The entire process of the Delhi elections – from the political developments in the city to the election results – are a snapshot of how far removed the electoral process has become from the core issues that affect the country. This illusory model of democracy – based on creating a false divide between national and local issues and presenting national issues as something abstract, impractical and idealistic – was severely tested during the Delhi elections. The message from Delhi elections and its aftermath was that this utilitarian and gross thinking may have survived for now, but will not go very far. The tendency to relegate “national issues” to ‘national elections’ and labour under the delusion that they do not minutely affect the people of this country in their everyday lives is a myth that was severely tested in the Delhi elections and its aftermath.
Similarly, counterposing the myth and the illusion of economic development – of narrowly making the provision of basic services the most pressing issue for the people – also revealed its limitations. This glorification of lowest possible denominator – of elevating gross everyday necessities and basic services to the level of politics – cannot survive for long in an environment of national fermentation. And the Delhi elections indicated as much, if not in terms of results, at least in terms of their wider significance, questioning and the disturbed aftermath they generated.
As Sri Aurobindo had once written in this regard in 1908,
“The uplifting of a nation cannot be accomplished by a few diplomatic politicians. The spirit to serve, the spirit to work, the spirit to suffer must be roused. Men in their ordinary utilitarian course of life do not feel called upon to serve anyone except themselves…we must continuously appeal to his better nature, we must evoke the spiritual in him, we must call forth his moral enthusiasm.
These may not be human nature’s daily food, they may not be necessary for our daily life, they may not have their use in the ordinary selfish pursuits, but they are essential for working a change in our social or political life…England is commercially great because Adam Smith gave her the secret of free-trade. England is politically great because her national ideals have been bold and high, not because of her parish work and municipalities.” (CWSA 7, 880).
This is a fundamental reality that Indians, immersed in their selfishness, have completely lost hold of. Thus, the glorification and politicization of natural, daily life and duties – the politics of education, heath, transport and municipalities – and the myth that national issues do not matter shows that we have touched the lowest common denominator in politics, as in economics. In India, nationalistic fermentation and revival has occurred over the last six years, but it had not yet breached the gross utilitarian fortress of the way politics was conducted. Beginning from Delhi elections, the cracks in this are already visible.
What the Data Reveals
The contest in Delhi was between Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). Congress was also in the fray, but its presence was next to nothing. AAP won with a clear majority winning 62 out of 70 seats, while BJP secured 8 seats and Congress got zero. Both Congress and AAP reduced their vote-share.
Table 1: Vote share and seat share in Delhi elections
While the BJP managed to increase its vote-share by a significant 6.3% and the AAP vote-share was only marginally affected from 2015, the sweeping nature of AAP’s victory does not leave much scope for searching for a silver lining in BJP’s numbers. Overall, AAP performed well among all castes and communities, across rich and poor classes as well as women and young first-time voters. Among the migrants, BJP has performed slightly better gaining among migrants from UP, Bihar/Jharkhand, Punjab/Haryana and other parts, though again their vote – mirroring the Hindu vote – got divided right in the middle.
Yet, there are a few patterns that are clearly visible.
First, the reduction of Congress’s vote-share by almost 5.4% shows that that vote has transferred to both BJP and AAP. 63 out of 66 Congress candidates lost their deposits in the seats they had contested from. But it is more likely that marginally AAP’s vote-share shifted to BJP, while Congress’s vote-share shifted to AAP. As per post-poll surveys, there is large overlapping between AAP and BJP voter-base, with the PM and CM both holding an appeal for most voters. Voters saw no contradiction in simultaneously supporting BJP at the national level and AAP at the state level.
There were 7 seats where the victory margins for AAP were less 3500 votes. The AAP’s average winning margin remained higher than BJP at 17.5% as against BJP’s average winning margin of 8.2% (Verniers 2020), but AAP’s winning margin decreased in 41 seats compared to 2015 and increased in 20 seats (The Hindu 2020). Arvind Kejriwal’s winning margin from New Delhi seat came down by about 9886 votes compared to 2015. Significantly, AAP’s vote share decreased in 38 seats, BJP’s vote share decreased in 7 seats, while Congress’s vote share went down in 64 seats (The Hindu 2020).
Second, as per election-eve and post-poll surveys, the approximate community-wise vote shares show that while BJP’s vote share has gone up among many communities and castes, the party has performed badly among the Vaishya community and the Sikhs. The Hindu vote was largely divided.
