There is no doubt that Aam Aadmi Party’s performance in Delhi has thrown all models of psephology into disarray. Not even Chanakya, whose forecasts thus far have been the closest to the actual results, could come within striking distance of the number of seats that Arvind Kejriwal’s party would eventually win. That the BJP, in spite of retaining its core support and garnering almost the same percentage of votes as it did last year, would be reduced to just 3 seats was perhaps beyond the wildest dreams of any political strategist.
It was hilarious to see the loud-mouthed media bullies, especially belonging to the English language TV news channels, reduced to blabbering like monkeys. The BJP spokespersons looked like they had been struck in the solar plexus and the wind had been knocked out of their chests. A catastrophe of these dimensions was unimaginable for them. Make no mistake, a triumph of such scale was equally unimaginable for the victors, and even they were at a loss for words to explain the phenomenon.
A day after the momentous event, it is perhaps time to try and decipher what the message from Delhi says. The first lesson to be drawn is that Delhi has clearly demonstrated that it is divided between two political groups – those that are with the BJP and those that are against it. The consolidation of the anti-BJP vote in favor of AAP means that there is now no third political alternative that would be acceptable to the citizens of Delhi.
The decimation of the Congress, with its high-profile CM-candidate even losing his deposit, confirms that this grand old party has finally run its course and will soon be lost in the quicksand of political wilderness. By asking their perceived constituencies to vote for AAP, the corrupt and the blatantly communalist outfits have ended up chopping their own noses in their attempt to spite Modi.
The Mamata Banerjees, the Nitish Kumars, the Shahi Imam’s, and the Owaisis have eroded their own vote banks while strengthening that of AAP. The various statements given by Congress leaders in favor of AAP also helped in the erosion of their own vote base. The media, which so far had been so loyal to the Congress, suddenly changed its tune and went out of its way to promote Arvind Kejriwal and his party. That was not the case last year. The Congress was still in power at the Centre and AK was derided as an interloper and an outsider. Sensing that the mood was against the Congress, what did the party do this time?
Instead of rectifying the situation by making drastic changes in its structure and organization, it allowed AAP to climb into the space vacated by it, thereby further destroying whatever base it had left among the voters. Its hatred for Narendra Modi has deprived it of any reasoning capability, and today it stands completely vanquished and defenseless. For the Congress the BJP’s defeat was much more important than its own victory – a classical repeat of any number of episodes in Indian history (one has to just recall the stories of Ambhi against Porus, Jaichand against Prithviraj Chauhan, and Mir Jaffar against Siraj-ud-Daula, to name just a few).
I am not sure if the media had been instructed by the Congress leadership to promote AAP, or it decided to do so on its own, but I would be biased in favor of the former. The media has eaten from the Congress hand for so long that it has forgotten to use its own fingers. By now they have become degenerated and atrophied.
For this entire horde of political columnists, analysts, strategists, editors, journalists, who are perhaps better described as news traders, the triumph of the Aam Aadmi Party has come to mean only one thing – the end of the Modi wave. It is futile to remind them that it was they who were the ones clamoring all along that a Modi wave did not exist. These pontiffs of the Big Lie do not even realize that Delhi has caught them with their cassocks around their ankles and they stand exposed in utter nakedness. Along with their Emperor even they have no clothes left on their backs.
Future history books will tell us that on 10th February 2015, India shed its last vestiges of feudal colonialism and embarked on the course of embracing modern liberal democracy. Patches of feudalism still exist in some parts like UP, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, but these are shrinking and will soon disappear. Delhi has destroyed any possibility of these feudal forces ever making a comeback. There is a lesson here even for Punjab that is currently having a BJP-Akali government. The SAD patriarch Prakash Singh Badal and his family will become a huge liability for the BJP if the alliance decides to fight the election together. Amit Shah must decide to go alone in the next assembly elections in the state as he did in Maharashtra and Haryana.
How should BJP interpret the Delhi results and what lessons it must draw from them? First, it must completely revamp its organization in Delhi. It is no secret that the Delhi unit is a deeply divided one and every member perceives himself as a CM candidate. BJP in Delhi is a legacy of the L. K. Advani era and the sooner it is dismantled the quicker will be the rebuilding. Perhaps Amit Shah should look at the three legislators who were able to withstand the AAP tsunami and build a new structure around them. It was reported that the 32 members who had won the elections in 2013, hardly exerted themselves this time. The next five years have to be dedicated to building a strong regional unit with tried and trusted leaders who can lend character and substance to the party in 2019. Paratroopers like Kiran Bedi are useful behind enemy lines, not in the front.
Second, the Prime Minister has to move beyond optics and begin to deliver on simple issues. Inflation has been contained to an extent and GDP growth looks on the right track. But these are of interest to the readers of the yellow papers.
