Going by the scenarios as they reportedly existed towards October 2013 end and the ones that are emerging in the final run up to the Delhi Assembly Elections poll day on 4th December, 2013, the stage now seems set for Indian National Congress (INC) v/s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) v/s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – a three-cornered contest. This is, however, quite different from a situation that analysts had projected only a few weeks earlier when AAP was taken as a spoiler rather than a serious contender.
Delhi, during the past couple of years in particular, has been a witness to a few perceptible important events having far-reaching political implications, like, the one reminiscent of recent Arab spring – that is, the Anna’s Movement – that demanded an overhauling of governance and administration at the very top-level; other – a fall out of an unfortunate and sad gang rape case – reminding the powers that be to get connected with the issues and problems confronting the common people and fix them early enough; finally, and more importantly, a message that’s very loud and clear that the voting class needed to be heard, cared for and looked after between the elections as well.
All such developments, in a way, also seem to suggest that Delhi, politically speaking, is unlikely to be the same again. There is a paradigm shift in the political environment in India’s capital city that boasts of its own status as one of the States of the Indian Union with 70 Assembly seats in a unicameral House. According to available account Delhi Assembly elections this time round are likely to witness some fierce contests like never before.
It’s time, therefore, for reckoning as much for the political parties in fray as much as it is for the voting class.
Now, in the thick of some hectic elections campaigns already underway, coming to think of just a year old Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) (launched – October, 2012; registered – January,2013) providing goose bumps to traditional stalwarts – the Congress and BJP – is something that may suddenly make one sit up and take notice. In an otherwise dull and monotonous duel hitherto witnessed during the previous elections here, Delhi seems to have come alive and seems well and truly headed for a very fascinating triangular fight this time.
The script, however, for what we see today for an electoral battle in Delhi had actually started taking shape nearly two years ago when Anna’s crusade against all pervasive corruption in government establishments had galvanized the whole nation and those in Delhi had rallied around him to raise banners and voices of protests. After weeks of agitations on the streets of Delhi and in many other cities all over, all that the political establishments of the day, somewhat ridiculing that laws of the land aren’t enacted on streets, threw a challenge to Anna and his huge number of followers to ‘join the electoral process if the intention was to be a part of the legislative system’.
It was at this juncture that it finally dawned on them that the political class, over years of calling shots on all issues that concerned the common people, had become dictatorial, arrogant and thick-skinned so much so that even long periods of mass popular agitations between elections couldn’t move them.
A member of team Anna, Arvind Kejriwal then quick to perceive and assess that the methodology of ‘dharnas’ and protests for Jan Lokpal Bill – after 65 odd years of India’s independence – had perhaps passed its sell-by date and that in a changed situation, he felt, this concept needed to be revisited. Yes, it had to be revisited as the democratic tools, as the one just noted here, had simply failed to click and make much headway. Anna, however, preferred to continue to follow the way he had been doing. It was, therefore, truly a tough decision to part ways with Anna but sensing timely that perhaps it was the only option available to achieve the desired objectives, Arvind Kejriwal compellingly jumped into the electoral politics and launched AAP (ref: my earlier article, titled: ‘India Against Corruption (IAC) in its new ‘Avatar’ makes an impressive debut at http://www.focusmagazine.in/2012/11/india-against-corruption-makes-impressive-debut/)
It may seem somewhat akin to JP’s Movement against Emergency and corruption in mid 1970s that launched Janata Dal that won the 1977 Parliamentary elections hands down. AAP similarly can be viewed as the product of Anna’s Movement aiming to translate what Anna stands for.
Now getting down to the ground realities on the electoral pitch in Delhi one would need to assess the mood of its voting class and as to how well the main contesting parties are pitted against each other. It’s like a situation where Delhi seems to be serving as a crucible, main political parties as reacting ‘chemical’ reagents put into it and the election time providing the ignited fire, to finally find an end product.
Congress thus far having had an uninterrupted great run for three consecutive terms totalling15 years’ rule is apparently not a push over. Sheila Dixit is largely credited with having provided the roads and flyovers all over and the Metro rail network to make the lives convenient for the burgeoning population of Delhi. The fallout of the expose of scam of Delhi Commonwealth Games 2010 or for that matter corruption in high places may have touched others but not Sheila Aunty who continues to be taken in esteem on a personal level. On her flip side, however, is the continuing constant headache to ensure women’s safety in the city and ever rising prices of the essential commodities.
The BJP seems to be leaning largely on an anti- incumbency factor against the ruling Congress to see it through. However, the way its top leadership has handled an issue of Delhi Chief Ministerial candidate has left many wondering if a house deeply divided from within is ideally prepared to take on its opponents the way it is desired. Dr Harshavardhan, the CM candidate is having a formidable task at his hand to take his party to a podium finish at the top.
