make it very hard for Narendra Modi to get 180 seats, now widely viewed as necessary for attracting enough allies to form a government.
Would this analysis hold up now? More generally, under what circumstances can the AAP wave crash? A Rail Bhavan fiasco is not enough to write off the AAP, but it certainly suggests what could be one of several routes of waning.
The most important signal the Rail Bhavan dharna sent is this: it can wean the urban elite and middle class away from the AAP, while keeping the urban poor base intact. The urban poor may savour a dramatic political attack on the police, which harasses them routinely. But losing the urban elite, or middle class, will be suicidal. This class is a source of finance for the AAP, also a source of future leadership, and a reason for media fervour.
Why might the urban middle class be upset? One issue is clearly pad ki garima (behaviour appropriate to the office held). A chief minister cannot be the chief protester. He and his cabinet are supposed to govern, not cause chaos. The argument that Delhi’s police should be under the elected Delhi state government has genuine merit. Since Delhi Police reports to the Central government, not to the Delhi government, the locus of elected political power and the locus of police administration are severely misaligned in India’s capital. The misalignment is also a reason for why it is hard to tackle criminality in Delhi, once it raises its ugly head. But the battle for seeking a better alignment of the political and the administrative cannot be waged on the streets. A less chaos-inducing, more governance-friendly and politically creative means must be devised.
At a deeper level, the Gandhian inspiration of AAP politics calls for serious rethinking. Gandhi’s use of civil disobedience was very infrequent. Only the issues of gravest significance required that mode of protest. A dharna, too, requires systematic prior analysis before it is undertaken as a mode of non-violent protest.
The AAP’s notion of direct democracy, taken from Gandhi, also needs to be subjected to deeper reflection. Is direct democracy feasible? Arvind Kejriwal’s idea of janta durbar was laden with grave danger. What if a stampede had taken place and a score of citizens had died? The AAP wave would have started waning right at that moment. Luckily, no stampede took place, but could the possibility have been ruled out? Getting governance closer to citizens is a worthy goal, but the means have to carefully thought through.
Finally, as the AAP works on its national manifesto, it might wish to avoid some more danger signals. Ideologically, at this point, the AAP is a coalition of extremes, as is often the case when movements rebelling against the standard notions of politics emerge. Probity and accountability in politics are the AAP’s signature themes. In a polity that has scaled new heights of corruption and where citizens empowered at the time of elections feel powerless after the elections, these themes are a source of enormous popular excitement and attraction.
But the AAP also contains some extreme left-wing elements. They have supported Maoism and a plebiscite on Kashmir in the past, positions that the AAP, if it wishes to grow, might want to keep a consistent and safe distance from. In an intellectual sphere, such arguments can be debated. But in the political sphere, they are a kiss of death. They can provide easy gifts to the opponents. Can one imagine Modi roaring that the AAP consists of deshdrohis (a party of treason)? Again, the urban middle class will exit the party.
Finally, the term “socialism” is likely to be very attractive to several in the AAP, but if it becomes the centrepiece of its economic manifesto, it will also bring doom. Socialism as an ideology has lost its meaning in the 21st century; especially in India, some of the worst forms of government conduct emanated from a socialist state, which also kept the masses poor; and as a purely pragmatic matter, the so-called aspirational millions and the urban elite, who have flocked to the AAP, have no taste for socialism any more.
Putting together the urban elite and middle class on the one hand and the urban poor on the other is the AAP’s greatest immediate promise. Keeping that coalition intact is also the party’s greatest challenge.
Lok Sabha Election 2014 is likely to be the most important election ever held in India, and likely to remain so till India completes 100 years of Independence. This is so for various reasons. Even before the presence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the winds of fundamental change — both economic and political — were sweeping across India.
For at least the last decade and a half, the most important parameter in elections has been the performance of the incumbent party in elections. This performance has consisted, mainly, of two criteria; first, did the economy perform well during the tenure of the incumbent government; and second, was the leader (chief minister or prime minister) perceived to be corrupt or not. Obviously, there have been detours around this theme, and most importantly in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections when, despite good performance, the NDA lost.
