Rural-urban divide may shape AAP prospects

Updated on Feb 19, 2022 06:55 AM IST

Many are wondering if AAP will emerge victorious, especially with SAD seemingly in a weaker position and without longtime ally, BJP. Congress, too, has baggage from its messy ouster of former chief minister (CM) Amarinder Singh and the ensuing contentious battle over who would be the CM face.

AAP rose to political prominence in Punjab in the 2014 national election by winning four out of 13 parliamentary constituencies in the state.(File Photo | Representational Image)
AAP rose to political prominence in Punjab in the 2014 national election by winning four out of 13 parliamentary constituencies in the state.(File Photo | Representational Image)
By, Neelanjan Sircar, Bhatinda

Five years ago, there was a lot of energy around the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab. Some even called it a “ wave”. Yet, the final results showed AAP secured a lower average constituency-wise vote share (24%) than even the fading incumbent Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) (31%), then in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). To be sure, AAP ended in second place in terms of seats won.

The Congress cruised to a fairly comfortable victory, winning 77 out 117 assembly constituencies (ACs) with a strike rate of 66%.

This time, too, many are wondering if AAP will emerge victorious, especially with SAD seemingly in a weaker position and without longtime ally, BJP. Congress, too, has baggage from its messy ouster of former chief minister (CM) Amarinder Singh and the ensuing contentious battle over who would be the CM face.

Uneven Penetration

AAP rose to political prominence in Punjab in the 2014 national election by winning four out of 13 parliamentary constituencies in the state. But this strong performance masked the sheer spatial concentration of AAP’s support — something that continued on to 2017.

We define a party to have reached a competitive threshold when it receives at least 25% vote share in an AC — as a party has little chance to gain a foothold where it cannot muster this level of vote share. AAP failed to reach the competitive threshold in 61 (54%) of the 112 ACs in which it contested. By contrast, the SAD and Congress failed to reach the competitive threshold in just 22 (23%) and 12 (10%) ACs, respectively. On the other hand, AAP actually had a slightly higher average vote share (34%) when it reached the competitive threshold as compared to the SAD (33%) when it reached the competitive threshold. For the Congress, this figure was 41%.

This provides evidence that despite its improved show, AAP remained spatially concentrated. The large reservoir of voters for the traditional parties across Punjab, unlike AAP, suggests the electoral benefits of decades of party organisation building. There is little evidence that AAP is inducting large portions of the party organisations of its competitors — something more visible in its rise in Delhi. In Punjab, AAP’s electoral hopes ride much more on frustrations with the “dirty politics” of the traditional players in the state.

Rural-urban divide

In order to understand urban-rural distinctions for AAP, we make use of 2015 satellite data made available from the European Space Agency. Using this data, we calculate the percentage of land area in an AC that can be classified as rural, based on the satellite images of built-up area. These calculations have been provided to us by Shamindra Nath Roy at the Centre for Policy Research.

 

Chart 1 displays the expected vote share of AAP and Congress at the AC level. based on the extent to which the AC is rural. The underlying points correspond to average vote shares in “bins” of 8-10 ACs with similar urban-rural composition. The gap in vote share between AAP and the Congress gets noticeably smaller as one moves to the most rural constituencies.

This rural-urban distinction is borne out in electoral performance. We characterise an AC as “urban” if less than 50% of its area is classified as rural, and an AC as “rural” if more than 70% of its area is classified as rural. Of the 20 urban ACs in Punjab, the AAP alliance scored a strike rate of just 10% on an average constituency-wise vote share of 18%, while Congress scored a strike rate of 90% on an average seat-wise vote share of 46%. By contrast, in the 55 rural ACs in Punjab, the AAP alliance’s strike rate rose to 29% on 27% average constituency-wise vote share, while Congress’ strike rate dropped to 53% on 36% average constituency-wise vote share. (For comparison, the SAD alliance had a 0% strike rate in urban ACs versus a 33% strike rate in rural ACs.)

Taken together, these data provide convincing evidence that AAP’s core areas of support in 2017 were in rural areas. We surmise two main reasons for this urban-rural distinction. First, AAP suffered from a narrative that painted the party as sympathetic to “radical” Sikh elements, which diminished support among (disproportionately urban) Hindu voters. Second, the rapid decline of SAD, whose core base is among rural Sikhs, provided a natural basis upon which the AAP could grow.

This time around AAP has tried to address these weaknesses, notably with Arvind Kejriwal openly courting the Hindu community. With growing anti-incumbency for the Congress, and diminishing support for SAD, this may be AAP’s best chance to come to power in Punjab.

Bhanu Joshi is a PhD candidate in political science at Brown University, and Neelanjan Sircar is senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research.

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