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Delhi poll results: AAP's landslide victory show how media misread Modi wave

Let’s be honest. The AAP landslide has taken every political pundit by surprise. Even those expecting a BJP loss could not anticipate a washout of this size. While everyone is busy decoding what AAP did right and BJP did wrong, what the Delhi results also reveal is the extent to which the media have misread the Indian voter, and particularly, the Lok Sabha elections, which spawned a number of myths that have been demolished by the Kejriwal juggernaut.

Here then are five big mistakes made by the media.

One, there is no Modi voter, or for that matter, Kejriwal voter. In the wake of the Modi wave that swept the 2014 elections, there was widespread consensus that he had built a vast base of loyal voters who owed their allegiance to him and not to the BJP.

But what Delhi shows is that the new Indian voter has no use for the L-word. He or she can happily vote for one leader or party in one election, and just as easily opt for the rival in the other – and within the space of 8 months. Sure, Modi as PM is a-okay, so is Kejriwal for CM. No matter how much the PM may try and convince them otherwise.

The base –  the solid voting bloc that a party or leader can rely on winning as a bare minimum in a given election – is shrinking. We are witnessing the rise of the independent voter who is driven purely by self-interest, and who will increasingly become the decisive factor in Indian elections, much as in the United States. Kejriwal can no more rely on her allegiance than a Modi.

 Delhi poll results: AAPs landslide victory show how media misread Modi wave

Dilli point-black refused to go into the future ‘Modi ke saath’.

Two, the vote against Congress was not a vote against its left-liberal worldview. There was much self-congratulation amongst right-of-centre pundits who saw the vote for Modi in the parliamentary elections as a resounding rejection of ‘handout politics.’ Except here is Kejriwal winning big on his 49-day track record of electricity and water subsidies.

What Is clear is that the conflation of ‘governance’ and centre-right economics was a bit of wishful thinking. Populism appears to be as popular as ever. Does it mean all of Delhi has turned into a socialist mecca? Not quite. More likely, the Indian voter wants a better life, and is ideologically agnostic about how the government delivers it. If free market can create better paid jobs and a better life, that’s just peachy. But if subsidies can keep those hideously high bijli bills under control, hooray to that!

Talking heads can afford the luxury of ideology. The aam aadmi is driven mostly by his wallet.

Three, polarisation isn’t a brilliant electoral weapon but a limited strategy that delivers diminishing returns. The papers will filled with paeans to Amit Shah’s electoral genius in the wake of the LS elections. 2014 was supposed to have been a realigning election, with ‘reverse polarisation’ effectively breaking the Dalit-Muslim alliance in UP and Bihar. (All this while experts were touting Modi’s ability to rise above identity politics.)

As it turns out, the reverse polarisation card only works in an already polarised environment like Uttar Pradesh. In other parts of the country, amping up the religious rhetoric a la Sadhvi Jyoti makes the natives restless and anxious – as did the Dalit-Muslim conflict engineered in Trilokpuri. No one needs a riot when there are jobs to be done and bills to be paid.

The strategy also falls flat when the other side anticipates the play, and refuses to take the bait. Unlike Sonia, Kejriwal didn’t make the election about secularism – despite the tempting lure of church attacks, ghar wapsi etc -- but stuck to his bijli-paani playbook. As the Delhi elections show, the Indian voter has risen far higher above identity politics than Modi himself.

Four, the impatient voter celebrated by the media is , in fact, the dangerously fickle voter. While the sheer size of the Kejriwal wave is larger than the Modi tsunami -- albeit in a pond called Delhi – it shares many of the same characteristics, including the most alarming one: A candidate whose victory matches the size of his promises. Is it really good for democracy to have an electorate that blindly votes for the candidate who promises the most? And quickly abandons the leader who can’t deliver immediate results?

It’s all very well to say there is no comparison between a national and a state election, but a dramatic fall in vote share from 46.63 % in 2014 to 32.2 % is still notable. BJP won 57 out of the 70 constituencies in the LS polls. The result is almost an exact reversal, delivered less than a year later. Dilli point-black refused to go into the future ‘Modi ke saath’.

“This is BJP’s defeat and also Modi’s. Because when he campaigned for the Lok Sabha polls, he sold a dream of Achhe Din (Good Days) to the voters. Many of us fell for that promise. However, in last eight months since he became the Prime Minister he has gone back on many promises including the promise of reining in the corruption, bringing back the black money. This had led to the party and Modi losing their credibility which is seen in today’s result,” said Anna Hazare when he emerged to comment on AAP’s victory.

This kind of expectation from a government that was elected less than a year ago is astounding. Despite all the second-guessing about 10 lakh suits, the BJP government has not committed any gargantuan errors either in Delhi or elsewhere that would justify such an ignominious defeat (even if they were perceived as the incumbent party by default). The AAP landslide is driven by the same junoon that propelled Modi into power. That exaggerated hope leads inevitably to exaggerated disillusionment. The BJP rout will undoubtedly hearten Modi critics but it should offer little comfort to Kejriwal who is likely to feel the brunt of all that impatience very soon.

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Updated Date: Feb 10, 2015 20:11:03 IST