Lessons from MCD Election 2017: Congress’ only hope in Delhi is an alliance with AAP
The results of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi election are out and Congress supporters see the party’s performance as a revival of sorts
The results of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi election are out and Congress supporters see the party’s performance as a revival of sorts. The party bagged 30 seats with a 21 percent vote share. This is a significant improvement over its 2015 Assembly election, performance where it failed to open its account. However, if we compare the 2017 MCD results to the 2012 polls, the Congress tally is down by more than half (from 77 to 30 seats) and its vote share by around 10 percent (from 30.5 percent to 21 percent).
The Congress has conceded space to AAP even at the municipality level after surrendering its space to AAP at the state (Assembly) level. The contest in Delhi is mainly between BJP and AAP now with Congress in third position. It appears highly unlikely that party will be able regain its pole position. There is significant factionalism in the state unit, some top-level leaders have left and the party doesn’t have anything new to offer to voters.
The Congress’ dire state was aptly described by KC Tyagi of the JD(U) after the MCD results, "The Congress cannot win elections on its own and does not look open to alliances. Such politics will not work now." In Delhi, the party needs to ally with AAP if it wants to revive its position in the Lok Sabha in 2019 and the Assembly in 2020. Otherwise it has no chance.
Five factors why Congress needs an alliance with AAP
1. AAP plus INC is greater than BJP
The combined vote share of AAP and Congress (47 percent) was greater than what the BJP recorded in the MCD elections (36 percent). Critics could argue that full transferability may not happen and there could be leakages. Even if 20 percent of the aggregate votes of AAP and Congress are lost in translation, the bloc will have a similar vote share to that of the BJP and will be in a position to give it a tough challenge. The two parties on aggregate got a larger vote share than the BJP even during the Narendra Modi wave of 2014.
2. To prevent split of anti-BJP vote
BJP has a core vote share of 32 to 37 percent in Delhi. Even when it received a drubbing in 2015, it recorded a 32.3 percent vote share. In the 2012 MCD elections, it received 36.7 percent of the votes. In the Lok Sabha polls, the party received a 46.1 percent vote share, however, if you adjust it for the Modi factor, the number reduces to 35 percent. On a pan-India basis, BJP received around 25 percent votes due to the Modi factor. This factor was mostly absent and didn’t work in front of the Arvind Kejriwal factor in 2015, resulting in a humiliating loss for the BJP. In the 2017 MCD polls, BJP received 36.2 percent of the votes — in line with the trend.
The moral of the story is that the BJP received more or less similar numbers of votes in line with its historical trend.
The anti-BJP votes were split between a spirited Congress (which wanted to make a comeback) and AAP (which lost some of its mojo). Others also recovered from the 2015 shock; BSP bagged 4.4 percent of mostly Purvanchali voters who had fully backed AAP in 2015.
3. AAP and INC have the same anchor voting segments
Even when the Congress was ruling the state from 1998 to 2013, the BJP enjoyed better support from upper castes and Jats. The OBC and Sikh vote was split almost equally. The Congress enjoyed more support from Dalits, Muslims and Gujjars. In terms of class, Congress enjoyed better support among the poor and lower classes, while the BJP found its support among upper and middle class.
Today, the vote base of AAP consists of the poor, downtrodden, Dalits, Muslims and Gujjars, same as the Congress. Nearly the entire bloc voted for AAP in 2015 resulting in its emphatic win. In the 2017 MCD polls, these votes were split between AAP and Congress. This is an anti-BJP vote which most likely will stay with these two parties. This indicates AAP and Congress are natural allies at least in Delhi.
4. AAP has worked for the poor, hence their support remains
Despite the loss in the MCD election, the poor have remained with AAP as visible from its vote share of 25.8 percent as upper and middle classes remained with the BJP. The party has reduced electricity rates by 50 percent, provided free water, established mohalla clinics and improved education levels in municipal schools.
All these steps have made this segment of voters stick with AAP. For Congress to do well, it needs the 'gharwapsi' of this voting segment. This is unlikely in the near to medium term.
5. Dearth of strong leaders in Delhi
The Congress is struggling with leadership issue in the state. After Sheila Dikshit was defeated at the hands of Kejriwal in 2013, she has been kept out of state politics. The party has tried Arvinder Singh Lovely (who joined the BJP recently) and Ajay Maken, both young leaders, but this has not worked. Dissent is the norm in the Delhi Congress.
AK Walia, an old warhorse, left the party before the polls. Sheila and her son Sandeep have been critical of Maken’s style of functioning. Maken, born out of student politics, lags behind Kejriwal and even Manoj Tiwari in leadership ratings. As per a NDTV report, the Congress has already reached out to Opposition and regional parties including AAP, asking them to end their "anti-Congress" stance and focus on the BJP if they want to survive the BJP juggernaut.
To sum up, an alliance with AAP is the only way forward for Congress in BJP. It does entail a risk of transfer of Congress vote bank to AAP (as in 2015), but is a risk worth taking. The party has done well in states like Bihar and West Bengal due to this alliance strategy. To prevent or at least hope to prevent anti-BJP votes from splitting, the Congress needs to extend the hand of friendship to AAP.
AAP is also down at this moment and it may be a good time to bargain as equals.
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