If proportional representation was in existence today, the AAP would gain near identical seats to the BJP and the Congress. If proportional representation was in existence today, the AAP would gain near identical seats to the BJP and the Congress.
The road to Election 2014 has now become curved with the advent and Delhi success of the AAP. With the AAP’s intention to contest at least 300 seats (maybe even all 543) in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, the Congress and the BJP appear to be a worried lot. This discomfort stems from the huge surprise “victory” of the AAP in the recent Delhi elections, where the Congress suffered a massive thrashing by the jhadoo. It is not that the AAP won, but that everybody else lost; hence, victory is in quotes. Ultimately, the question on everybody’s mind is, “How many seats will the Aam Aadmi Party win in 2014?”
Regardless of the seats it might win, the AAP might hurt either or both of the major parties or alliances. The fact remains that the AAP is an important force in the forthcoming elections, especially in terms of the vote share it will be able to obtain. Its overall effect is analysed in this first of two articles; vote shares in the first part, and the all-important seat “estimates” on Saturday (January 25). It bears emphasis that the estimates are not forecasts; these estimates are not based on opinions or opinion polls, but rather on assumptions generated by India’s electoral history.
Conventional analysis looks at swings in vote shares. A near equivalent way of looking at vote swings is via vote “give-ups”. The vote for a new entrant like the AAP has to come from the existing pool of voters; from an existing Congress, BJP, regional party or independent voter. “Existing” here is defined as the 2009 election. The “give-up” of vote share is the percentage of vote share lost by a party with respect to its previous election performance. For example, if the Congress obtained 40 per cent of the vote in a constituency in 2009, then a give-up of 40 per cent to the AAP implies that in that constituency, the Congress will obtain only 60 per cent of the vote, that is, 24 percentage points, and the AAP will gain the remaining 16 percentage points from the Congress.
All analysts are constrained by history — there is no parallel to the unique formation of the AAP. There have been instances of new political parties pulling off surprising victories (for example, N.T. Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh in 1983); however, hardly any regional party has gone on to make an impact at the national level.
What give-up can we expect from either the Congress or the BJP to the AAP? And will both be the same? What about the possibility that there will be give-up from an AAP voter to a BJP voter — the Modi effect? Recall that the Delhi opinion polls had suggested that at least a third of AAP voters might vote for Modi.
Looking at past assembly elections in terms of give-ups of the Congress party, Arvind Kejriwal’s sweeping victory over the Congress is one of the highest on record, with an average give-up of 39 per cent, that is, out of every 100 Congress 2008 voters, 38 voted for AAP in 2013. In case of the BJP, the give-up was only nine out of 100. In case of the remainder (BSP and independents), the give-up was 50 out of 100. Historically speaking, in terms of assembly elections, the Delhi Congress give-up was one of the worst in history, the worst being the 60 per cent give-up to Asom Gana Parishad in the 1985 Assam elections. For Lok Sabha elections, the worst Congress give-up was in 1996, when, on average, 24 out of 100 Congress voters voted for other parties. (Note that, in the 1977 debacle, the Congress give-up average was 19 per cent.)
This provides us with a historical basis for analysing AAP possibilities in 2014. The attempt is to construct scenarios that guarantee the AAP the largest possible share of theoretical votes. Towards this end, the following assumptions are made. The Congress gives up a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 40 per cent of the vote share obtained in the 2009 election. If the Congress did not contest a seat in 2009, the AAP obtains zero votes from the Congress in that constituency; if it obtained 60 per cent of the vote share (as it did in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk (CC) constituency), and the assumed Congress give-up is 40 per cent, then the AAP obtains 24 per cent of the vote. In addition, in this base estimation, the AAP obtains 10 per cent of the BJP vote. In CC, the BJP obtained 34 per cent in 2009, so the AAP’s vote share goes up to 27.4 per cent; finally, the independents and third parties yield 50 per cent to the AAP; so the vote share of the three major parties (the Congress, BJP and AAP) in CC is 36, 30.6, and 30.4, respectively. The surprising conclusion, in this scenario (replica of the Delhi assembly 2013 give-ups), the Congress wins in Chandni Chowk!
