(Siddharth Varadarajan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, Shiv Nadar University)
Narendra Modi, as the saying goes, should have been careful about what he wished for. "Jo desh ka mood hai," he declared during the election campaign for the Delhi assembly, "wahi Dilli ka mood hai." Now that Delhi has given the Aam Aadmi Party 67 out of 70 seats and 54 per cent of the popular vote, the Prime Minister must be wondering what this means for the emerging mood elsewhere in the country.
To understand the scale of the defeat that Modi - who was not just the face and voice of his party's campaign but its totem as well - has just led his party to, consider this simple statistic: the 3 seats the BJP managed to win under his leadership this time represent a massive 95 per cent drop from the 60 assembly segments he delivered in the 2014 general election, and a 78 per cent fall from what the party's local leadership managed on its own in December 2013. In that election, Rahul Gandhi, by contrast, had at least managed 20 per cent of the Congress party's 2009 Lok Sabha tally. His MPs would fit in a bus, people joked at the time. Modi's MLAs can get around Delhi in an auto-rickshaw.
Had the BJP won, the party would have exulted in the potency of the Modi wave and the master strategizing of it president Amit Shah. But now that the Great Leader has failed to get even the meagre waters of the Yamuna to make way for his juggernaut, this defeat will be pinned not on his "56-inch chest", or even on Shah, but on the drooping shoulders of Kiran Bedi and the party's city leadership. Success in the BJP has not many but only one father; failure, on the other hand, can never be his fault.
I have written elsewhere about the blunders the BJP committed in the run up to the Delhi election and the reasons behind the AAP's re-emergence. But the scale of AAP's victory -- and the BJP's defeat -- suggests some fundamental shifts in the political tectonics of Delhi, and perhaps even of India as a whole.
Ironically, Modi's victory in 2014 was meant to represent that fundamental shift -- the arrival of a new "aspirational" India that wanted economic betterment and did not trust the "handout" politics of the past. When the voters of Delhi were exhorted to "move ahead with Modi", the BJP was trying once again to hold out the same promise of inclusive development that allowed it to increase its vote share in the capital from 33 to 46 per cent last year. The fact that the BJP's popular vote has fallen back to 33 per cent suggests the "aspirational" section of the electorate deserted it this time.
Why did these voters leave the BJP and go over to the AAP? Because eight months of Modi rule at the Centre have made it clear that while the BJP makes vague announcements for the poor, it delivers concrete results for the corporate sector. Like the ordinance which makes it easier for the land of farmers and adivasis to be acquired and made over to industry. Like labour laws and environmental reform which make it easier for industry to violate existing standards. The citizens of Delhi may not have experienced what these changes mean, but they are clever enough to realise the development being pursued isn't quite inclusive.
The aspirational voter also aspires to her vision of modernity, to a life in which the individual's right to live, dress, work, travel, love and enjoy life as she likes is as important as economic progress. For young voters, the Sangh Parivar's cretinous attempts to dictate cultural and lifestyle choices are completely unacceptable; and while they are not moved by the traditional politics over "secularism", they are smart enough to see the dangers that the RSS's divisive sectarian agenda holds out for their city and country.
Modi's complicity-by-silence with the book burners, film vandals and religious hate-mongers has not gone unnoticed among the swing voters he attracted just one year ago.
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