While the AAP has made remarkable gains of late, the BJP has begun showing signs of a turnaround.
Exactly 200 years ago, after Napoleon returned to power in March 1815, those who were opposed to him formed the seventh coalition and began to mobilize armies against him. Two such opposition forces under Wellington and Blücher assembled close to the north-eastern border of France which Napoleon had to then attack in what became famously known as the Battle of Waterloo. Napoleon had always used conscription to swell the ranks of the French army throughout his rule, but crucially, for this 1815 campaign he did not conscript men and instead used veterans from previous campaigns. A decision that he may have had reason to regret according to history.
Modern day electoral campaigns require nothing short of a battle strategy and are often as difficult as those required in winning wars. In the ongoing Delhi election campaign of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), there is one differentiating factor that is glaringly obvious when compared to the party’scampaign in the summer of 2014 — the negligible presence of the volunteer ecosystem comprised of those BJP-supporting ideological warriors who had worked tirelessly during the Lok Sabha polls last year. The BJP is mostly fighting this election in Delhi in the good old fashioned way, with veterans of the field handling the campaign.
Let us look at two paradigms which will explain this BJP campaign in greater detail. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, apart from BJP-RSS workers, there were many other volunteer groups who had enriched the campaign by their immense presence. Many such groups belonged to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s AOL (Art of Living) satsangs who were tirelessly and constantly campaigning for “abki baar Modi sarkaar” among various forums, including neighbourhood citizen groups, office clubs and even PTA meetings at school. In the last few weeks we have hardly witnessed anything along similar lines in the Delhi campaign.
Another event subtly narrates Delhi BJP’s reluctance to conscript volunteers beyond their own ranks and instead choose to play it too safe with tried and tested traditional means. BJP was always hard-pressed to find a suitable opponent against Arvind Kejriwal in the New Delhi constituency and there was speculation in the media circles that the party may actually create a battle royal by nominating Kiran Bedi to take on Kejriwal, which would have forced the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on a definite back foot. As a second choice, there was speculation in the social media circles that guerrilla-warfare campaigner Tajinder Bagga could be fielded to pinprick Kejriwal in New Delhi. Both were excellent choices to trouble AAP, but instead BJP chose a far safer candidate from within its ranks that simply failed to ruffle any feathers in the AAP camp.
This strange reluctance on the part of Delhi BJP to share credit of a possible victory with support groups and outsiders may yet prove to be fatal for the party.By now it is a well-known fact that Delhi has twisted loyalties in a big way in the two weeks since we conducted our first survey around 15 January. Even BJP leaders of Delhi know that they are facing a Herculean task in the national capital. The first sign of the BJP’s faltering campaign comes from Kiran Bedi’s declining popularity as compared to Kejriwal’s gravity-defying rise.
In our last poll survey, a fresh Bedi was actually a percentage point ahead of Kejriwal, but today she is 13 per cent lower and struggling to keep pace. What is more, someone like Dr Harsh Vardhan still finds favour with 5 per cent of our respondents (part of the 16 per cent “others” in the chart above), which tells a story of its own, a story of an imported leader not going down well with both the party and the cadre. In hindsight, the gamble of Kiran Bedi seems to have failed for the BJP at a crucial juncture in this election. But Bedi is not the only problem with the BJP in Delhi; there are actually three factors hobbling the party’s electoral ambitions and we must analyse each of them threadbare before proceeding further.
The single biggest factor in Delhi was the media which built a very strong narrative in favour of the AAP by simply isolating the BJP and portraying the party as arrogant. This is as much the BJP’s mistake as the media’s; for, the ruling party is fast acquiring the typical malaise of hubris, which is a disease that lamentably affects all powerful people in Dilli. The Delhi election was the last battle of survival for the media and it did fire on all cylinders to meet the challenge. The question to ask is, what countermeasures the BJP has taken in the last eight months, knowing full well that the media was just waiting for an opportunity to strike back? For instance, how many parallel media ecosystems has the BJP supported as a counter to the Dilli media after it came to power? Why are some powerful Union ministers constantly showing up in the television studios of the same media houses that have always been on the forefront of blind antagonism towards the BJP?