Of course, different give-ups will yield different results; in the above example, if the Congress gave up 45 per cent of its vote share, and the BJP 15 per cent, the AAP would win in Chandni Chowk. These variations are experimented with in12 different simulations of vote shares. Seven of these simulations have the following range of assumptions — the Congress give-up: 30 to 35 per cent; the BJP give-up: 0 to 10 per cent; and other parties give up an average of 20 per cent.
The results are revealing. The average vote shares obtained by the three parties are all very close to each other. The chart reports the national vote shares of the two major parties for all elections since 1989. However, and this is where AAP votes in 2014 may meet electoral reality, there is virtually no meaningful relationship between the vote shares and the seats obtained by each party. In 1989, the Congress obtained one of its largest vote shares (37.7 per cent), and yet obtained fewer seats than in 2009 (vote share of 26.1 per cent!). As is well known, this lack of a relationship is due to two factors — most importantly, the first-past-the-post electoral system and coalition politics. The latter may have made us forget the Lahiri-Roy formulation of IOU (Index of Opposition Unity) over the last two decades. By making it a three-party/ coalition fight, the AAP’s entry brings back IOUs with a vengeance.
An alternative electoral system prevails in many European countries and in some developing countries, for example, Brazil. This is the proportional voting system, where seats obtained are proportional to the vote obtained. If this system had prevailed in India, then in 1999, the Congress would have formed the government. (As it happened, the Congress got its lowest ever seats — 114 — in 1999).
This provides a perspective on the “projected” vote shares for the three parties in 2014, and the seats they will obtain. The projections suggest that it will be a very close fight, given our assumptions, for votes. On average, the AAP obtains the lowest at 17.7 per cent, the Congress 18.8 per cent, and BJP the highest, at 19.1 per cent. So if proportional representation was in existence today, the AAP would gain near identical seats to the BJP and the Congress. But with the first-past-the-post system — wait till Saturday’s article. Hint: IOU makes a big dent to common assumptions about the AAP’s seat popularity.
The world according to AAP
In ultra-fast hurry mode, the world has learnt a lot about the Aam Aadmi Party in the last few months. The party has opined on subjects well beyond its area of responsibility and expertise, for example, foreign policy, and well within it, for instance, policies on water, electricity, law and order, and how to run a government (from the street or from the office). The media and glitterati have been chattering about the AAP even at dinner. The Congress seems to be caught in the AAP headlights like an ultra-frightened deer. Before one could say copycat, the two states ruled by it — Haryana and Maharashtra — have already announced power cuts along the socialist vision lines of the AAP in Delhi. Mercifully, they haven’t gone the full hog with subsidies for the rich as per Arvind Kejriwal’s dictatorial water policy in Delhi.
Should the AAP be getting this much attention since, at best, it is leading a government with outside support in the small state of Delhi? Obviously not, except for the fact that there is considerable speculation about the impact of the AAP in the national elections a few months hence. It is in this context that the AAP’s actions of recent days have to be considered. By leading a protest march against the Central government, the AAP may not have won hearts and minds, but it has surely won all the TV ratings. One hypothesis that deserves serious discussion is to what extent the media and journalist savvy AAP calculated that the national exposure guaranteed by the protest led by the mad anarchist (not mine but Kejriwal’s and the Union home minister’s words) may not have been so mad.
The results of two opinion polls — India Today and CNN-IBN — have just been released, and both point to more hype than substance in the projections of the AAP as even a semi-major force in Indian politics. Among the major states, the AAP receives a national vote share of 4.6 per cent; excluding Delhi, its national vote share drops to 3.9 per cent. In terms of seats, the AAP receives five in Delhi (both polls) and four outside Delhi (IT poll, with CNN-IBN not making any seat projections). To put this in perspective, the BSP received 8 per cent of the national vote share in 2009, and the CPM-CPI together received 5 per cent. And recall that a political party is considered a “national” party only if it receives more than 6 per cent of the vote in at least four states. Even after all the news, publicity, moral superiority and arrogance, the AAP will fulfil these criteria (according to the opinion polls) in only three states: Delhi (48 per cent), Haryana (17 per cent), and Gujarat (12 per cent).
