Modi-Shah stumble

By: Imran Qureshi

The stunning victory of AAP in the Delhi assembly polls is being described as a price the BJP is paying for political arrogance. Is the Modi-Shah duo’s magic wand losing power?

It’s an election which will remain etched in stone in the electoral history of India. Everyone expected the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) or the Common Man’s party to win the election to the Delhi assembly. But, even a psephologist of repute and the party’s resident ideologue, Yogendra Yadav, had to concede that he went wrong. And, going wrong by such a wide margin was something none of the other pollsters, too, ever imagined. A sweep of this kind – 67 in a 70-member house – is unprecedented.

Not even during the heydays of Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi was an electoral victory so thoroughly devastating for the opposition as this one has been. For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) the shocker has come just nine months after its phenomenal victory in the general elections. That victory placed it in the enviable position of ruling the nation with a majority of its own, for the first time in three decades, and not dependent on coalition partners. In Delhi, the BJP swept all the seven seats to parliament.

The victory in parliament followed by the victories in the state assembly elections, obviously, made the feeling of invincibility play havoc with the BJP’s mental state. The level of arrogance had become an affliction. Look at the sequence of events as they unfolded. The party decided to hold elections to the Delhi assembly not when the Modi wave was at its peak. When it finally decided to, it realised that none of the local leaders who had worked for donkey’s years were fit enough to face up to the challenge from AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal who had, by then, dug his heels in.

It gave AAP the time and the space to rework its relationship with the people. The AAP could, in a sane manner, explain to the people as to what its government had done when in office for 49 days. It stopped corruption at the local municipality and the local police station level and gave the migrant labour or the underprivileged sections of society that extra money to send home or save it for a better day. But, within days of the AAP government giving up power, corruption returned. In other words, it proved that the BJP government at the federal level, which had direct control of the administration, did nothing to remove corruption as it had promised and it had eight to nine months to do so.

The AAP was also able to explain why Kejriwal resigned. When explanations didn’t make a difference, Kejriwal apologised for resigning against the wishes of the people. Not many politicians are so easily believed by the people but, perhaps, it was the sincerity of approach of Kejriwal and his volunteers that has made the difference. And, when the challenge on the ground made the BJP nervous, it brought in Kejriwal’s former anti-corruption colleague, Kiran Bedi, as its chief ministerial candidate. That gamble clearly failed.

That the BJP was losing grip was evident when the party went berserk, fielding federal Cabinet ministers, 120 members of parliament, 100,000 workers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and posing the silliest of questions on a daily basis to the AAP. What this really showed was that the BJP had given up its slogan of development, which had brought it to power at the federal level. It was also clear that its trump card, Modi, was not working out the same way it did in other elections. This message, obviously, went home straight to the old-timers in the party who were ignored and a strategy was imposed on them by the so-far successful duo of Modi-Amit Shah, the party president. This is what made even BJP’s door-to-door campaigners deliver the handbills of the BJP to the voters and, quietly and politely, point to the AAP as their preferred choice.

If the Modi juggernaut grew by completely turning over its head the Congress’ minority-based political axis in the parliamentary elections by uniting the Hindus on the development plank, Kejriwal did just the opposite. It was reminiscent of what the Congress had succeeded in doing during Indira Gandhi’s time or even Rajiv Gandhi’s days. Kejriwal started with the inverted pyramid by building a base among the urban poor promising to fulfil their needs of water, electricity, education, housing etc. And, as the BJP and its mega family indulged in the politics of fragmentation and communal appeals – from asking Hindus to produce five or ten children to forcing religious conversions to attacks on churches – even the lower and upper middle classes began to move away towards the AAP. They, possibly, found the AAP in a better position to fight the BJP’s affliction than the Congress. The turning point was also the campaign point of this time ‘Paanch saal Kejriwal’ (Five years Kejriwal).

That they had cut across all classes of society became more and more evident in the last and final push before polling. Psephologists will do the number crunching to decide the nomenclature for what in their language is called a ‘classic wave’. A tidal wave of this magnitude sends across several messages to all the three critical players in this election. To Modi, it is a clear message that he and his party need to keep up their promise on the development front. That he needs to communicate to his mega family members that the people who voted for the BJP nine months ago are not going to tolerate efforts to break the social structure of this country. That progress is intrinsically linked to the idea of India, a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious society.

To the Congress, the message has been harsh, extra-ordinarily so. The party needs to make up its mind whether it wants to exist as a political party or not. At no point of time in the history of India has this party shown a zero in any assembly with the exception of the Tamil Nadu assembly and in one or two of the northeastern states where regional parties exist. From all indications, with the final tally yet to emerge at the time of writing, the party appears to have lost its vote share completely to the AAP. But the message to Kejriwal is so sweet that it can, very well, turn bitter. With 67 members in a 70-member house, Kejriwal and his close associates have been given a responsibility like none other.

There is just one parallel. In 1991, soon after the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, the AIADMK and the Congress alliance had just two members in the opposition in the Tamil Nadu state assembly. One was the DMK’s Muthuvel Karunanidhi who soon resigned. The other election to another seat had been countermanded which finally the AIADMK won. In the following election, the DMK romped back to power almost reversing the defeat. Kejriwal has a task that is tough enough for even experienced politicians to handle. Too much power could be dangerous for the party. It could be still worse for the people. That is why the sweetest victory can turn bitter.

Obama’s comment

Anybody else making a statement that casts a shadow on India’s religious diversity would have faced much more criticism than what has been seen during the last few days. But, when it was US President Barack Obama, the reaction has been rather subdued. In the two instances that Obama spoke negatively about religious tolerance in India, his representatives have dismissed his comments as being more broad based and not, necessarily, India-focussed.

The two statements, however, were too direct to be ignored. At the last event before leaving Indian shores, Obama made his point in a simple manner. “India will continue to succeed so long as it is not splintered on religious lines,” is what he had said. A week or so later, he addressed the national prayer breakfast in the US to make a more elaborate statement. “Michelle and I returned from India – an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity – but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs – acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation,” he said.

India fielded one of its most eloquent speaker and Finance Minister, Arun Jaitely, to deliver the message. Jaitely was correct in many ways but also incorrect. He was spot on in saying that ‘India has a huge cultural history of tolerance’. But, the noted lawyer was not right when he called incidents that made even an American president take note as ‘aberrations’. Aberrations, per se, cannot be taking place with such frequency as in the last couple of years. These incidents, initially, involved only the Muslims. But in recent weeks, it has spread to attacking of churches, as well, as in Delhi.

It is not any business of Obama to comment about issues of intolerance in India. He could do well in dealing with issues of intolerance in his own country which in recent months forced imposition of an emergency in several states. But, the fact remains that if such incidents did not actually take place within India, it would not give anyone a chance to make a comment. After all, it was Jaitely who went on record to say that his party was elected with a specific mandate of development and disruptive statements by his party members about conversions would simply spoil the government’s focus. In short, it would carry more weight even if the Prime Minister just reiterated what his Finance Minister has said.

Tailpiece

Surgeons in Chennai last week did something remarkable. They transplanted the heart of a two years nine month old Bengaluru infant into that of a Russian infant of the same age. It turned out to be India’s first paediatric heart transplant. There are many other firsts in this case. The weight of the heart and various medical parameters matched. The heart harvested from the brain dead Bengaluru child was airlifted in 47 minutes from Bengaluru to Chennai in December second week. Timing mattered because the heart had to be implanted within four hours. Gleb Kudriavtsev was truly lucky to be eligible for Yatarth’s heart!

SOURCE: Muscat Daily