Delhi probably has the single largest con- centration of scholars and opinion makers in the country who make a living studying, observing and commenting on politics. Yet, very few among them have actually systematically examined the politics of their own city. The recent good show of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) has brought the local politics of Delhi to the national centre stage and has not surprisingly raised many questions. How did the AAP which was formed barely a year ago come within striking distance of governing alone? How did the party create space for itself in an established two-party system? Will the AAP phenomenon also stir the electoral pot in other parts of the country? Unfortunately, we do not have clear answers to the many questions, as studying local electoral politics is often considered passé.
Against this backdrop, Changing Electoral Politics in Delhi: From Caste to Class by Sanjay Kumar is a very useful contribution. The study based on survey research done during three assembly elections (1998, 2003 and 2008) over the last two decades sets out to examine the relationship between caste and electoral politics in Delhi. The puzzle that drives the study is the fact that despite Delhi having large numbers of dalits, Muslims and Other Backward Castes (OBCs), caste and region based parties which have become key players in many other States have not been able to dent the stranglehold of the two polity-wide parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The book asks if it is not caste-based mobilization, then on what grounds does political mobilization take place in the city? The answer is that it is class and not caste.
The story of the electoral politics of Delhi comes to us in seven chapters besides an introduction. The changing demographic profile of the city in the light of continuous migration into Delhi from different States is examined. The issue of migration is one of the key explanatory variables in the study. The issue of caste-based voting is looked at by exploring the social profile of votes for the two major parties. It provides disaggregates for ten different community/groups in the city.
The main argument that Sanjay Kumar highlights with empirical evidence is that class is a more important social cleavage than caste in the context of Delhi. He argues that while there is a certain amount of caste-based voting, there is a definitive class divide within castes. In the three assembly elections studied, he found that while the higher classes among different castes and communities, including the Punjabi Khatris, Jats, Sikhs and brahmins preferred the BJP, the lower classes among them went with the Congress. At the same time, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has been able to cut the Congress share by attracting the lowest classes. The study demonstrates and reiterates an old proposition that increasing economic differentiation could gradually reduce the import of social identities like caste.
Continuing with the same argument, Sanjay Kumar surveys the electoral performance of the BSP. The two main findings here are that the BSP is popular among migrants and with their increase its support too has gone up. Second, though the BSP received its major support from the dalit population, its vote share among the lower economic strata cut across different castes. The book also looks at the personality factor and why the Congress has had an upper hand compared to the BJP. During the phase under study, while the Congress has worked under a stable leadership, the BJP has experimented with a number of leaders.
The chapter entitled Unheard Voices tells us about people who are not only ignored by the political class but are also rarely stu-died, the homeless. The homeless are distinguished from the rest of society not simply by the fact they are homeless, but also because they do not have voting rights. Despite a sizeable population of homeless in the city, the political class ignores them simply because they are non-voting citizens. They do not vote not because they choose not to vote, but because procedural requirements limit the probability of them getting enrolled. Sanjay Kumar empathetically makes a case for the homeless to get enrolled in the voters’ list. Drawing a parallel with other groups, he argues that electoral considerations may lead to an improvement in their condition.
The study concludes with what urban politics (in the context of Delhi) is about. It examines how different sections view diverse issues including privatization, transportation, housing, begging, electricity and hospitals. The findings show that while Delhi is territorially one city, three distinctive cities can be identified within it on the basis of the differences of opinion on socio-economic and political issues and voting behaviour. These include the city of the upper class, middle class and the city of the lower class. These differences of opinion do not match the traditional geographical divisions but are a ‘proxy for the three different types of localities where people live in Delhi’ (p. 137). While the poor live in jhuggis and resettlement colonies, the middle class lives in lower income group and middle income group housing colonies, the city of the upper class is represented by high income group housing colonies and independent houses. The concerns and problems of the people in the three cities are very different and the puzzle is how all of it can be taken up together.
If we were to carefully examine the survey findings reported in the concluding chapter we may also find some leads that may help unravel AAP’s strategy. AAP’s engagement with electricity for instance addressed an issue that cut across different sections of the city. This study found that more than fifty percent of the people specifically believed that privatization of electricity had worsened people’s problems. While the lower and middle classes overwhelmingly opposed privatization of electricity, even among the upper classes there was no overwhelming support for the same. Furthermore, AAP’s constituency wise manifestos for instance clearly addressed the fact there are different cities within the city. This was therefore no gimmick but a well defined manoeuvre tuned to the reality of Delhi.
It is both the strength and weakness of the monograph that it has been written in a simple, easy to read style, shorn of both technicalities and jargon. While this could widen the readership on one hand, it may on the other, give both confusing signals and also raise many questions. For instance, the author makes a distinction between upper, middle and lower classes and relates this classification to the vote-support for different parties. However, the reader does not know how class has been operationalized and may hence be forced to draw their own imaginary boundaries between different levels. This weakens the cause of empirically grounded research. The requirements of a wide variety of readers could have been met by placing the questionnaire, sample and survey details either in the form of appendices or through links to their sources.
Nevertheless, the study is commendable for three reasons. First and foremost, it fills a huge gap in the literature on electoral politics in India. While many of the States and their politics have been studied many times over, the politics of Delhi has received scant attention. This study besides bringing attention to Delhi also throws light on elections and electoral behaviour in an urban setting. It tells us what factors shape the urban vote and how these vary across different regions and/or levels within the city. As more constituencies around the country become urban, making sense of urban politics may become crucial to understanding contemporary political and social dynamics. Second, though written much before the transformation of the electoral scene in Delhi, it still gives us many clues about issues AAP successfully tapped. Third, survey research is an expensive research method, often beyond the reach of an individual researcher. This book has a lot of valuable data and insights which could be useful in other studies and also be used to develop further hypotheses.
This monograph is likely to find a diverse audience from anyone interested in electoral politics and politics in Delhi specifically to students from other disciplines including sociology and urban geography. To students of Indian politics, it reiterates the point that we need to look beyond national politics and look at the factors that influence politics at the State level.
K.K. Kailash is with the Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad.