Bypassing the Patronage Trap: Evidence from Delhi Assembly Election 2020
Scholars have long theorized on the limits of patronage politics and the possibility of counter-mobilization it produces against clientelist strategies. Analysing the recent win of the Aam Aadmi Party in the 2020 Assembly election in Delhi, this article shows that programmatic policies of welfare can help parties to circumvent this trap and avoid targeted patronage networks. We find that this broad-based appeal increases the social base of the party to even include those segments of voters who remain aloof to patronage-based exchanges. Additionally, we test the salience of majoritarian issues in the presence of universal welfare. We find that by locating themselves on issue positions of relative advantage, and reducing the ideological distance with their chief competitor, a policy-focussed party may capture not just ideology-agnostic, but also peripheral voters who might be opposed to the other challenger. Using a logistic regression model, we find that policy concerns catapulted AAP to victory, while its ideological distance from the BJP added to this. Our analysis has significance for understanding the underlying changes to patronage-based linkages, especially in the presence of heightened ethnic appeals that increasingly characterizes electoral contexts in the country.