The Delhi Assembly election results are out, and Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP has registered a sweeping victory with 62 seats beating the BJP, a national party ruling at the centre. Buoyed by Delhi election results, the Aam Aadmi Party is once again dreaming to go national with “missed call” campaign. “Join AAP for nation-building,” tweeted the official handle of the party.
राष्ट्र निर्माण के लिए AAP से जुड़े।
— AAP (@AamAadmiParty) February 11, 2020
Although AAP has never veered off from its national aspirations and contested in the states like Goa, Jharkhand, and many other states, with limited or no success, majority of the AAP’s candidates lost their deposits in these states, and the party has not been able to make any dent. Now, with a spectacular win in Delhi, the party is pushing to fulfill its national aspirations with a renewed vigour.
However, AAP has very little a chance to make a dent outside Delhi given its lack of ideological standing and caste-based loyalties. AAP’s is perhaps India’s first truly urban party, whose voter base is divided over class loyalties rather than caste- as is with most of the other regional parties.
AAP is perhaps the only party in India which is outspokenly populist. Born out of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement in 2012, the party was criticized by the people from left, right, and centre for having no ideological standing. When asked for what is AAP’s stance on important national issues, the party was never elaborative.
Arvind Kejriwal, being the smart politician that he is, used the frustration of common people against political corruption to launch the most successful political startup of the last decade. When AAP was started in 2012, it was criticized as well as supported by the people from the whole political spectrum.
AAP neither has a history of over 120 years like Indian National Congress, nor the ideological clarity of BJP. INC and BJP have clearly positioned themselves on opposite sides of the political spectrum around whom all the regional parties revolve when it comes to making government or forming an alliance for the central government.
Although Congress does not have a clear cut ideology and the party is very pragmatic when it comes to winning elections, it will never ally with BJP and that is what makes it different from other parties. It also stands for some principals like blatant minority appeasement which are opposed to BJP’s nationalism and therefore, these two parties form the ideological pole of the Indian political spectrum.
In India, almost all regional parties are rooted in caste or ideological bases, although, that does not stop them from the formation of an alliance with BJP or Congress. For example, Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu stand up against the Brahminical tradition, Communists in Kerala stand for an imported ideology, JD(S) in Karnataka for Vokkaligas, YSRCP in Andhra for Reddy’s and TDP for Kamma’s, Shiv Sena in Maharashtra for Maratha sub-nationalism, BSP in UP for Dalits and SP for Yadav’s, JD(S) in Bihar for kami’s and RJD for Yadav and Muslims, Akali Dal in Punjab for Sikhs and so on.
But, AAP in Delhi has no such caste or ideological base. The party is uniquely modelled to appeal the urban voters and it might get success in other urban constituencies like South Mumbai as well.
A party like AAP, whose primary ideology is efficient delivery of freebies, could succeed only in a city-state like Delhi, which collects enough revenue to distribute free water and free electricity to everyone. The revenue of the city of Delhi from GST and other taxes is so rich that- Kejriwal presented a revenue surplus budget in spite of all the freebies. If Mumbai is made a union territory, the AAP model of governance might succeed there too, but not until it is part of Maharashtra.
The ideology of AAP has always been fragile, and the party changed the ideological stance with the need of the hour, except for anti-corruption agenda. AAP was born out of a civil society movement but the party never titled radically towards left like civil rights activists, and threw out Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav when they tried to push ideology over pragmatism.
After the party won the 2015 election, it got the idea of being a national alternative and started attacking PM Modi. However, the party faced successive losses in the states and lost the Delhi Municipal elections too. It questioned the Balakot airstrike and was routed in the 2019 general election losing all 7 seats to the BJP in Delhi. But after the loss in 2019, Kejriwal played very smartly and changed the strategy to not attack on PM Modi and focus on Delhi instead of other states.
After 2019, it supported Modi government over nationalist issues like removal of Article 370 and Kejriwal took only a soft stand against CAA and NRC, although his MLAs were involved in the ruckus. The party also did not extend its support to the JNU students when almost every party and person on the left side of the political spectrum was doing so. As Delhi election neared, the party played a ‘soft Hindutva’ card too, and Kejriwal said that union government should persuade the protesters at Shaheen Bagh to open up the road. As if this was not enough, Kejriwal called himself a Hanuman bhakt, recited the Hanuman Chalisa and claimed to have had a spiritual conversation with Bhagwan Hanuman.
With soft-Hindutva and soft-nationalism, Kejriwal has been able to win the Delhi election. But, with such lack of ideological clarity, the party cannot extend beyond the city of Delhi. Its welfare delivery model could work only in a semi-state, semi-independent city, which generates huge revenues. Only a city like Delhi, which has to spend zero on issues like law and order, can afford to spend 26 per cent of its budget on education and 16 per cent in Delhi. Therefore, the AAP model of governance and economy is uniquely suited to Delhi and the party cannot succeed outside the city.