Many questions have cropped up following a confusing turnout trend witnessed particularly in the polls for the seven Parliamentary seats in the capital on May 7. It is for the first time perhaps that the middle class and urban voter have cast a higher percentage of votes than the poor and those living in either jhuggi clusters or unauthorised or re-settlement colonies in the city. Out of the 52-odd per cent of votes cast, the majority is from the relatively well-off sections of society.
What needs to be examined now is whether the middle classes and the rich have voted in favour of the Congress since most political observers, besides Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, expect Delhi to return the party with the minimum verdict of 5-2 in its favour. Or is it that the analysts and Dikshit have got their calculations wrong? Either way, it could be something the Congress must keep in mind for future elections.
Delhi is a mini-India and its pattern of voting in relation to the ruling party indicative of its fortunes at the national level. This has been the pattern in the past and this poll will determine whether this pattern will continue or change.
The middle classes in Delhi and elsewhere have generally voted in favour of the BJP. This has been the experience of most politicians and observers who have contested or followed the pattern of voting in successive elections. The BJP has been a beneficiary of this tilt towards it. Its campaign traditionally focuses more on this segment. But, if in this election, the middle classes have voted for the Congress, then it is obvious that they have opted for India’s oldest and largest party due to Dikshit’s political image as well as Dr Manmohan Singh’s projection as the Congress candidate for the top job. Singh is a role model for many youngsters who want to emulate his rise to the top from humble beginnings.
In the past polls in Delhi, the Congress has largely won because of support from the poorer sections that have turned up in huge numbers. It is true that the BJP has won up to seven seats in Delhi but those elections were under special circumstances. For instance, in 1999, most people were of the opinion that the Congress, along with others, had defeated Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government on the floor of the House and that an injustice had been done to him. Therefore, in the 13th Lok Sabha polls, Delhi gave the Congress a merciless drubbing. Even Dr Manmohan Singh, then a Congress candidate, lost.
Coming back to the established patterns of voting, if Delhi has continued with its tradition of voting i.e the middle class voting in favour of the BJP and the poor preferring the Congress, then the result should be in favour of the BJP for the majority of the seven seats. This calculation is based on the assumption that the percentage of voting among those who have a roof over their heads is higher than that of those without or those who live in makeshift shanties. And by the `Pappu’’ campaign yardstick, it is the poor who became `Pappu’’ this time. The campaign had a middle class appeal and it has succeeded in persuading its target audience to cast its vote. But neither the campaign nor the Congress has been able to reach out to the poorer sections.
The Congress has essentially taken great pride in projecting itself as the party that identifies itself with the aam aadmi. Unless the definition of aam aadmi has changed, the Congress is a party of the poor even if it has as its members several rich people or those who have acquired riches on account of their association with it.
This election is certainly going to determine whether the poor continue to support the party or whether the middle classes have got added to the existing Congress vote bank. If this is the case, it is a happy position for the party and this experiment may get amplified at the national level subsequently. But if the poor have shifted to the BSP or some other party and the Congress wins on the strength of middle class votes then the party’s overall image may have undergone a transformation. The spin-doctors will have to reinvent a new formula to woo the poor.
The BJP had made the mistake of putting up candidates who were perceived to be weak as compared to the Congress nominees. But going by the old pattern, they could suddenly seem strong given the higher percentage of voting among the middle classes. The BJP has always had a strong presence in Delhi. This time, its campaign, though low-key, was backed by the RSS cadres after a long time.
Therefore, the Delhi results will be keenly awaited like those of the rest of the country. However, the reluctance of the middle classes to be branded Pappu may have its impact on the ruling party. The results on May 16 will provide an answer as to who in the end was the real Pappu in Delhi—the Congress or the BJP. Between us.