Table 2: Community-wise vote share compared to 2015
Overall, BJP’s vote share is slightly better than that of AAP among upper castes including Punjabis, Jats and Gujjars. While BJP has made inroads among almost all communities, it’s vote-share is less than that of AAP among Yadavs, OBCs and Dalits. AAP has done well among Dalits, but has also lost support among Balmiki Dalits.
Similarly, AAP has lost some support of lower OBCs, while managing to hold onto higher OBC votes. Gujjar votes which used to belong to the Congress shifted, with both AAP and BJP doing well. Thus, while Hindu vote was split nearly right in the middle between AAP and BJP, Muslim, Sikh and Other non-Hindu votes went heavily in favour of AAP. As per 2011 Census, Muslims formed nearly 13% of Delhi’s population, while Sikhs formed nearly 4.5% of Delhi’s population, while Hindus are in the majority at 80% of the city’s population.
The dynamics of Muslim vote, when analysed in some detail, reveal the actual fault-lines of this election. The voting pattern of Muslims break the myth that Delhi elections were a referendum on ‘developmental and governance’ or ‘water-electricity’ issues. While among the Hindus, this may have been the case, among the Muslims, there was unprecedented religious polarization. The extent of Muslim support for AAP in this election is the highest ever and exceeded that enjoyed by the Congress during even Sheila Dikshit’s time. Indeed, the Muslim vote-share in AAP’s total share is around 20% compared to 17% in 2015, higher than even its Dalit vote-share (Sardesai 2020, p. 4).
The five Muslim dominated seats – where Muslims comprise around 50% of the population – posted some of the highest turnouts of more than 70%, while the average Delhi turnout was 62.5%. AAP won by large margins in all minority dominated seats, such as Okhla, Seelampur, Ballimaran, Matia Mahal, and, Mustafabad. Besides these 5 seats, there are 6 more constituencies with Muslim population between 30% to 50% viz. Shahdara, Babarpur, Seemapuri (SC), Sadar Bazar, Kirari and Chandni Chowk. In all these 11 seats, AAP won handsomely.
Third, as the voting patterns in Muslim dominated areas show, the trend of reverse polarization was clearly visible. The Muslim dominated seats – in particular Okhla under which Jamia and Shaheen Bagh falls and Seelampur – were the hotbed of anti-CAA Muslim mobilization. These centers of Muslim-led anti-CAA protests witnessed both higher turnouts as well as heavy electoral polarization in favour of AAP which Muslims strategically saw as the only party capable of defeating the BJP.
In contrast, despite the manner in which the nearly two-month long Shaheen Bagh ‘protests’ had taken the city hostage and were a clear assertion of Muslim identity, the Hindus saw no polarization at all. Prior to the illegal Shaheen Bagh occupation, there was also heavy violence, near riots and stone-pelting in northeast Delhi’s Seelampur and Jaffrabad by the Muslims where even school buses were not spared as a part of so-called ‘anti-CAA agitation’ in early December. These areas are the hotbed of not only Muslims but also house illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Despite all this, the larger Hindu population of Delhi remained unaffected and unconcerned.
However, in constituencies with substantial Muslim population, the BJP did manage to improve its performance from 2015, except in Matia Mahal.
Table 3: BJP’s performance in Muslim majority and Muslim dominated seats:
Shahdara and Mustafabad are particularly significant cases, where BJP’s vote share increased significantly. Mustafabad has over 78% Muslim population, indicating that Hindu consolidation had occurred. But compared to Delhi-wide trends, these are sporadic instances, and show that the assertion of Muslim identity through Shaheen Bagh did not have an effect on Hindus in the rest of Delhi.
The Real Issue: Why BJP Lost
The election results show that BJP has not only held onto its vote-share, but also increased it by over 6%, and has also given a tough fight to AAP by reducing the latter’s winning margins in 38 out of 70 seats and increasing its own margins in 63 constituencies. Nationalism has definitely had an effect on people and had the adversary been an outrightly secular party like the Congress instead of AAP, BJP’s victory would have been more assured. If BJP had combined its nationalism mobilization with more robust opposition towards Kejriwal, their performance may have been far better.
BJP has lost despite increasing its vote-share, partly due to failure to focus on local issues, infighting among unit members and other ‘local’ reasons. These have been acknowledged as being key reasons by many BJP leaders in the case of Delhi as well. Manoj Tiwari, who heads the Delhi unit, is not considered as being popular outside of some Purvanchali voters. There is also lot of infighting among unit members, with older Punjabi leaders, such as Vijay Goel wanting to take independent decisions. The lack of unity – as well as the lack of narrative – was clearly visible.
