It was billed as a big class battle but the sensational triumph of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) shows it engineered multiple alliances and swept across class, regional, and caste segments. And it did so by using a narrative of development and welfare for all.
Many thought AAP would succeed among the ‘underclass’ but it stormed into BJP’s middle class strongholds through a sharp urban development agenda; it also added heft to its wide support base among the economically backward.
The Arvind Kejriwal-led party knew the Congress was no longer viable, and further shifting of Muslim, Dalit and poor voters away from the grand old party’s fold was only natural.
Examine the regional equation first. AAP thinks giving 11 tickets, up from 9 in 2013, to candidates from the Purvanchali community with 25 lakh votes was a gamechanger. BJP gave three, while Congress fielded only two candidates. In the 2008-13 Assembly, there was only one Purvanchali MLA (BJP’s Anil Jha). In 2013, AAP fielded nine, and five of them went on to win.
“But we have also given tickets to Purvanchalis in seats such as Shalimar Bagh and Malviya Nagar where their population is not dominant,” said AAP strategist Ashish Talwar.
Next, they were creative with caste and did a few experiments in outer Delhi constituencies. In Jaat-dominated Narela, it fielded a Rajput. In Matiala (Jaat dominant) it had a Yadav candidate. In Palam, Mehrauli and Badarpur, the party chose not to conform to the traditions of candidate selection.
“We brought new social groups into political mainstream. We didn’t do any favour. Having the right balance in social representation makes a lot of political sense,” said Talwar.
For 25 lakh Dalit votes, mainly in 12 reserved seats, AAP had a strategy. In the 2013 assembly elections, AAP cut into the support base of the Congress and BSP, and won nine of these 12 seats. “This time we ensured Congress’ base among Dalits shrank further and came our way. The BJP’s Dalit cell defected to us,” said another AAP leader.
To attract Punjabi and Sikh voters, AAP had a solid plan. If Kejriwal held 110 public meetings across Delhi, Punjab MP Bhagwant Mann held 8 more—the most by any AAP campaigner. Mann, Jassi Jasraj and Gul Panag together addressed around 200 meetings.
They took care of demographics and that unquantifiable idea of aspiration. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, many youngsters voted for BJP because Modi came across as their icon. It was also because people didn’t find AAP as an alternative.
“Arvind’s degree-income-WiFi promise worked. We also fielded young candidates, with an average age of 40. AAP’s youth wing also contributed immensely,” said another AAP leader.
AAP did not leave any stone unturned in wooing the trading community with promises to end the ‘raid regime’ and simplification of tax structures to grab as many of 25 lakh votes from the community in 24 constituencies. Kejri also projected himself as a Bania.
They understood they needed minority votes, but were smart not to play traditional minority politics which often results in polarisation and could well have benefited BJP with a counter consolidation.
Kejriwal’s image as a man willing to take on the PM boosted his credibility among Muslims, who shifted from the Congress. But their firm rejection of the Jama Masjid imam’s appeal for support to AAP helped them prevent being seen as playing their own kind of communal politics. Their successful Delhi Dialogue series took social engineering to a micro level.