There are about 20 weeks left to go before the voters’ verdict can be delivered in the 2014 general elections, and though the political stage may be set, the dice are yet to be loaded.
There is a build-up in the corporate and media world, predicting a rising Modi and a dipping Rahul graph through pre-poll opinion surveys and many BJP leaders are looking forward to their days of governance at the centre.
Into this cosy binary scenario of a rising BJP-led NDA and a falling Congress-led UPA, the Aam Aadmi Party has entered like an X-factor.
Until December 8, no one really bothered about the AAP at the local level, forget discussing anything related to the Lok Sabha elections and the AAP in the same breath. But now the direction of the discourse has completely changed. The AAP has decided to go national and its candidates are likely to appear in at least 300 Lok Sabha constituencies all over the country. Analysts are busy assessing the impact of their presence in each and every constituency.
Conspiracy theorists are having a field day, and their pet theory is that the Congress has given up the fight and now banks on the AAP party to stop the BJP and Narendra Modi from coming to power. They have the Delhi model to buttress their claims and they point out that there is some ‘design’ in the Congress decision to support AAP even as it suffers all the insults and humiliations from the fledgling party. Or else, why did the Congress prop up the AAP government?
The point at this stage is that whereas the impact AAP will have on the Lok Sabha elections is difficult to assess, there is no doubting that it has figured into the calculations of all the major political parties. One thing is sure for now. No one will make the mistake of taking it lightly. This also holds true for Rahul Gandhi in Amethi. Now no AAP candidate will be treated as a spoiler, grabbing a few thousand inconsequential votes.
Political pundits now believe that in the first round, the AAP has damaged the Congress and thwarted the BJP. In the Delhi state assembly, the Congress strength was reduced to a ingle digit– 8 seats — largely due to the challenge from the AAP. But the BJP also suffered badly, though it gained in terms of seat numbers. It was largely the presence of the AAP that robbed it of a majority first, and the second blow fell when the alternative route for the formation of the AAP government cropped up, with outside support from the Congress.
The next few weeks offer AAP an opportunity to showcase its ability as a party of governance. These weeks will have a crucial bearing on its performance in the Lok Sabha elections. Even without the entry of the AAP as an X-factor, several surveys have predicted that the majority of the Lok Sabha seats would be in the hands of non-Congress and non-BJP parties, and it was their combination that would call the shots. With AAP in the fray, this delineation is bound to get sharpened.
But the AAP versus BJP contest is already getting bitter. First, the BJP’s former president Nitin Gadkari made the damning allegation of an industrialist playing broker between the Congress and the AAP. Then after the AAP leader and Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan made that statement about Kashmir and a referendum for the deployment of the army, there was the physical attack on the AAP office in Ghaziabad. These are all symptomatic of the BJP’s annoyance with the AAP for having ‘usurped’ the right to rule Delhi.
It is worth recalling that for years after the 2004 loss in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had not reconciled to the loss of power to the UPA. All its leaders nursed the feeling that the election had been virtually ‘stolen’ from them. Their personal refusal to treat Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with all the respect and grace due to that position, also stemmed from their feeling that he was a ‘nominee’ prime minister. With the AAP coming to power in Delhi, the BJP has same the feeling as well, more so because the party’s strength of 31 is more than that of the AAP’s 28.
Such bitterness has coloured the political discourse in the country for the last ten years, and has also taken its toll in the domain of policy formulation as well as legislative functioning. The kind of healthy relationship that should exist between the ruling combine and the opposition has been missing, and the parliamentary bipartisanship responsible for democratic functioning has been missing. Indeed, in retrospect, it is the absence of this smoothness in their relationship that had delayed the passage of the Lokpal Bill, and conversely, has contributed to the success of the AAP in the Delhi elections.
But three sections of the society will welcome the presence of the AAP in the Lok Sabha elections. The first is the middle class that has been disgusted with the mainstream political parties, and the other is the category that was given the option of – none of the above—NOTA, by the Election Commission in the recent state assembly elections. The third group is that of professionals that are joining the AAP and taking a plunge into electoral politics. All these are good signs for the overall functioning of our participatory democracy.
So, even though the mainstream parties, the BJP and the Congress, may take a different view of the AAP X-factor in the 2014 elections, from the general standpoint, it is a welcome development. It increases the range of choices available to the voters, and it adds to the level of people’s participation. It is too early to make any assessment about its contribution to the stability of the government that will be formed post elections.