AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal being sworn in as Chief Minister for a third time — in Delhi on Sunday.

By Tathagata Satpathy ex-MP, BJD

WE WERE told ‘Work is Worship’. In Indian politics of today, however, work does seem to be paying, not worship. If there is one unequivocal message that the mandate from Delhi sends to the ‘pantheon’ of political parties in India, it is that equitable development, or even a semblance of it, gets votes. It could also be a clear signal that people are no longer willing to support negative thoughts.

Although the Bhartiya Janata Party, forced to eat a humble pie in the capital, may boast of an improvement in its vote share today compared with the last assembly election in the national capital, the gains are of little consequence and have no perceptional value anyway. If anything, it shows that being in power at the Centre may have its own pitfalls.

The results of the Delhi Assembly polls were a foregone conclusion – that the ruling Aam Aadmi Party of chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was set to win the elections for a third term – after a sweep of 67 out of the total 70 seats in the state assembly polls in 2015. This time, the AAP reached close to the earlier strength in terms of seats and made mincemeat of its opposition. The BJP remained at single-digits while the Congress stayed at zero.

The BJP, despite the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah in the direct campaign scene, seemed to have faltered from the very start. As a deadly dose, Kejriwal hurled the last challenge at it – to state who its chief ministerial nominee would be. Having tasted a bitter pill in the last assembly polls when the BJP projected former police officer Kiran Bedi as chief minister, this probably was an uncomfortable thing the saffron party had to handle this time. Naming a nominee for the chief minister post meant he or she would have to have a stature equal to that of Kejriwal – one who kept the large army of supporters in his fold and won goodwill from all sides for the simple yet efficient way he ran a government for five years.

What could also have added to the massive win for the AAP is the strategy adopted by Muslims and Dalits to back the party en bloc. This was unlike in the past when sections of these voters backed the Congress and another section the AAP in Delhi polls. A division of these votes had helped the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls. This time, these vote blocs were hugely upset over the Modi government’s steps like the Citizenship Amendment Act, the National Population Register, and talk of a National Register of Citizens, as well as the activities of the “Goli Maaro” gang.

Since substantial groundwork had been done by AAP workers within the communities to consolidate their strengths in each and every ward, the results could be controlled in favour of the AAP. The total rout of the Congress party, which generally relied on similar sections of votes to considerable levels, proves this point. Congress leaders themselves stated, after voting on Saturday, that they wanted the AAP to win so that the BJP could be kept away from power in the state. These activities were so silent and shrouded in secrecy that the intelligence and police were clueless about the results. This was evident from Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari’s mumblings even on counting day. It seems like the cacophony being raised by those very near—and probably dear too—to the BJP leadership is probably louder to their ears than India’s voice. That, perhaps, is a major reason that inhibits individuals with limited regional mindset and outlook to comprehend the vastness of India and its multi-layered aspirations.

Presumptions are considered an individual’s or a group’s opinions, not necessarily rooted in facts. That is also, most likely, the reason the BJP’s Delhi leadership and the government’s intelligence apparatus failed to gauge the mood of the voters. BJP bigwigs, till the day of counting, were asserting they will win 55 seats. ‘Hum AAPko hi vote denge’, in their language, I am told, was misread by them.

What Kejriwal did in Delhi is well-known. He projected an image of working for ordinary people and even went out of the way to make vote banks out of the poor. This was done to a liberal resort of extending help to common people in the form of hugely-subsidised water and electricity. He also put together a big vote bank out of women through his free transport offer. Kejriwal worked to strengthen the public education system and government health care, both being used mostly by ordinary masses.

At the micro-level, these were big achievements. At the macro level, a city like Delhi, with a truly cosmopolitan character where every single square inch of India is represented, could not have voted in the manner in which they did.

