Delhi Elections: We are looking at a classic wave, in favour of AAP

Published: February 6, 2015 - 18:24 Updated: June 16, 2015 - 15:18

‘Our party is the overwhelming preference of the poor and very poor in Delhi without using any of the 20th century ideologies of pro-poor politics,’ says Yogendra Yadav with the Delhi elections only a few days away

What is your assessment of the elections?

I have watched elections for more than two decades. This election has all the makings of a classic wave election. Every wave election looks like one party has a clear edge but no more than an edge. Every single indicator points in the same direction but doesn’t seem to add up. We measure the political temperature in terms of votes. With naked eyes a difference of three to four per cent looks tiny. But translated in terms of seats, it is a landslide. This is exactly what is happening in Delhi this time. Look at the indicators. Walk on the streets, speak to 20 people and the conversation will inevitably drift towards a positive assessment for AAP. Ask people who they are voting for and you will find that almost nobody who voted for AAP in the Lok Sabha elections is deserting it. A substantial bit of those who voted for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections is
moving away.

Look at election meetings, almost every meeting of an AAP leader, big or small, has a decent draw and there is enthusiasm. BJP meetings, on the other hand, look like meetings of the ruling party, although the BJP is not a ruling party in Delhi.

To sum it up, we are looking at a classic wave election, a wave in favour of AAP. We are ahead of the BJP by anything between five to 10 percentage points. If it is closer to five, we have a clear majority, which is to say, 40-plus seats. But if it goes up to something like eight-plus percentage points, then you could be looking at 50-plus seats. I know it looks odd for us to think about these figures today but remember this is what happens with every single wave election. At the end of the day, we say, “Oh, my God, we never thought of this kind of figures.” This is a peculiar logic of vote seat translation. So my sense is 40-plus for sure, 50-plus cannot be ruled out.


Between the last Assembly elections and the Lok Sabha elections, a considerable mass of middle class voters who supported AAP moved towards the BJP. Do you see them coming back to AAP in these elections and to what extent?

To some extent. In the 2013 Vidhan Sabha elections, we were a classic cross-sectional party which even had a vote share, cutting across all the classes. From the so-called middle class, which is an euphemism for the upper class in Delhi, to the poorest of the poor. In the transition to the Lok Sabha elections, we lost the support of the upper half dramatically. We did not lose that much of support from the lower sections. In fact, we consolidated our support in the bottom half. And thanks to the decline of the Congress, we actually widened our support. We became more of a pyramid structure, stronger at the base, narrower at the top.

In the last few months, we have of course retained our base in the lower half, strengthened it slightly, but we have partially regained our middle class base as well. It is a partial recovery and not a full recovery. But, given that what accounts for the middle class is at the most a quarter of Delhi’s population, a partial recovery is all that we need. 

In the last elections, AAP claimed that the middle class is expanding and we need to cater to its aspirations rather than conducting politics on traditional structures of caste, class, region and so on. This time, the middle class is not among the issues addressed in the AAP campaign and now it seems that AAP is doing exactly the same, for example, when you see Kejriwal talking about giving tickets to poorvanchalis, and so on…

The idea that politics will be driven, dominated and controlled by the middle classes… understand that the term ‘middle class’ is an euphemism for the top one-quarter of the population in Delhi and top 10 per cent in India. It is an unviable construct. Always was so and should be so in a democracy. If you replace the words ‘middle class’ by ‘upper class’—which is the correct description—then you will understand why I am saying that in a democracy this class should not have a monopoly of power. Although it always craves it and feels particularly deprived when it doesn’t have it. So if AAP has become the vehicle for expression of needs and demands of the vast majority of Delhi’s population, this is precisely what the logic of democracy is. And I am not sure why anyone should complain about it.

As for addressing specific communities, my objection would be not to addressing a community but my objection would be if you make a communitarian appeal to a community. Politics and politicians are in the business of addressing different audiences and they tailor their messages accordingly. There is no cheating there. Cheating comes in if there are messages which are inconsistent, objectionable or contradictory. Last year, Kejriwal had issued a letter to Muslim brothers and sisters, and the Election Commission objected to it, but I personally find nothing objectionable. Kejriwal was speaking to them about water, electricity, education, health and employment—which is perfect. What is wrong with that? Even when he called himself a bania, I thought there was a bit of stereotyping involved in that, and I don’t like it, but he wasn’t saying that he will get these many tickets to Banias. He never said he will get special concessions for them, he was not addressing an All India Vaishya Samaj meeting. He was addressing traders and he said things which were of professional relevance.


My question was slightly different. When you went into elections the last time, the message was clear that it was a party which was giving a new kind of solutions, moving away from how politics is conducted in this country. You appealed to aspirations instead of asking for votes based on caste, religion, and so on. Has that been diluted, especially after the last elections?

Not at all. In fact, we have taken that politics forward. Our party is the overwhelming preference of the poor and very poor in Delhi without using any of the 20th century ideologies of pro-poor politics, namely, the ideology of the left. AAP is the first preference of most Dalits without using any ideology of the Ambedkarite Dalit movement or that of a BAMSEF-like organisation. We are the predominant preference of the Muslims in Delhi without using any of the classic Muslim agenda. We do not talk about family law, Aligarh or Urdu. We talk about schools, employment, education, water and electricity. To my mind, this is a very significant leap forward. If you think you can do politics without addressing Muslims, without addressing Dalits, without addressing the poor, then, as Bertolt Brecht said, you need to elect new people.


