To find out the mood of youth, I conducted three Facebook surveys on my fanpage, asking users about the party they would support in Lok Sabha 2014. The surveys were done in September 2013 (pre-AAP), January 13, 2014 (during AAP euphoria) and January 20, 2014 (post-AAP controversies). Usual disclaimers apply. Facebook audience is skewed towards urban, middle-class youth and do not represent India. However, it is an influential segment that controls public opinion. The surveys had an average participation rate of over 50,000 users, a bigger sample size than most opinion polls.
In September 2013, BJP garnered 85% likes while Congress was at 15% (AAP was not given as an option). As is often said, Modi fans ruled the social media.
Things changed following Delhi elections. In Survey-II the AAP option was included. AAP was at its peak in terms of positive public perception, right after the oath-taking ceremony. BJP secured 60%, AAP 36% and Congress 4%. The extent of shift to AAP was astonishing.
Congress fell from 15% to 4%, as two-thirds of its already low online support vanished. BJP’s decline from 85% to 60% meant a third of BJP online supporters moved to AAP. BJP, being domi-nant, lost more votes even though a lesser share of their supporters deserted them. These were the crucial fence-sitter voters who decided to go with the new flavour in town.
BJP called AAP a vote cutter. However, it didn’t introspect about why Narendra Modi’s pull was not strong enough to retain these deserters in the first place. The answer may lie in issues Modi hasn’t taken a public stance on as much as he should — corruption, women and personal freedom. His persona, somewhat aloof and steely, may also lessen connect with fence-sitter youth voters. Who is Modi the person? We just don’t know so well, do we?
Modi also needs to create novel and interesting visual spectacles — apart from good speeches. This is form over substance, but part of the game is about grabbing headlines.
Of course, grabbing headlines can go too far. Look no further than the headline-grabbing specialists — AAP. From one-time metro rides to ransacking Delhi finances to announce freebies, AAP has done whatever it took to stay in the news. It appears promotion of AAP is number one priority, and what happens to India figures nowhere in the list.
This led to a botched attempt at heroism by the tainted law minister who conducted illegal raids where he bullied junior officers and allegedly harassed women while making racist statements — on the pretext of resident welfare association (RWA) complaints about an unproven ‘sex and drugs racket’.
AAP played up the ‘all police is corrupt’ stereotype as well as the one that humble residents are always ‘good’. Such claims of virtue were fine in the Lokpal movement, but this time AAP claimed a fake virtue. Have we heard the versions of SHOs they are trying to suspend? Have we seen how bullied the families of those junior police officers feel? Do we care about what is happening to police morale? If there was a sex racket, will AAP go after the customers — possibly many of whom are resident uncles of the welfare associations? No, AAP will do none of this. AAP is no longer interested in India, and that is a shame.
Of course, such antics took their toll. Survey-III reveals a different picture. BJP secured 71%, AAP 25% and Congress 4%. In a week AAP had lost a third of its online base, and it went right back to BJP. There’s still significant support for AAP, but the trend has reversed. AAP was supposed to keep rising, as any start-up scaling up fast should. Instead it stalled and declined.
Coming back now could be extremely difficult. Sooner or later, Facebook youth still supporting AAP will realise the loss in business confidence AAP’s moves create. This would mean fewer jobs, making the same youth that is supporting AAP suffer. Also, youth cares a lot about personal freedom. If RWAs arbitrarily decide whom the police will raid, youth in the city will suffer most.
Finally, we come to Congress, which has virtually no online takers. However, there is an opportunity for Congress. The dissonance with AAP will create a large number of ‘AAP refugees’. Rahul Gandhi could open his arms and get them back in his fold, particularly Modi haters.
Meanwhile, Modi is back in the game. To his credit, he has kept his following despite his current campaign not bothering about freebies and societal divisions. If BJP can just get its old fan base back, Modi haters divided between AAP and Cong-ress can actually help BJP.
AAP’s rise was astonishing, but the trust erosion they have created in such a short time is equally so. They should have quit the Lok Sabha race and focussed on Delhi. However, a desire to gain power while they are ‘hot’, even at India’s expense, is where the party of virtue went wrong.
Even more wrong than their actions is their intent. Their PR strategy involves destroying society to gain attention. Such actions make them the item girls of politics. Frankly speaking, item girls only go so far.