Attempts to corner Kejriwal by calling him out on buying voters by providing ‘freebies’ failed to hit the mark, as it was neither well-articulated, nor developed over the last few years/months when Kejriwal was engaging in these policies. The BJP campaigning also started late, from middle of January by calling in the national leaders, while AAP had been in a campaign mode for the last few months preceding the elections. In Lok Sabha election of 2019, BJP won all 7 seats in Delhi solely because of Modi and because of the nationally recharged environment. The Delhi unit failed to develop the connect on these issues over a period of time. BJP may have – via the central government – regularized illegal colonies, yet the dividend was reaped by Kejriwal, as it was seen as a stand-alone issue.
These issues of ‘development’ and governance formed the mainstay for majority Hindus in Delhi, even as national issues like CAA/NRC/ Ram Mandir/Kashmir conditioned the Muslim voting patterns. Therefore, it cannot be said that local issues alone determined election outcomes. They only did so for the Hindus. National issues mattered and polarization did occur, but largely among the Muslims.
Delhi cannot even be compared to BJP’s losses in Jharkhand or any other state, since the elections were taking place in a recharged and extremely significant national environment, the hotbed of which was Delhi itself. Under such an environment, it is incomprehensible that the national level should not matter to the majority community. The developments that took place nationally – and their grave import – far exceeded all these petty and temporary local problems put together. That this still did not figure in the voter mindset has gone onto reveal how blissfully ignorant and gullible is the educated, metropolitan India’s psyche.
Indeed, if there is any election that can be characterized as being of a national level importance after the Lok Sabha election, it was the present Delhi election. The election occurred in a highly polarized national environment which, since December 2019, has seen massive protests all over the country against CAA and NRC by Muslim mobs. Since December, Delhi has become a hotbed and a representative of this anti-India mobilization in the form of Shaheen Bagh occupation. It was also obvious to all that Muslims have – through these protests – gone all the way in asserting their religious identity at the national level for the first time in decades in such an unprecedented manner, through incendiary, anti-national, anti-Hindu speeches, slogans etc. In UP, Muslim mobs did not even spare the policemen till there was a heavy crackdown on them.
Yet this virtual ongoing national emergency – the consistent taking of hostage of Indian cities by minority communities – failed to weigh in with the Delhi voters. In many instances, as post poll surveys showed, there were many Delhi voters who claimed to support CAA/NRC and Modi government at the centre, and had yet voted for AAP in Delhi. This was largely because they not only viewed Kejriwal as promoting ‘development’, but also as not being antagonistic to Hindu interests. AAP’s refusal to support or comment on Shaheen Bagh and take the election focus away from that issue worked in its favour. It also peddled soft, minimalistic Hindutva narrative that gave the impression that AAP is not a secular, Hinduphobic party like the Congress.
The results show that India has yet to get the real message – that to understand the true importance of the nation, the bogey of development and governance (like secularism) which has become a mask for perverse self-immersion will have to be removed. That the process would start so fast on the eve of Donald Trump’s visit was unexpected, as Muslim mobs repaid the rest of Delhi’s blind trust in ‘development’ by virtually setting major parts of the city on fire.
The seemingly well-orchestrated riots were started on 24th February – with Trump’s visit to Delhi due on 25th February – when Muslim mobs (with lot of women) gheraoed the Seelampur and Jaffrabad metro stations and soon spread to other metro stations like Babarpur. These are all Muslim dominated (as well as illegal Bangladeshi dominated) areas in northeast Delhi. The aim was to replicate the ‘Shaheen Bagh model’ across the city. In response, BJP’s Kapil Mishra issued a public warning that if the Delhi Police did not remove this illegal occupation within 3 days, Hindus would remove these people forcefully. That statement was exactly the opportunity Muslim mobs were waiting for to start the riots. Thereafter, riots spread like wildfire across the whole of northeast Delhi.
At some point, early on, when riots had not taken a full-fledged form, Muslims – keeping their women in the front – attempted to occupy Hauz Rani area in Malviya Nagar (in South Delhi), but were soon evicted. The riots remained confined to northeast Delhi, but the intensity was unprecedented. 53 people died while hundreds were injured, with the casualties going up with each passing day. Ground reporters attached evidence showing how Muslim mobs climbed on roofs of houses and hurled petrol bombs and stones. Police personnel were not spared. The case of death of a Delhi Police constable and the brutal torture and lynching of a young Intelligence Bureau (IB) trainee, Ankit Sharma, stand out. Sharma’s family has confirmed on national television that he was dragged by a Muslim mob inside AAP corporator, Tahir Hussain’s house, where he was tortured and murdered.
