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Political actors throughout the nation should be paying keen attention to the Delhi state elections for two main reasons. Firstly, these elections will determine the electoral power of the urban middle-class. In the past, this section of Indian society has been an electoral lightweight. Increased political engagement from the middle class and the changing demographic of the Indian Union have challenged this idea. As the epicentre of the recent urban protests against corruption and female insecurity, Delhi’s elections will foreshadow the electoral power of these issues in the general elections. Secondly, the party that controls Delhi will control the power of protest. The increasing importance of urban protests is being acknowledged globally. For various historical and political reasons, Delhi has become the centre of urban protests in the country. The relationship between the centre and Delhi state government will have a huge bearing on the nature of protests in urban India.
I analyze the data from the opinion poll conducted by the Aam Aadmi Party and Cicero Associates to gauge the political mood of the city-state. The poll was conducted in August 2013.
If you have questions about the sample population itself, please refer to its gender, age, literacy and economic make-up. Click on the links to get more data on that. The original survey form can be found here and the survey data is accessible here.
I begin with a simple question from the survey. What issues are the citizens of the capital most worried about?
The results affirm the eminence of price rise and economic concerns. Corruption and female security account for only 30% of the answers. These 2 issues were the basis of the popular protests in the city. Why then are they lower on poll considerations? Firstly, we could question the validity of the sample in the study. Secondly, we could question the alleged ‘popularity’ of the protests. It is highly possible that liberal media and its middle class bias skewed the importance of the protests and their resonance with the majority of the population. Finally, we could question the salience of these issues in determining elections. While corruption and security are important issues they don’t seem to be deal breakers, even amongst populations that feel strongly for them.
Irrespective, if you are an incumbent MLA in the city you should be worried. Over 40% of the respondents expressed dissatisfaction with their current MLA and a desire for change.
This isn’t surprising considering the Sheila Dixit government has been in power for 14 years, a long period of time for any state government in India. This, combined with the central government’s low popularity should have made it easy for the BJP to claim the state. But the picture isn’t quite as clear as that.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) appears to have made serious inroads into the electorate and is claiming nearly 20% of the vote. This is serious business considering the party will be less than a year old when Delhi goes to the polls. I am not heralding an AAP victory but given the money, organization and popular validation that every party requires, polling at these numbers is in itself an outstanding achievement.
We must, however, take these poll results with a grain of salt. When asked who would win the vote, irrespective of individual political leanings, 45% of the respondents answered in favour of the AAP. This is in discordance with earlier answers on voting.
What does this mean?
While the protests of the last two years may not translate to an immediate change in government, there is a huge political space that has opened up. A party with less than a year under its belt and without clear political experience looks set to become the third largest party in Delhi. There is a clear message to political parties to reinvent themselves. Citizens are clamouring for change in the political system and the party that is able to abandon its historical baggage and promise credible change will go a long way in the polling booths. India’s burgeoning middle class is slowly getting ready to flex its political power. Parties that are looking at a long term game should be paying attention now.