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Are Delhi State Results in 2013 a Test Case for India’s 2014 Elections?

In Sunday’s state elections, India’s “Grand Old Party,” the Indian National Congress, was rejected nationwide, but, with a populist party suddenly making inroads, the results were not a conclusive victory for the opposition.

On a foggy Sunday, five states in India saw results of legislative assembly elections declared, bringing tears to some, euphoria in others, and a prediction that the 2013 results show which way the country will vote in the upcoming general election in the summer of 2014. What happened is being generally described as “unprecedented” in the election history of this 66-year-young democracy. India’s Grand Old Party, the Indian National Congress (INC, Congress), was rejected nationwide, but, it was nonetheless not a victory for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP).

While electronic scoreboards reeled out the results for 600-odd state assembly seats all day, what actually happened dazed veteran politicians, media experts and the common man equally.

Madhya Pradesh (230 assembly seats) and Chattisgarh (90 seats) were ruled by the BJP when they went to the hustings on December 4. In Madhya Pradesh, the ruling BJP was returned to power on December 8, with 165 seats – more than a safe majority. This would be for the third, five-year term that the BJP has been returned to power in the central Indian state, where a large chunk of the population belongs to various tribes, is poor and deprived of the benefits of development. No one can actually answer what has kept the people here voting for the BJP for a third term, other than the fact that the ruling party ensured electricity throughout this large state in the past decade of its rule. In Chattisgarh, the ruling BJP has won 49 seats, given a close fight by the INC. Here, the third term for the BJP has not come easily. In May 2013, in the Sukhma district, rife with left militancy, 27 people, among them top Congress leaders, were killed by Maoist insurgents. Riding on a sympathy vote, the INC won 39 seats; a very large number for a BJP-ruled state,

In Rajasthan, the “Modi magic” is said to have worked. The ruling Congress Party was totally trounced, managing to retain just 21 of the 199 assembly seats. The showing was so poor, it shocked Congress leadership. The opposition BJP here won 162 seats, more than two-thirds of the House. Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for 2014 and one of India’s most controversial leaders, campaigned here vigorously for his party. It is difficult to say what worked, Modi’s magic or anti-incumbency. If anti-incumbency is at all a factor, it should have worked against the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh, just as it worked against the ruling Congress in Rajasthan. The small, northeastern state of Mizoram is ruled by a regional party, and this party’s fortune is not going to be affected by the two big national parties, Congress or the BJP.

For the last six months, all eyes have been on the tiny central state of Delhi, ruled by the Congress Party. Delhi is also the seat of the central government, led by the Congress Party and its allies. The president and the prime minister of India work out of Delhi; the government of India functions out of Delhi. Delhi, therefore, enjoys a special status and most of the benefits of development. It has been ruled by the Congress Party for the past 15 years, led by a woman chief minister, Sheila Dikshit. Until yesterday, it was unthinkable that Dikshit could lose from the New Delhi constituency, which she has nurtured for more than 30 years. That her party could lose was a distinct possibility, but that she, personally, would lose from this particular constituency was not even dreamt of. That the BJP could win two-thirds of Delhi’s 70 seats was a possibility, but Dikshit’s defeat was a complete surprise. She is known as the woman who changed Delhi from an extended village to an international-standard city and the driving force behind the present beautiful face of Delhi.

So, to whom did Dikshit lose? Since Narendra Modi had made several visits to Delhi just before the elections and addressed huge rallies here, claiming, “We will wrest Delhi first, India next,” one could be forgiven for thinking Modi’s charisma would sweep Delhi. So confident was the BJP of winning Delhi that a former party president, Nitin Gadkari, specifically put in charge of the Delhi election, was even found singing the song, “Tujhse naaraz nahi zindagi / Hairaan hoon main / .. hairaan hoon main / Tere masoom sawalon se / Pareshaan hoon main … ” (“I am not annoyed with you, Life/I am upset by your thousands of questions. . .”) on voting day. No one could have predicted that within the weekend, a thousand questions would arise: among them, where is the Modi magic, where is the sweep the BJP promised, and most of all, how did a newcomer manage to wrest Delhi?

It is not the BJP, but the Aam Admi Party (AAP, aam admi meaning the common man) – not even a year old – that won 28 of Delhi’s 70 assembly seats. Dikshit, 75, lost to AAP founder-leader Arvind Kejriwal in the prestigious New Delhi constituency. Kejriwal – who had claimed that he would defeat the three-time chief minister – won by 22,000 votes, not a small margin. Veteran Congresswoman Dikshit lost to a man who lives in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh, a man who was not even a politician a year ago and one the Congress-led government has accused of corruption. The 28 new members of the Legislative Assembly have never been in politics either. The AAP came from nowhere, saw and conquered Delhi. The 45-year-old Kejriwal, its leader, is an activist protesting corruption. The AAP’s election symbol is a broom – to sweep clean corruption from the system.

The BJP’s star Narendra Modi, who rushed to Delhi from Gujarat’s Ahmedabad, where he is still chief minister, had hoped to claim Delhi. But in Delhi, the BJP, despite Modi’s supposed halo, failed to win a majority of seats in the 2013 elections. Modi tweeted, congratulating his party’s chief ministers in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan, but had no word of praise for Kejriwal. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said, “Both the major national parties have lessons to learn from AAP.”

Having scripted a miracle, Kejriwal told the media, “We are not doing this for ourselves. Today, it is so tough for the Aam Aadmi (common man) to live, that in this country, the Aam Aadmi had to get together to form their own party. Just see, who are the candidates who have won? Rakhi Birlan has defeated Raj Kumar Chauhan. She is an ordinary person who does not have any political background . She was a journalist; she defeated Raj Kumar Chauhan. Ashok Chauhan, no one knows him, but he defeated Prem Singh Chauhan. So many powerful people have been defeated. Who has defeated them? Who am I? Who knows us? We are ordinary people of this country. Common people have today defeated the powerful people. Why? Because BJP and Congress and the other parties had made politics so dirty that this country had to be saved. Today, in Delhi, the common people have stood up.”

However, with no one winning by a two-thirds majority, Delhi looks at a hung assembly and president’s rule for the immediate future. The Congress will not support the BJP in forming a government. Nor will the BJP support the Congress. The stalemate is not easily resolved, and the 2014 general elections may be held with the administration of Delhi resting with the president until the 2014 elections. AAP says it will not support either the BJP or the Congress, so all ideas of a Congress-AAP collaboration have vanished. The AAP, sitting in opposition and not taking Congress’ support and not forming a government, only enables the BJP to form a minority government and rule Delhi for the next five years.

Yet another question on every lip is, if the BJP has been voted to rule in three of the five states where elections were held in 2013, will these states vote against the BJP in the 2014 general elections? This is usually what Indian states have done, but will the same principle hold in 2014? If Delhi is a test case for the BJP as well as the AAP, will the Aam Admi Party have a brighter future in the 2014 elections? And what of Congress?