In a democracy, no ruling party can ignore news media, no matter how hostile it is, but the least that any party can do is to try and invest in creating and sustaining ideologically aligned news organizations. For instance, the kind of meteoric rise that a dubious magazine (with a fishy editor) like Tehelka witnessed during the decade of UPA rule was nothing short of a miracle only because all Tehelka did was passionately hate Narendra Modi and Gujarat.
The Delhi election is the first wakeup call for the Modi government to stop walking down the path that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government made its own in the beginning of this millennium. Thankfully, this wakeup call has come so early in the 5-year rule that it has given the party ample opportunity to cover its wrong footsteps and forge new roads for itself — if it is only willing to do so.
The second major factor in Delhi was the obnoxious hubris of the local BJP neta. The whole Delhi unit should have been sacked and revamped before going to polls, for these Delhi unit leaders of the BJP with zero electoral worth have been holding the party to ransom for way too long. Right from lowly corporators in the MCD to the party chief, each one deserves nothing but contempt. Most of these waste bodies of Delhi BJP have worked against the party covertly in the last two weeks. As it is, the performance of BJP in the MCD is an embarrassment and, to top it all, many of these local leaders have wittingly/unwittingly helped the AAP by default over the last two weeks.
The third and the final factor is the lack of a coherent social media strategy by the BJP in Delhi, which was even more accentuated in the wake of the AAP’s almost perfect campaign on Twitter and Facebook. As the 2014 Lok Sabha polls proved conclusively, a passionate and coherent social media campaign is a necessity in the present political state of India. Delhi being the most urbanized state required a strong, innovative and poignant SM message.
What was clearly evident, especially over the last fortnight, was the BJP’s lacklustre social media approach and the AAP’s hunger to perform in Delhi. It was almost as if the BJP was simply not in the mood to fight an election. Just looking at the trend maps on Twitter over the last month tells us the abysmal story of the BJP SM campaign. This is not how a party builds a 100-year empire; this is how a party becomes a minor blip in the radar like Vajpayee’s BJP between 1998 and 2004, notwithstanding the relatively minor Delhi electoral result no matter how the media wants to paint it.
It was in this backdrop that our second poll survey began on the 31 January. This time we had a very short questionnaire unlike the last time because so close to the polls what really mattered was what was in the voters’ mind regarding their democratic choices. This second poll survey was a tracker poll-cum-fresh survey as we not only polled the same swing polling booths as we did the last time around in January, but also added a few more. Thus, we had a target sample size of 3,670 and were able to achieve a size of 3,256 spread across 145 swing polling stations of 45 Assembly segments spanning some 400 locations all over Delhi. The basic premise of this poll survey was not only to track the shifting mood of the voters since January but also to gauge the mood of Delhi afresh in February in totality.
On the first two days of the survey (Saturday and Sunday), the incoming numbers were completely surprising as the AAP seemed to have made huge inroads as compared to its position just a fortnight ago. Jhaadoo had become a favourite response of most respondents everywhere, while the BJP had not only stagnated but also declined dramatically as the voter’s first choice. Kejriwal’s spirited campaign and the helping hand lent by most media houses in Delhi seemed to have worked miraculously for the AAP. This was the first twist in the voter behaviour that we observed but it was not to be the only one, as we came to see in our six-day survey.
If this trend for the AAP had continued from Monday through Thursday (the next 4 days), we would have had no hesitation in projecting a clear landslide for Kejriwal in Delhi. But, there was a small trend reversal from Monday onwards. Our survey was only completed today (5 February) morning at 10 AM (one of the best times to conduct door-to-door surveys in Delhi would be early in the morning before people are off to work) and we can safely say that the AAP is now only slightly ahead in the Delhi battle. What is also undeniable though is that the AAP’s numbers have looked less and less daunting since Monday while the BJP’s have started to grow, first in small amounts and then more forcefully everywhere. This is the second twist in the Delhi election.
There are three possible reasons for this second twist:
A. Modi’s public rallies over the weekend,
B. Strong accusations of the AAP’s campaign funding fraud which had hawalaand black money connotations to it and
C. The ground campaign of the BJP finally taking off (the 300-strong Gujarat unit workers and all those other hundreds who have come from all over India seem to be finally gelling with the Delhi voter).