While the BJP could blame its chain of recent debacles in Maharashtra, Haryana, and Jharkhand on inept serving chiefs, it cannot do so in Delhi. To place all credit on stunning electoral arithmetic also is highly unfair to the discerning voter. It is this simple voter who has helped evaporate the very concept of anti-incumbency. The re-election of AAP is a clear indication that the people want bright policies and programmes that would help them live better and happier.

Interestingly, the people of Delhi rejected both the ‘national’ parties – the Congress and the BJP – and gave their stamp of approval yet again to a regional party. Barely nine months ago, this same Delhi voter had opted to vote for the BJP, which had won all the seven Lok Sabha seats from the city-state. The reason for this change of heart may not be difficult to comprehend. It should be obvious now that Indians cannot be bound down with mere religious rhetoric anymore. They are a clever lot who think and analyse at a gut level. Voters had decisively thrown the corrupt and inefficient Congress into the dustbin with great hope. That hope was not for creating a polarised society, divided on religion, caste and such issues.

People expected of the BJP to be an accomplice in their efforts towards greater glory and opulence. Sadly, it seems to have transformed into a hindrance.

The Delhi election results do not mean a complete trashing of the BJP; it simply suggests the voter is dismayed. With hopes belied, the average Indian realises that while giant economies like that of China and the United States are on the back-foot, India has wasted precious time, energy and massive opportunities on vague issues. It is time for all political parties to rethink their strategies that would count in the aspirations of New India.

Hindus might not necessarily be as communal as the BJP assumes them to be. This election, the BJP played the divisive anti-Muslim communal card to the hilt, and it did not work. They had voted for the BJP, looking for an alternative to the corrupt Congress. The development slogan might have attracted people then. But polarisation does not seem to be working, and this is proven especially by the recent assembly results of various states. Regional issues seem to be at the top of voters’ thoughts. This gives a huge advantage to regional parties which have a strong development narrative. The development stories are not all limited to infrastructure, such as airports and roads. Apart from Kejrival, Naveen Patnaik in Odisha has kept up his own discourse, never indulging or reacting to the BJP’s polarised hate talk.

Take how Odisha has been governed. Talk has been going on for quite some time that the RSS is trying to permeate down to rural parts of the state. Predominantly Hindu, with a meagre population of minorities, the state has virtually no history of sustained communal violence. The 2008 Kandhamal incident can barely be seen as such because the government instantly came down heavily on the mischief-makers. That not only sorted the issue out but the ruling Biju Janata Dal, then a partner in the National Democratic Alliance, cut its ties with the BJP and went solo thereafter. 

The infiltration of the RSS through its various educational and social fronts has been dealt with very deftly by the Patnaik-led BJD government. His government has suddenly spurred into action and has announced the allotment of huge sums for the revamping of district headquarter hospitals. This is being done in tandem with the setting up of new stadiums for hockey and football in virtually all 30 districts in the state, along with free sports training camps for the young.

From the Lord Jagannath temple in the coastal town of Puri to the Ma Samaleswari temple in Sambalpur, considered the biggest town of western Odisha, from Tara Tarini of Ghatagaon in north Odisha to Lord Lingaraj Mandir in Bhubaneswar, the list is all-encompassing. Encroachments around the shrines are being cleared and people are willingly leaving their homes for the ‘greater’ cause. Beautification, parks, convenient parking, electric vehicles for the aged, cool drinking water and such are becoming standard facilities in the areas around these holy sites. An atmosphere has been created whereby the average Oriyas, uninterested to know where on earth a Ram temple is planned to be built, are seeing their favourite deities in all their splendour and glory.

These models prove that ‘development’ or Vikash is a multi-cornered game. One can surely play better than the other. If people in Delhi today are joking about making their city ‘Shah-Heen’, it means, before the next general elections, the BJP will have to come up with substantial alternative narratives, also because neither will the ‘Pappu-shaming’ work, since Congress does not seem to be in the reckoning anymore. –BLOOMBERG/QUINT/IHN-NN


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