The five real winners of India’s state election results

Arvind Kejriwal, center, wooed voters with a party devoted to clean, corruption-free government.
Arvind Kejriwal, center, wooed voters with a party devoted to clean, corruption-free government.
Image: AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal
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India’s national elections are just five months away, but the ruling Congress Party already looks in tatters. Congress has held power in Delhi for nearly a decade and decisively lost four state elections in results announced over the weekend. The main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won a majority in three states and a plurality in the fourth. That would normally be the major news of the election.

But all eyes are actually on the success of a new third party, the Aam Aadmi Party (Hindi for the people’s party, or, to borrow an Americanism, the average Joe). Aam Aadmi surprised everyone by nearly winning the state elections in Delhi. Here are five other winners to watch:

Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the Aam Aadmi

In 2011, Kejriwal and a Gandhiesque figure, Anna Hazare, launched a national anti-corruption movement. Hazare vowed to fast until death unless India’s parliament passed a bill to create an ombudsman position to monitor corruption in government. The legislature obliged. But that wasn’t enough for Kejriwal, who went on to create the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Last week, the AAP contested its first elections in Delhi and won 28 out of 70 seats—finishing just behind the BJP, which won 31. The incumbent Congress government won just seven seats. Kejriwal is now a power in his own right, in Delhi and across India.

Narendra Modi, the leader of the BJP

This weekend’s results clinch it: Modi is the clear favorite to be India’s next prime minister. The charismatic leader of the BJP solidified his standing as a vote getter for his party, drawing in crowds of hundreds of thousands across the country. No other leader in India commands such crowds, presence, or controversy. Love him or hate him (and many do, given his role in fueling religious tensions), it’s looking like India’s highest office is his for the taking.

The Indian middle class

The middle class, long a non-entity in Indian elections, showed that it wants to be heard. Effective, non-corrupt governance has been this voting bloc’s mantra, and it helped throw out incumbent Congress Party chief ministers in Rajasthan and Delhi for their lack of delivery. Meanwhile, the incumbent BJP chief minister of Madhya Pradesh was elected for the third time because he is viewed as efficient and clean. Most tellingly, the middle class helped propel the Aam Aadmi to power.

Indian regional leaders

The path to power in Delhi in 2014 will flow through the states. Narendra Modi rose to prominence based on his success in governing the state of Gujarat. The state of Madhya Pradesh’s chief minister, Shivraj Chouhan, is another emerging regional leader, and a potential rival to Modi. Regional leaders across India are making their presence felt from Tamil Nadu in the south to West Bengal in the east to Uttar Pradesh in the north. With the crumbling of Congress, the BJP is the only national party in India based on a sound regional leader strategy.

Rahul Gandhi, nominal leader of the Congress Party

Gandhi is getting his wish. For the last 15 years, he has shown no inclination that he wants to be prime minister despite being heir to the Gandhi dynasty. He has steered clear of leadership in government, and has failed to connect with the masses, the middle class, or the elite. Under his leadership, party losses are mounting.  This weekend might be the final straw, and Congress may consider other candidates now. Gandhi has always appeared a reluctant candidate—and now it looks like voters will grant him his wish.