Thus, our vote-share projection for Delhi is based on our survey as late as 10 am this morning, and we have taken adequate care to account for all the statistical vagaries of Delhi by adding appropriate weightage wherever necessary.
– The worst case scenario for the BJP is that the AAP may further increase its lead till Saturday and virtually sweep Delhi, which usually happens in Indian elections when the frontrunner has all the advantage.
– Last time in 2013, the AAP’s volunteer ecosystem had virtually come alive in the last 24 hours and we saw unprecedented queues across many polling booths all over Delhi, which helped a new party receive an unexpected vote surge. If such a scenario repeats itself, the AAP will once again benefit in a big way.
– Going by the 2013 logic, the upward trend in the BJP statistics in the last 2-3 days may prove that it still has a chance, for it is in a similar position to that of the AAP in the last elections when it was trailing behind until about 2 days before polling but it managed to create a twist at the last possible moment.
– The second silver lining for the BJP is that in such strong bipolar contests, the vote-shares of “others” usually get under-reported in surveys. For instance, we have ourselves recorded a small but not negligible surge for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) since January.
– The Congress could yet be the X factor in this election and the party may well be under-represented in poll surveys as it now has a non-coherent base in Delhi that cannot be properly accounted for in poll surveys. If the Congress performs significantly better than projected, the AAP may suffer.
– Inversely, the Congress can also become an X factor for the opposite reason as the party may surrender its contest over the next 48 hours and choose to make common cause with Kejriwal to defeat the BJP (there is already some talk about this happening within Congress circles).
– As of now, the margin that the AAP is enjoying in our poll survey is within the internationally accepted standard statistical error margin of 3 per cent for all poll surveys, which still means that any minor error can twist the outcome upside down.
– Even as of this morning, about 1 per cent of the respondents were undecided on their vote, which gives the BJP as well as the AAP a chance to make a last ditch effort to create a surge in their vote-share and make a difference to the outcome. One per cent is usually considered statistically insignificant and most pollsters ignore it, but in absolute terms it still translates into about 1 lakh possible votes. Considering the fact that 11 of the 28 seats that the AAP had won last time were the result of a margin of less than 5,000, this 1 per cent undecided vote in Delhi could be crucial in the end analysis.
– Master tactician that Amit Shah is, he may yet have a few aces up his sleeve and, with the huge presence of karyakartas on the ground, the BJP may still be able to mobilize voters better than others on polling day.
– The last, but most important, factor is the turnout. Will Delhi really vote like the last two elections or is there a certain fatigue? If there is truly an atmosphere of election fatigue, whichever party manages to mobilise its voter base to turn up could have an undeniable advantage.
In Delhi, the class divide is clear now as the AAP has gained almost a 20 per cent gap over the BJP in the lower class voters of the JJ (Jhuggi-Jhopdi) colonies. This is also the story of the evolution of the BJP as the clear right-of-centre party, which did not make unnecessary compromises to win a few extra votes and offer anything and everything for free. Even if the BJP suffers a temporary setback, eventually the party will reap greater benefits as its credibility would be further enhanced in the longer electoral cycle. The AAP may have made some very tall promises, but will find it very difficult to fulfil those and voter intelligence will realize this as time goes by, which may however be too little, too late for them.
There is one stunning skyscraper in the above chart, that of Muslims, which is not at all insignificant. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, despite the Congress’s dismal performance, the grand old party had still managed to secure some 10 crore votes across India and, as per our estimates, nearly 60-70 per cent of that was on account of Muslim votes. Today, the AAP and Kejriwal have emerged as an out-and-out Muslim favourite in Delhi. In fact, Muslim vote has not been so overwhelmingly one-sided in any recent election. If the way Muslims have realigned themselves in the national capital is replicated across India, the Congress’s vote may potentially deplete by close to 50 per cent by 2019!