AAP’s entry in the fray is a kind of whiff of fresh air amongst its voting class that seems raring for some changes. Arvind Kejriwal is viewed as a change agent. Look at the way this man, a first timer as a politician, has gone about his job. True to his words and commitment he has struck to his professed principles of transparency, maintaining a corruption-free and a clean image inner party democracy, involving the Aam Aadmi in framing important policy decisions for the party and above all, making no pretensions of promising the moon but surely assuring one and all a better governance and efficient delivery mechanism. He is trying to keep things simple and local to the core.
The way he has so far kept all political donations to his party in public domain, the way he has gone about with selection of 70 candidates in consultations with the respective residents of these areas and chucking some of them later, on knowing about their criminal or corruption related background, all these seem to be showing him as a man with a mission – at least for now. Average age of the candidates chosen is reportedly 30-35 years and 50% of them are stated to be post-graduates. What is more significant, from electoral standpoint, however, is AAP has framed its election manifesto separately, each constituency-wise, thus giving vent to demands and aspirations of its diverse constituents. A general single manifesto at the central level spelling out its policy, programmes and priorities is reported to be under process.
The critics of AAP, however, point out it to be a novice party and, therefore, unfit to shoulder the burden as big as the one concerning governance and administration of an important state like Delhi. To this, Kejriwal responds by saying that it is a first time for everyone – he and his party being no exception – and that governance is not a rocket science that cannot be handled. He has experts from various fields in his party’s fold, he assures. AAP is an honest alternative to both BJP and Congress and it is for people to decide if they want AAP in power, he thus seeks blessings in his own inimitable style.
As I said in the beginning, this Delhi election is a little different where stakes of voting class and those of the political parties in contention are truly high. It’s for the voting class to decide whether they want, in a manner of speaking, an old wine in new bottle or an old wine in old bottle or else, a new wine altogether. The Election Commission, backed up by a recent Supreme Court ruling, coming up this time with an additional option of ‘None of the Above (NOTA) in the electronic voting machines leaves hardly any excuse for the voters to abstain from exercising the voting rights and thus the ball is well and truly in the court of the voting class this time round.
As an awakened citizen a few questions, however, ahead of schedule poll day in Delhi keep crossing my mind that I may like to share them here. The first such question is: “Why do we vote?”, the other is: “What special significance does it hold this time for Delhiites in particular and voting class elsewhere in general?” and lastly, “Whether it would be a win-win Or win-loss Or loss-loss situation for voting class vis-à-vis a political party?”
While attempting to answer the first question I am reminded of a similar question that was posed to our Indian Revenue Service (IRS – 1973 batch) at IRS (DT) Staff College, Nagpur on day 1 of our training class. It stated: “Why do we pay taxes?” A few replies, like, one, to mobilise financial resources to run the various government projects; the other, to stimulate the pace of various welfare activities undertaken or proposed to be undertaken; and a few more such replies kept engaging the minds of the young probationers. The teaching faculty member, at the end of it all, summed up with a stock reply by saying: “We pay taxes to buy civilisation”. In a way, saying that if one is to make payment, the same would necessarily mean buying something in return.
In the instant situation, likewise, if one is to exercise his adult franchise – a single non-transferable vote – in a democratic process, one is entitled to seek, in return, the proper civic amenities for the society, good governance, a corruption-free administration and a reasonably prompt and efficient delivery mechanism in place. Hitherto we either lost sight of or perhaps failed to press hard for such ‘returns’ from our political masters once the elections were over with the consequence that we often found left to fend for ourselves. Not any longer from now on for the way the large chunk of particularly middle class, educated, young generation is getting alive to their democratic rights.
Next, turning to attempt a reply to the second question, I can only say that it means hell of a lot for the voting class. Should the reply to the first question as just noted here, is held valid and proper; AAP seems to be having its nose a little ahead of its rivals at the moment. The voting class, otherwise giving its mandate to Congress may perhaps mean that status quo has been largely supported; while throwing its lot with the BJP may perhaps be construed as it has fallen to an old saying of making a choice between the deep sea and devil.
Notably, AAP victory here has a much wider implication nationwide. It may serve as a clarion call across the country, at least in the midst of the middle class people in urban centres. And this is what the national parties need to be scared of and watch out for ahead of 2014 Parliament elections.
Finally, turning to attempt the third question noted here. At the end of the election processes in Delhi with results before everyone on December 8, 2013 it may not be a difficult proposition for any discerning and knowledgeable observer to get to reply to this question that’s well under wrap at the moment. So, I leave it at that.
Wrapping up, I wish to say all the very best in equal measures to the three main political outfits in their quest to get to the seat of power in Delhi state.