But you were not very keen on speaking on communalism despite many instances of communal disturbances
in the Capital…

No. The trouble is that much of the stand taken by our party doesn’t get reported. If you go through our press releases, we have been consistently talking about most of these questions and have taken a pretty consistent stand. Yes, we didn’t want to fall into the trap of a Samajwadi Party or RJD-style secularism or, for that matter, the Congress-style secularism, which thrives on this issue. I sometimes feel that there is an unholy alliance between BJP-style communalism and Congress-style secularism, where both of them want to keep the Muslims focused on their security. One by keeping them insecure, the other by keeping them on tenterhooks about security. We have spoken about the communal question. I was a party candidate from Gurgaon and my area has witnessed three communal conflagrations and I was personally there twice. I can say with certainty that AAP is the most formidable force of communal amity in Delhi.


Coming to distribution of tickets, we see a lot of candidates who have the money and the muscle to get a ticket from any other party. Has AAP realised that it has to make
certain compromises?

You speak about money and muscle both in the same frame. It is one thing to have candidates who have lots of money and another to have people who are corrupt. AAP is the only party which has a formal mechanism to check corruption and criminality. We have a Lokpal who looks into all the complaints. The Lokpal is not a member of our party but his decision is supreme and binding. I know for sure that many complaints went to the Lokpal and he gave a verdict which led to disqualification of two candidates.

As for the question of wealth and people coming from other parties which is not against the letter of AAP, there I think we need to look at the entire situation after the elections. During the last Delhi elections there was enormous pressure on the party to recover, and every possible force in the country was aligned to let us not succeed. Of the two considerations that we have, one was the ethical consideration, and the other of viability. It is possible that in some cases viability was given preference in balancing the two while there is a minimum of both. At the moment, we are too deeply involved in the elections and once they are over, we can take stock to see whether we leaned in one direction more than the other.

The kind of solutions that AAP is proposing, like installing CCTV cameras, for example, seems very technocratic. Does it come from Kejriwal’s technocratic background?

It would be unfair to call Kejriwal technocratic because I have worked very closely with him. He has a very robust commonsensical approach to things.


Or, for example, commandoes for women’s safety, or the most recent idea of having Home Guards in buses…

That was proposed last year. That’s not a solution this year. We have to find some way of protecting women in DTC buses. Every research on women’s safety shows that they are insecure in their homes (which the government can’t secure) and the second area is public transport, third is the last mile connectivity. These are things which we are trying to resolve. In public transport, even elderly women complain of being molested and teased in DTC buses. We have to come up with a solution. One solution is that you have these Home Guards that are not doing very much and putting them on this duty. We can try this, if it doesn’t deliver results then we can think of another solution. This is a trial and error method, which is alright. We need to do that. CCTVs are not by themselves a solution but they are a useful component of a solution.


Wouldn’t we become more of a surveillance state?

Many of my friends/colleagues have also said that. They have also objected to the Adhaar card. What is not under surveillance in India? In my village, everyone knows what you ate for dinner last night, and which husband and wife have what kind of conflict. So I think the notion of surveillance state that we have here, the anxiety about surveillance that a privacy-obsessed society like Europe would have, it will be very different from what you would have in India. I say, let the people be the best judge of it. I have normally not found Indians to be very perturbed about their privacy being intruded upon, because there is very little notion of privacy in our country.


There is a section that is concerned. Maybe people don’t realise it because they are not subjected to it.

As far as the Adhaar card is concerned, the only question ordinary people have asked is, why is it not available to us. I have not yet found anyone objecting to it.


That is also because the advertising was done in a way to make it indispensable for a poor guy. That’s how it was sold…

Even after the experiment was rolled out, that is not the objection that we have been getting. Even for the election ID cards, there has never been an objection of that kind. Therefore, even with the CCTV cameras, let us begin the experiment and let the people on the receiving end decide. After some time they will get to see. I agree with you that by themselves CCTV cameras are not a solution. It is just a small component of a comprehensive solution. Policing is the main component. Prior to policing, the nature of public life and spaces is the issue.


AAP, like many other parties such as the BSP and the BJP in its present avatar, seems to be centred around one man.

Largely because most of our noticeable political activities have taken place in Delhi. And the logic of modern democracy is that you present a face people like to be able to relate to the party. The electorate wishes to connect to the highest executive on a personal basis, which is what makes projection of a single person almost imperative. But in the last one year, especially after the Lok Sabha elections, AAP has come up with a leadership outside Delhi which is very formidable and impressive. It was the net gain. It has actually resulted in leadership development all over the country which is strong and locally-rooted. Some of the finest social workers and activists have joined AAP. This will definitely be reflected in the party decisions sooner or later.


There was criticism even during the Lok Sabha elections that AAP invested heavily in just one seat, which was Benaras, and didn’t look at other places seriously. It showed in the election results as well. Even in Delhi, people thought AAP would do better…

That is an inaccurate description because the Delhi elections were over by the time any serious activity began in Benaras, so Arvind himself invested all his energies in Delhi. So we may have lost the Delhi elections for various reasons but concentrating on Benaras was definitely not one of them. I do not agree with this opinion, that we spread ourselves too thin in the Lok Sabha elections. The whole point of the Lok Sabha elections was to spread, to have your name recognised. Unfortunately, we started hoping that it would result in dramatic victories as well. That was never going to happen. We now have name recognition, we have leadership. 

So you think it was a good idea?

I personally think it was a good decision, although I would not advocate 400-plus seats and so on. But I think if we had not contested a large number of seats, we would not even have four MPs. Faridkot and Fatehgarh Sahib were on no one’s radar, but we won those seats.


This story is from print issue of HardNews