Two more minor changes from January are among the middle class of Delhi and the Dalits. There was a yawning gap of nearly 20 per cent between the BJP and AAP among the middle classes in our first poll survey in January, which has now reduced to 15 per cent rather inexplicably and despite Kiran Bedi. Something is clearly not working for the BJP on the ground among the middle classes, but the silver lining is that most of Delhi’s middle class has not taken kindly to the the AAP funding scam after the exposé by AVAM (Aam Aadmi Party Volunteers Action Manch, a breakaway faction of the AAP). Another feature of the February survey is that the AAP has increased its traction among Dalits as compared to January, and the BJP clearly needs to recoup some of those losses if it wants to turn the tide in its favour. This is a task cut out for the BJP and Amitbhai Shah, ensuring maximum reach out to Dalit voters over the next 48 hours (many Dalit voters are amenable to persuasive change at the last moment) and also bringing out maximum middle class voters to polling booths on the 7th of this month.
Among other social groups like OBCs, Poorvanchalis, Punjabis and Baniyas, there aren’t significant changes in voting patterns from our January survey. The BJP has once again emerged as the No. 1 choice among OBCs across the region and economic divides. Also, the BJP seems to be holding on to its vote in the outer parts of Delhi.
Considering all the sub-geographical, inter-class and inter-caste vote dynamics of Delhi statistically, we are presenting the seat-share graphic below which holds true as of this morning 10 AM. But, we must warn you that Delhi is constantly changing every day and a pre-poll survey may not be able to take a snap shot of this city state with accuracy. In fact, we may actually see the real picture only on the election day.
Since January, the AAP seems to have gained some 9 per cent votes, which is exactly the quantum that the Congress has lost. Thus, the Congress’s rapid decline has helped the AAP tremendously as we had suspected in our previous survey. There is one caveat here though: The Congress may be getting under-represented in surveys and may actually surprise us on the 10th because of its thinly spread out vote base, yet the trend is clearly in a direction away from the Congress and towards the AAP.
The BJP has lost only some 2 per cent since January and has actually gained some 6 per cent in real terms as compared to the previous Assembly election. What seems to be happening over the last fortnight is that some of those voters who were inclined towards the BJP seem to have become disillusioned and have got splintered due to various reasons including internal sabotage by local Delhi leaders. Also, more number of undecided voters in January seem to have moved closer to the AAP rather than the BJP in February, which explains this 2 per cent drop (especially among middle class and Dalit voters). Yet, we must also remember that the same BJP has picked up over the last few days for a host of reasons, least of which are the Prime Minisster’s campaign rallies, so the drift may have not only been stemmed but also reversed.
This map of Delhi on the top is a rough approximation of the BJP and the AAP’s strength areas drawn upon previous electoral data and poll numbers, which tells a unique story. The AAP’s core strength areas are also the most populous regions of Delhi and, therefore, give the party a far better seat conversion ratio than the BJP which is more spread out. Therefore, ideally, the BJP needs a bigger margin of difference to win a clear mandate unlike the AAP which may produce a better seat difference even with minor vote margin.
Thus, the BJP’s task is that much more difficult now as the AAP has a slight edge. Beyond an AAP victory, one possibility that clearly looks feasible is that of a hung Assembly like last time. Law of electoral averages in India since 2000 indicate a clear voter bias towards majority stable governments, but Delhi was an exception even the last time around when three other states that went to polls with Delhi — Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan — produced a clear mandate, but India’s national capital failed to do so.
It is indeed true that Delhi is too close to call, but many factors are loaded against the BJP as we have already analysed. If the BJP manages to upset all the calculations of the mainstream media and the Lutyens brigade, only one individual will be responsible for it. No, not Kiran Bedi. Not even Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has already won India, but instead it would be Amitbhai Shah who would go down in the annals of Indian electoral history as the strategist who stooped to conquer despite the entire Left-liberal ecosystem pitting itself against him. What is more, if the BJP wins this rear guard battle in Delhi, Lutyens will remain in mortal fear of Shah for a long time to come.
Note: As Delhi has turned out to be so close an election, we believe that pre-poll surveys may not be able to do full justice to understand the voter mood, especially since turnout is now a crucial factor. Therefore, we are now awaiting the final post-poll figures and will be presenting a clear picture after 7 February.