Millennium Post

Towards Politics of the Possible

As the dust of the assembly election is about to settle in the political landscape of the national capital, the political chatterati and the mainstream media have gone on an overdrive to reduce the election results into simplistic, modular packages. Three broad myths have been circulated for popular consumption: first, the unprecedented drubbing of the Congress in Delhi is more to do with anti-incumbency against the central government. Second, BJP’s improvement in Delhi is an affirmation of brand Modi rather than local factors. And finally, the stunning debut of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is a one-time wonder: a cynical verdict against organised political structures rather than making any constructive political statement.

Nothing can be further than truth than to say that the Sheila Dikshit  government is not to be blamed for its ouster as it is merely a victim of public anger against a non-performing central government. While the popular resentment against the Congress-led UPA government cannot be denied, the state government is equally responsible, if not more, for the electoral debacle. Not only it did precious little to address people’s issues, it clearly abdicated its responsibility to mitigate the hardships of the people on essential matters. Instead of coming down hard on hoarders and to control inflation, the Delhi government allowed prices of vegetables and other essential commodities to skyrocket, causing untold misery to people. It gave a free hand to the private power discoms to fleece consumers through exorbitant tariffs, inflated power bills and rigged metres. The same government is responsible for promoting a transport cartel with a monopoly on auto financing and astronomical prices to install meters (pushing auto-drivers to become AAP volunteers). The arrogance of the state government is evident from the manner in which it treated the issues of Delhi University: Dikshit shamelessly supported bulldozing of the discredited Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) in the University much against the wishes of teachers and students. Moreover just a few days before the polls, the Delhi government sent a letter to its 12 fully-funded colleges freezing all permanent appointments indefinitely, jeopardising the livelihood of hundreds of ad-hoc teachers languishing in these colleges for years.  The halo of invincibility around Dikshit’s government was often attributed to her uncanny survival skills which earned her an uninterrupted stint of three terms in a faction-ridden party. If she won her mandate in 2003 by hard selling her developmental agenda, she did a Houdini act in 2008 by trumping an aggressive but rudderless opposition. Hence the rout in 2013 is resounding both in its ignominy and magnitude: one, the defeat of the incumbent chief minister to a political greenhorn by a margin of 25164 votes, clearly rupturing the myth of her so-called popularity. Second, all but two of the ministers in her cabinet lost by huge margins – clearly exposing the ‘efficiency’ of her government. And finally, out of 70 assembly segments, Congress came a distant third in as many as 47 – again a staggering ‘achievement’ for her party.

The irony lies in the fact that the rout of the ruling party in Delhi did not automatically benefit the principal opposition party in a supposedly bipolar contest. BJP’s smooth journey to power by piggy-backing on a tidal wave of public anger against the Congress came to a grinding halt owing to the emergence of a third force. Not only BJP’s vote share came down by two per cent but also it lost its own bastions like Tilak Nagar, Hari Nagar, Shalimar Bagh, Rohini, Model Town and more importantly Greater Kailash to a new political outfit whom it dismissed as a political non-entity. The saffron party improved only in the Jat-dominated urban villages in Outer Delhi which possibly in the aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar riots. The fact that the brand Modi juggernaut could not translate into a spectacular performance for BJP in Delhi underlines a new political reality: rejection of a politics of substitution and consensus among the national parties on policy matters.

In such a circumstance, the stunning debut of the AAP in Delhi has clearly turned the political applecart upside-down: from a predictable bipolar politics, the voters suddenly find themselves confronting a possible political alternative. The AAP, as a fledgling, rag-tag coalition of highly motivated individuals, struck an immediate chord with the voters precisely for their ordinariness: they are ‘one of us’ as opposed to the ‘babulogs’(the political elites), the ‘babalogs’ (scions of the political elites) and the ‘bibilogs’ (non-descript spouses of the political elites). The AAP, despite all its political inexperience and ideological deficiencies, represent a welcome change from the politics of individual deification epitomised by the two national parties. The cult of NaMo versus the RaGaDarbari of the Congress has trivialised the political discourse to such a ridiculous level that it requires a drastic jhadu to cleanse and realign the political vocabulary along the lines of people-centric policies. AAP’s success in this election lies not in electoral gains but more in altering the political landscape of the city. Not only it ensured an unprecedented high polling by enthusing more voters but also destabilised entrenched voting patterns basedon caste and communities. In 2013 AAP has achieved what hitherto has not been done by the so-called third parties, whether the Janata Dal in 1993 (where JD got more than 21 per cent votes but only four seats, ensuring BJP’s sweep) or the BSP in successive elections: the arrival of a credible third force in Delhi politics as an alternative to the Congress or the BJP. AAP reaped the benefits of connecting with the people’s issues like inflated power bills or the discredited FYUP. No wonder it romped home in 12 constituencies (and Congress a poor third), namely Timarpur, Rohini, Patparganj and others, which have a very high concentration of DU teachers and students, who voted against the Congress-backedmisgovernance in the University.

The lessons of verdict 2013 in Delhi are loud and clear: one, complacency, arrogance and contempt for the citizens invariably lead to an electoral decimation. Second, Modi-mania can increase TRP ratings but not necessarily votes. And last, a credible and sustainable political alternative is desirable and possible. The national elections of 2014 will revolve around these lessons only.
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