The common man who had rested all his hopes on Modi is waiting for small deliveries.
For him a breakthrough in the nuclear power negotiations with the US has very little significance. He wants things that are basic to his existence. He wants his life simplified. That does not sound like a huge demand, but the plethora of rules and regulations has tied him up in a web of a never-ending red tape from which he can escape only through bribery. He wants a legal system that delivers justice quickly and visibly. He wants a system in place that penalizes delays and rewards timely action and delivery. He is looking for safety and security for the women in his family. He demands a sensitive and honest police force that he can depend upon for the safety of his family and property. He is looking for decent government schools where his children can get their basic education without having to pay the exorbitant fees that private schools charge. He wants a health system that can take care of his family’s physical well being, not necessarily in star hospitals but in clean and well-appointed health centers. He is not begging for government dole, but demands a little respect and recognition. He is looking for equal opportunity that is his right and he is willing to take the knocks in a struggle that is fair and square.
The Modi government so far has concentrated its energies on big-ticket reforms. While these are indeed necessary, it is the small ones that have maximum impact with voters. Mangal-sutras and onions have won more elections than nuclear power plants. The lesson for Modi is not only to continue with his large infrastructure projects and foreign policy initiatives, but also to move quickly on administrative reforms. The government would do well to itemize these and create a timetable by which they would be put in place. This list and the timetable must be made widely public.
Thirdly, the BJP has to clearly spell out its policy on religious matters. There are too many confusing voices emerging from the various affiliates of the party. The Congress in the past has misused religion for its political contingencies and its machinations have completely perverted the meaning of the word “secularism.” When India became free, its Constitution did not find it necessary to define the state as “secular.” Secularism was in the blood of the nation and that is why Jinnah’s two-nation theory today stands completely discredited. His demand for a separate country for Muslims was not just for the Muslims of Punjab and Bengal. According to him all the Muslims of undivided India formed a separate nation.
Logically, when partition was thrust upon the leaders of the Congress, they could have demanded that all the Muslims relocate in Pakistan while all Hindus and Sikhs shift to India. But Gandhi and the Congress did not see the Muslims as Pakistanis but as Indians. However, Indira Gandhi’s insecurities led her to follow a divisive agenda, which led to her amending the preamble of the Constitution and adding the words “socialist” and “secular” to a document that was literally steeped in both these sentiments. The damage this has done to our social fabric is unimaginable.
Fragmentation through reservations on the basis of caste, tribe, and faith has further ruptured the social fabric, and no amount of darning or patchwork will repair it. The need, therefore, is for a clearly spelt out policy on a uniform civil code, and a timetable for the withdrawal of such reservations. Meanwhile, the government must maintain its distance from its affiliates and ensure that their religious agendas find no resonance in the corridors of power. Modi must clarify his public policy on such matters; whatever may be his private proclivities.
The next five years give Arvind Kejriwal the necessary time needed to build a structured political organization that can deliver governance and not just rhetoric. Despite too many errors and immature utterances, the people of Delhi have kept their faith with Kejriwal and have given him an unprecedented mandate that leaves him with no excuses for non-performance. In the Delhi assembly he has no opposition and he can pass any legislation that he would like to. He has the opportunity to deliver on all the promises that he has made. No doubt his authority is somewhat circumscribed by the fact that some of Delhi’s administration is under the Central government. But he was aware of these limitations and he cannot now say that he is unable to deliver because the Central government is not co-operating with him.
As a politician he has to learn to negotiate with opponents and use all his persuasive skills to see that his promises translate into deliverables. A confrontationist attitude will soon disenchant his constituency and he will find his mandate withering away in no time. For a parallel he could learn from Rajiv Gandhi’s 1984 victory that ended in ignominy in 1989.
If the leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party have understood the implications of the Delhi mandate, then they must enlarge the party’s membership base across India in a measured manner. Local leaders must be encouraged to come up through a democratic process and an organic structure evolved at all levels. Party building is a slow and tedious process and it necessarily requires a lot of time. It was foolish of Kejriwal to fight the general elections in 2014 and the results confirmed his folly in no uncertain manner.
Having won Delhi again with a decisive mandate, Aam Aadmi Party must devote all its energies towards the building of a viable political structure before it ventures into electoral affrays in other parts of the country. Concentrate on delivering the promises made to Delhi and leave the governance of the rest of the country to the Centre. That makes for mature policy and will ensure that the voters do not drift away. AAP’s occupancy of the Congress space can only mean good for India.
I hope Kejriwal understands that he is standing on the threshold of history and does not fritter away the gains due to the antipathy of some of his colleagues to Modi. His honeymoon with the media will soon end, as the hand that fed them will threaten to withdraw its patronage, and he will soon find them barking at his heels. On his response depends the future of his party as well as of India!
By: Vijaya Dar