Both opinion polls were conducted before the AAP’s mad escapade. It is possible its popularity will go down; it is also possible, but not likely, that its popularity will go up post the madness. But the analysis of vote shares presented on Friday (‘When AAP meets IOU’, IE, January 24) was made on the basis of generous transitions (give-ups) of other parties’ voters towards the AAP; give-ups that resulted in a very large vote share for the AAP, upwards of 17 per cent of the national vote.
Going by the mood in the media and among disgruntled Congress voters, maybe this utterly theoretical and simulated 17 per cent vote share was what was being looked at.
The table documents the give-ups of the Congress, the BJP and regional parties to the AAP, and the corresponding seat shares. These give-ups are radically different (and higher) than those revealed in opinion polls, that is, a Congress give-up of 30-35 per cent and a BJP give-up of 0 to 10 per cent. Most opinion polls pre and post the Delhi election concluded that somewhere between a third and half of Delhi AAP voters would vote for Narendra Modi. Ace psephologist Yogendra Yadav, one of the top three leaders of the AAP, concluded in an AAP survey that about a third of its voters were likely to shift to the BJP. As a conservative calculation, it is
assumed that this fraction will be as little as 10 per cent. The calculations assume that the AAP contests every seat in all the big states (524 seats in total) and obtains votes in each of these constituencies. Neither the Congress nor the BJP have contested every constituency in any election, so this is an ultra-extreme assumption.
The opinion polls suggest that the Congress give-up will only be 7 per cent and predicted the reverse of give-up, again, to the BJP of 26 per cent. These assumptions add up to the simple fact that the deck has been heavily stacked in favour of the AAP — an overestimation of AAP votes to well beyond the dreams of the AAP. The likelihood of such give-ups actually occurring will be the blackest of Black Swan events.
Opinion poll results — a seat share for the AAP in the 5-9 range. The AAP vote share, as reported above, is less than 5 per cent. Second, Row 1: If the Congress loses 30 per cent of its 2009 vote share and the BJP holds on to its 2009 level but shows no improvement in votes, the result is a near replica of the opinion polls — a seven-seat projection for the AAP. This despite the fact that the assumed vote share for the AAP is about 12 percentage points higher (around 17 per cent) than indicated by the opinion polls.
The most favorable to the AAP, but a historically “unlikely” scenario, is when the Congress gives up 35 per cent of its vote share and the BJP gives up 10 per cent in every constituency. Obviously, this will not happen, for in some constituencies it will be much more, some a lot less. But the constant average does hint at the likely outcomes. In this scenario, the AAP gains 14 seats nationally, six of which are in Delhi. But, and this is an important caveat, the AAP margins of victory in the Delhi seats are razor-thin — they range from 0.2 to 1.2 per cent of the vote, with an average margin of victory of only 0.5 per cent.
Unlikely scenarios are reported as well, for example, the Congress loses 30 per cent of the vote, the BJP loses 10 per cent to the AAP but, in turn, receives 10 per cent of the aggregate AAP vote (the Kejriwal-to-Modi conversion). This aggregate includes the votes received from third parties, etc. In this scenario, the AAP ends up gaining only one seat nationwide.
In elections, anything can, and sometimes does, happen. The AAP defied all odds to win handsomely in Delhi. This regional feat has been achieved by many in-state elections. Rarely, actually never, has a debutante party gone on to translate a regional victory into a national one. It is a difficult task. Despite building in very favorable assumptions for an AAP victory, it is difficult to get the party to score in double digits on an all-India basis. The odds, and the gods, do not seem aligned much in the AAP’s direction.