Saturday, 28 February 2015

Delhi election verdict: Is it a wake up call for Modi?

Dr. Devendra Kothari
Population and Development Analyst
Forum for Population Action

It is critical for the Modi Government to draw the right lessons from the Delhi Assembly Election.

The Delhi Assembly Election verdict surprised everyone. It was not expected at all. Experts were hoping difference of five to eight seats between the winning and losing parities, but the verdict was quite shocking. By capturing 67 out of 70 seats in the Delhi polls, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has trumped not only Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and Congress but pundits and pollsters as well. Nobody really anticipated the magnitude of what’s effectively a clean sweep. The remaining three seats went to BJP - the ruling party at the Centre, which won all the 7 Lok Sabha seats from this constituency some eight months ago.  Why this turned around?

AAP’s victory offers a clue to what India’s voters are thinking.  No doubt, Delhi’s electorate of 13.3 million is a tiny fraction of the total Indian electorate but it forms a microcosm of India. It has a huge migrant population from every corner of the country. As such, it is critical for the Modi government to draw the right lessons from the verdict, since the Delhi verdict has far greater significance in the Indian political landscape.

It is true that BJP got devastating defeat due to some wrong decisions especially bringing Kiran Bedi at the eleventh hour and projecting her as Chief Minister Candidate which annoyed local leaders, party members and RSS due to which sincere campaign and approach to voters was not done. But this does not explain the crushing defeat fully.

Modi won the 2014 Lok Sabha (Lower House) virtually on his own and delivered Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand to BJP. But the Delhi voters did not find him relevant. Why? It is true that BJP got devastating defeat due to some wrong decisions especially bringing Kiran Bedi at the eleventh hour and projecting her as Chief Minister Candidate which annoyed local leaders, party members and RSS due to which sincere campaign and approach to voters was not done. But this does not explain the crushing defeat. 

I think it was a protest voting. The protest, disproval or negative voting is the same thing.  It allows many voters to express their formal disapproval of government working in a system where they all share some power. It is argued that “the negative voting occurs when voters respond more strongly to political actions or outcomes that they oppose them to comparable actions or outcomes they favor”. [1] 

Achhe din anne wale hain (Good days are coming) may have been an electoral idiom but it has placed a huge burden of expectations on the Modi government. New York Times has rightly concluded that “Modi has stirred excitement and raised expectations at home, by portraying himself as a confident can-do leader who will revitalize the economy, make the government function and lift millions out of poverty. So far there has been little concrete return and as the Delhi election suggested, people are growing frustrated”. In addition, while Modi’s monogrammed suit was seen as his ‘pro-rich’ bias, especially by the underclass, his silence on hate speeches by saffron hardliners had an unsettling effect on middle class voters.   In short, Delhi was lost due to protest or disapproval voting because in the last nine months BJP, despite its promises, did not implement measures to improve the day-to-day lives of people. And voters have hit back hard with a reminder that it is time to start delivering, not making promises: Perform or Perish.

The scale of the defeat of BJP in the Delhi polls is a wake-up call for the Modi Government. However, it is not a negative verdict on Modi’s development and reform agenda. Neither is it a reaffirmation of populist economic policies. People believe in his leadership. In fact, majority of Indians feel PM Modi is best hope for country as well as economy.  Experts feel that the Delhi verdict will steel Modi’s resolve to focus even more sharply on measures that will reignite investment and generate large-scale employment. Renowned journalist MJ Akbar concludes that “he is not going to be deflected by the short pass; he will absorb the stumble and restore the stride towards that horizon. [2] However, he has to reset his priorities.

Five months ago, PM Modi presented 'Make in India' as the centrepiece of his grand vision to achieve his poll slogan of "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas" (together with all, development for all). Does this thrust will enable to achieve the motto? Will it help India prove its mettle? India has enjoyed high but vacillating economic growth in the post liberation period. But despite this, India is at the crossroad.  We have the largest number of hungry, malnourished and illiterate as well as under educated people in the world. Moreover, the current pool of labour force has very low employability. The National Employability Report revealed that among the six hundred thousand   engineers who graduated in 2011, only 17.4 per cent were employable. What this also means is that the rest, that is, 82.6 per cent, engineering graduates are unemployable. In addition, only half of total households have a source of water within the premises. This problem is further compounded by lack of access to sanitation. The Indian model of development has so far worked poorly in promoting inclusiveness.  It appears India has not given due recognition to the concept of equality in sharing the resources in its development agenda. Focusing only on ‘Make in India’ will further accentuate the gross inequalities. The Modi government has to acknowledge this, and initiate program, which focuses on inclusiveness alongside growth. 

In my recent post, it is argued that economic growth is not enough; it must be accompanied by structural transformation to unlock the human potential.[3] For this, a five-point agenda must be given due importance in the development planning of the country. And these are: first, reducing incidence of unwanted fertility or stabilizing population; second, ensuring quality education; third, improving physical living conditions; fourth, reducing gender gap; and lastly, shifting labour from rural to urban areas. This will help to build a more competitive workforce. 

No doubt, India is ready for double-digit growth in coming years, as noted by the Economic Survey 2015-15. However, to make it sustainable, the Modi Government has to focus not only on ‘Make in India’ but special attention has to be given to develop human capital. Speaking at a global renewable energy investment summit (Re-Invest 2015) in New Delhi, UN special envoy for cities and climate change Michael R Bloomberg said that most effective economic policies are ones that improve quality of life. India could see economic renaissance like China, but must invest in the development of human resources.

[1] Morris P Fiorina and Kenneth A Shepsle. 1989. Is negative voting an artifact?  American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 33(2) Pp 423-429.

[2] For details, refer post: How Delhi was lost by Rajiv Kumar, Senior Fellow at Centre for Policy Research at refer: Modi will absorb stumble, and regain his stride by MJ Akbar at

[3] For details, refer author’s post: Growth with structural transformation: A development agenda for India at: