The unthinkable happened in 2013: Arvind Kejriwal became CM of Delhi. What’s the most unthinkable thing that could actually happen in 2014? Kejriwal could become prime minister of India.
Readers may laugh incredulously at the very suggestion. But the revolutionary success of the Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi election shows it’s time to abandon conventional political logic and think the once-unthinkable. Conventional analysis suggests that the next national government will be headed by the BJP. But if the Aam Aadmi Party can scale up nationally, conventional analysis will become junk.
In Delhi, the AAP won 28 out of 70 seats, with 30% of the popular vote. Skeptics ask, how on earth can you expect AAP to win such a high share of the vote, or of seats, in a general election? True, the AAP cannot hope to do anywhere near as well in a general election. But it does not need to. It simply has to win 30-40 seats out of 543. That could sink Narendra Modi’s hopes of heading a BJP-led coalition. A Third Front government, including neither the Congress nor BJP, is a clear possibility.
If the AAP wins 30-40 seats, it may become the biggest constituent of the Third Front, bigger than any regional party. This would give Kejriwal excellent credentials to become prime minister of a Third Front government. He would have not only significant numbers, but strong moral authority too. He would stand out as the man who had toppled Congress, and prevented the BJP from taking its place.
Obviously, Kejriwal would not be able to dominate such a coalition, and would encounter significant resistance from regional parties in the Third Front. He may dislike the idea of heading a shaky national coalition that could collapse within a year or two. But if, as in Delhi, he asks AAP supporters for their guidance, they will surely tell him to grab the opportunity.
All this is, of course, pure speculation. The Aam Aadmi Party has yet to prove it can scale up nationally. Anna Hazare attracted huge crowds in Delhi but flopped in Mumbai, so maybe the anti-corruption theme will not energize voters everywhere. The AAP had a full year to organize itself electorally in a small area like Delhi, but has only four months left to try and reach the whole of India.
Delhi is a densely packed urban area where every constituency could be covered quickly by AAP volunteers. Rural constituencies will be very different. India’s population is almost 70% rural. And, because of a rural bias in delimitation of constituencies, rural areas have almost 80% of Parliamentary seats. Urban India accounts for only around 110 of 543 seats, according to Lokniti, the respected research specialist on elections.
These are indeed real hurdles for the AAP. But remember, India has 53 cities with a population of over one million. The big metros alone account for over 50 seats. These are fertile ground for the party. Besides, the census definition of “rural” is very misleading for electoral purposes. Any habitation where more than half the workers claim to be in agriculture is called rural. This means that many settlements of over 10,000 people are called villages in India. In other countries, habitations of even 1,000 are called towns.
India has around 500 habitations of over one lakh population, densely populated clusters that can easily by covered by AAP volunteers, as happened in Delhi. Parliamentary constituencies have on an average 2.5 million people. Many supposedly rural constituencies contain several urban clusters of one lakh or more. This means that many formally rural constituencies may have enough urban pockets to vote much the same way as unambiguously urban centres.
The AAP has gathered momentum after its historic Delhi victory. It has attracted 300,000 volunteers plus professionals like Meera Sanyal, former head of Royal Bank of Scotland; Sameer Nair, former chief of Star TV; and V Balakrishnan, former CFO of Infosys. Earlier, professionals steered clear of politics, since only those with political lineage, muscle and black money could succeed in the political arena. But AAP has suddenly created space for others.
The party has not yet been tested in rural areas, and could fail there. But remember, two earlier anti-corruption crusades, led by JP Narayan in the 1970s and VP Singh in the 1980s, swept rural as well as urban areas. So, maybe the AAP’s rural prospects are not entirely hopeless. Maybe it can go well beyond 40 seats.
Unthinkable? Yes, but the unthinkable happened in 2013 in Delhi. Maybe conventional politics is breaking down. If so, the unthinkable could happen in 2014 too.