While riots raged and even gained intensity just when Trump was about to land in Delhi, extra forces were called in to keep the situation under control. Muslim mobs’ planned antagonism was based on provoking the Indian government into cracking down on them while Trump was in India and thereby painting themselves as victims. The Muslim lobby, media and intellectuals were also hoping that Trump would comment on the Delhi riots. Despite asking him a question on it in a press conference, Trump refused to comment on it citing it as India’s internal matter.
The police crackdown began as soon as Trump left, on the night of 25th itself, when immediate shoot-at-sight orders were imposed across northeast Delhi. Detentions happened overnight and the situation was brought under control broadly. But the violence by the Muslim mobs has continued, though it is reduced in intensity. Illegal occupation of Jaffrabad and other metro stations was cleared by the police.
While Hindus have reacted and fought back, it is the Muslim mobs who have had the upper hand. The judiciary itself has come under scanner for minority appeasement. Delhi High Court’s, Justice Muralidhar, admitted only evidence against Hindu leaders for their speech, completely ignoring all evidence of Muslim leaders and intellectuals who have been goading the minorities to take to the streets. Even worse, he ignored all evidence of Muslim violence and compared the riots to the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom. Justice Muralidhar is also the very same person under whom JNU case of administration versus students has been stuck for 2 years now and evidence against Kanhaiya Kumar’s pro-Afzal Guru event of 2016 was not acted upon.
The riots are a logical follow-up of the kid gloves with which Shaheen Bagh was treated by Delhi citizens. Despite the clear communal polarization in Muslim voting patterns, Delhi simply assumed that once elections are over, the Shaheen Bagh ‘protest’ would stop. Instead, ironically, the Islamic fundamentalist mentality which perpetuated it has spread, emboldened by the election results and based on the assumptions that Hindus will always be cowardly and meek regardless of the most abusive violence and provocation.
The rioting Muslim mobs made the mistake of reading the Delhi election result as a vote against BJP and its plank of nationalism and an endorsement of Muslim assertion. In reality, it was not an ideological rejection of BJP, but a vote in favour of Kejriwal, undergirded by the conviction that nationalism is not in danger due to AAP. The Muslim calculus also assumed that AAP was careless and insincere in its mild Hindu appeasement and will become like another replica of secular, minority-appeasing Congress once the elections are over. This has not happened. For, emboldened by Delhi victory, AAP now seeks to make at least some inroads into the Hindu vote-bank of BJP. Thus, even after elections, some AAP’s individual leaders have continued to build upon this Hindu base.
This impression was further reinforced during the riots, when Kejriwal ended up massively antagonizing the Muslims and their intellectual/media patrons due to his refusal to stand by ‘Muslim victims’ or comment on the riots except a general appeal for maintaining peace. On the other hand, his action of condemning deaths of police forces also did not go down too well with the minority, secularist lobby. When a mob of ‘protestors’ gathered outside his residence, on 26th, to ‘protest’ against his silence on the Muslim victims, not only he did not meet them, but they were also greeted with heavy water cannons unleashed by the police.
The Illusion and Dangers of the National-Local Divide
As Delhi elections showed, even the most clear-cut and visible pattern of national and local polarization by minority Muslim communities on a national issue – like the NRC which had not even come into existence – right in the heart of Delhi, could not awaken the self-immersed populace of Delhi to come out of their comfort zone. The later distancing of AAP from the Shaheen Bagh protests and performance of some religious theatrics was sufficient for the people of Delhi to assume that national issues are taken care of and they should vote on the basis of purely local issues.
This blissful self-immersion and failure to emotionally and psychologically connect with the nation is something that India has witnessed historically and even paid a price for. As Sri Aurobindo wrote, “Ancient India could not build itself into a single united nation, not because of caste or social differences as the European writers assert, – caste and class have existed in nations which achieved a faultless national unity, – but because the old polity of the Hindus allowed the village to live to itself, the clan to live to itself, the province or smaller race-unit to live to itself. The village, sufficient to itself, took no interest in the great wars and revolutions which affected only the ruling clans of the kingdom including it in its territorial jurisdiction… One cause perhaps more than any other contributed to the failure of the centripetal tendency to attain self-fulfilment, and that was the persistence of the village community which prevented the people, the real nation, from taking any part in the great struggles out of which a nation should have emerged. In other countries the people had to take part in the triumphs, disasters and failures of their rulers either as citizens or at least as soldiers, but in India they were left to their little isolated republics with no farther interest than the payment of a settled tax in return for protection by the supreme power. This was the true cause of the failure of India to achieve a distinct organized and self-conscious nationality.” (CWSA 7, 908-09).
While the political scenario is now different and India has achieved political unity since then due to our administrative and political integration, yet this political unity – as numerous instances in post-Independent India have shown – is incomplete without effective national integration. What Sri Aurobindo had explained in 1908 as a fundamental problem of India now applies in form of a different kind of obstacle, as forces opposed to India’s national consolidation – in the form of illusion of development or ‘vikas’ and secularism – are using the garb of locality/state-level to blindside and constrain people and dilute the reviving spirit of national awareness. And the closeting of the locality – cities and states – within the easy prism of utilitarian issues during periodic state elections is misleading the people and proving to be a serious obstacle to bringing home the importance of national turning points that we are facing.
Our current political system – as is increasingly becoming evident – is in need of a radical change. As Sri Aurobindo had said, “Life is organic because it evolves from the separate to the united, from the individual to the group, from the cell to the organism, and what we require in India is political life, not a manufactured unity. All our previous attempts at union have been failures because we did not recognize this law of growth.” (CWSA 7: 943).
In Delhi elections, while the gross politics of “local” issues was used skillfully to keep the majority communities blinded, the minorities witnessed unprecedented religious polarization in their protests and voting patterns that transcended the local domain, showing how Muslims continue to strongly constitute a psychological idea of nation-hood based purely on their religion, as even Ambedkar had warned. Such misleading and blindsiding is not only detrimental to national interests but also proves to be an obstacle to changing the corrupt, self-interested and utilitarian political system of the country. The present Indian political system – modelled on the Western idea of democracy, freedom and socialism – and the effect of 73 years of its working on the Indian psyche reveals a deep disjunct between India’s civilizational values of Sanatana Dharma which are still alive and the artificially cultivated selfish, utilitarian, corrupt political psyche of people which is only now and slowly beginning to be touched by these deeper values.
The model of democracy which liberals trumpet and the gross, utilitarian politics of basic provision of needs which parties like AAP have reduced the meaning of socialism to have completely distorted the true understanding of these terms, as seen in an Indian context, unadulterated by Western impositions. As Sri Aurobindo explained, “What is called Socialism in Europe, is the old Asiatic attempt to effect a permanent solution of the economic problem of society which will give man leisure and peace to develop undisturbed his higher self…without it we cannot get the equalised and harmonised distribution of functions, each part of the community existing for the good of all and not struggling for its own separate interests, which will give humanity as a whole the necessary conditions in which it can turn its best energies to its higher development…The fulfilment of Hinduism is the fulfilment of the highest tendencies of human civilisation and it must include in its sweep the most vital impulses of modern life. It will include democracy and Socialism also, purifying them, raising them above the excessive stress on the economic adjustments which are the means, and teaching them to fix their eyes more constantly and clearly on the moral, intellectual and spiritual perfection of mankind which is the end.” (CWSA 7: 684-85).
The façade of Delhi elections that has been exposed in its aftermath in the form of ongoing strife in Delhi shows how the difficult and painful process of national self-awareness and regeneration is still going on. It not only shows that careless choices will have immediate consequences, but also that India’s political system, the process of politics and the public common sense and psyche are moving towards inevitable fundamental changes, crying out for recovering the truths at their base, as India begins to show the way to the rest of the world.
List of Muslim majority towns and percentage of Muslims in Delhi (as per Census 2011):
Chandan Hola (South Delhi): 63.26%
Mustafabad (Northeast Delhi): 78.05%
Khajoori Khas (Northeast Delhi): 56.44%
Jaffrabad (Northeast Delhi): 70.6%
Mir Pur Turk (Northeast Delhi): 78.08%
Baqiabad (Northeast Delhi): 59.5%
North Delhi Municipal Corporation (Central Delhi District): 64.7%
CWSA 6 & 7. (2002). Bande Mataram: Political Writings and Speeches, 1890-1908. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.
Sardesai, S. (2020, February 14). Catch-all party that brought communities, castes under one net. The Indian Express.
The Hindu. (2020, February 12). AAP holds fort but chinks in armour show. The Hindu.
Verniers, G. (2020, February 13). Hindustan Times. Retrieved from https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/large-win-margins-few-close-contests-prove-aap-s-appeal/story-p3FNwh9sIZkBWQulvNbbPJ.html