This piece was first published on The India Cable – a premium newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas – and has been republished here. To subscribe to The India Cable, click here.
A fascinating paradox marks the relationship between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Aam Aadmi Party, if the Gujarat election results are any indication.
Throughout the campaign, BJP leaders kept belittling AAP and claimed that the main fight was between the BJP and Congress. In a way, this was true, if only because no one doubted it. No one even entertained the thought that AAP would emerge as number two in terms of either vote share or seats. Yet Amit Shah kept insisting in many interviews that the fight was only between BJP and Congress.
Why is AAP such a bugbear for the BJP? So much so that Shah even decided to raise the Delhi municipal elections to a high-stakes fight, sending cabinet ministers and state chief ministers to campaign against AAP.
BJP’s main fear in Gujarat was that AAP would get a vote share of 15-20% and emerge as a national contender. AAP did manage to get 13%, though not the 20% that some credible pre-poll surveys had predicted, but enough for it to now be designated a national party.
Arvind Kejriwal himself reacted to the exit polls and expressed satisfaction that AAP would have a sizable vote share and emerge as a national party. One could argue that AAP met its twin objectives of wresting the Delhi municipal body from the BJP and opening a reasonably good account in Gujarat. Indeed, AAP could be seen as a big net gainer from the current round of elections.
While AAP remains the BJP’s bugbear, it has also helped the ruling party achieve an unprecedented election victory in Gujarat. This is the paradox that makes the relationship between the BJP and AAP so interesting.
Modi and Shah have done everything possible in the past few months to see that AAP’s Gujarat foray is disrupted. Yet it is AAP’s 20% vote share in Saurashtra, a Congress stronghold, that helped BJP do so well in that region by splitting the Opposition vote to secure the bulk of extra seats there. Besides Modi’s campaigning, the Opposition vote split has played a significant role in the BJP reaching an all-time high of 156 seats, the highest ever secured by any party in Gujarat.
Congress had won 41% of the votes in the 2017 Gujarat elections, but this time, it lost 14 percentage points. Its vote share came down to 27% while ceding 13% to AAP.
The BJP, on the other hand, improved its tally from 49% in 2017 to 52% this time. The BJP gained 3% in vote share but got 57 additional seats as compared to 2017 – a 57% increase in seats.. This big increment could not have happened without AAP taking away a large chunk of Congress’s votes, especially in Saurashtra. AAP took most of its votes from the Congress, as its better performance in Saurashtra and rural Gujarat indicates.
So the contradiction continues to stare at us ― Modi and Shah did everything to stop AAP in its tracks in Gujarat, and yet the BJP was partially benefitted by AAP to score their best-ever tally in Gujarat. Indeed, in spite of being hounded by the BJP, AAP has actually aided Modi’s broader objective of making some states ‘Congress-mukt’. AAP has done this in Delhi, and in Gujarat, it helped reduce Congress to its lowest vote share ever in the state.
Congress seems to enjoy the sight of the Modi government going after AAP leaders, but what it does not realise is that Kejriwal uses the “victimhood” card brilliantly to expand AAP’s footprint. Its high-profile Delhi municipal election victory and a decent vote share in Gujarat may prompt the Modi establishment to go after the AAP leadership even harder.
This would enable Kejriwal to make further forays as a “victim” in the assembly elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh next year. It could be largely at the expense of Congress again. In both states, the BJP and Congress have always had a direct fight. AAP could emerge as a spoiler, as experienced in Gujarat. The Congress needs to think hard to counter this possibility.