Look closer, there’s politics beyond Delhi too

  • Aarish Chhabra, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Feb 01, 2015 22:15 IST

She may be largely absent in Chandigarh ever since bagging over 1 lakh votes in the Lok Sabha elections. But Gul Panag has finally hit the campaign trail in Delhi. Not surprisingly, she started with a Bullet rally, her motorcycle bearing a ‘CH’ registration number. This only reflects what’s happening on the political landscape of Chandigarh and beyond for the past few months.

Worries of the vicinity aside, elections in the national capital have caught our imagination like a David versus Goliath contest. And if that analogy sounds simplistic, there’s one thing that most people agree on: Thanks to a panicky BJP and an irrelevant Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party has once again proved how there’s never a never again in politics and life. As much as we’d like to leave Arvind Kejriwal and his party to their fate, they have made a comeback and still form the crux of most discussions these days.

In office canteens, people can’t seem to digest their food without sharing opinions on the latest opinion polls. At chai shacks, Kiran Bedi, the BJP’s saviour-turned-sore point, has gone from being a committed candidate to comic relief. In posh drawing rooms, where people speak of inflation as if it really concerns them, there’s wonder as to why the Messiah is appearing upset over an alleged anarchist who refuses to run away despite being a ‘bhagoda’ (runaway).

In pubs, where people can hardly hear each other, there’s heated discussion laced with the danger of drinks spilling, bottles breaking and heads smashing over who would win the Delhi elections.

It gets personal quickly.

Kiran Bedi was always popular, and AK too retains his appeal, but there are others who have acquired disproportionate popularity. Delhi BJP president Satish Upadhyay is now a familiar name, though I’m not sure how many people in Chandigarh can immediately recall the name of the local BJP president. It’s Sanjay Tandon, you know. No, I don’t think he fits electricity meters.

But there is something happening in Chandigarh’s politics as well. Indeed, Delhi presents an opportunity to have a semblance of opposition to that self-loving servant who rules us. In City Beautiful, meanwhile, dirty politics is on full display in the municipal corporation.

Leading up to the mayoral polls held in the first week of January, three Congress councillors switched over to the BJP, giving a decisive majority, as it appeared, to the BJP-SAD combine. Even the MP, who has a vote as an ex-officio member of the MC, is from the BJP now.

Yet, the saffron party failed to wrest the top post from the Congress, though it got the post of senior deputy mayor. The post of deputy mayor, too, went to the Congress.

With another Congressman defecting after that, the BJP-SAD now has 14 councillors; Congress has eight, BSP two, and one independent. One seat is vacant due to the death of a councillor. This should mean the BJP is in the MC saddle. Nope.

The arithmetic is confusing, and misleading, as the key remains with nine non-elected members who are nominated by the UT administrator. These nine have voting rights and no party affiliations. That’s how they could side with different parties for different mayoral posts. Worse, there is no punishment for party-affiliated members indulging in cross-voting either, thus reducing the MC House to a free-for-all playground where anyone can play for any team.

For the exercise to be truly democratic, all members need to be elected. But, given the popular belief in Chandigarh that bureaucrats are better than politicians, the parties need to build some credibility before that can happen.

The recent spate of defections not only dents the political parties’ image but also leaves the voters feeling cheated. And there’s no way to stop it. The law just does not work that way.

As pointed out by HT’s diligent reader Hemant Kumar in a recent letter to the editor, the anti-defection law does not
cover municipal bodies. If it did, the turncoats should have lost their seats. It is only with an anti-defection law that horse-trading becomes nearly impossible, even if the single largest party is just short of majority. The 2013 Delhi polls are an example easy to recall, when the BJP could not simply buy some members despite being barely four slots away from the mark.

At the MC level, though, anything goes. Hemant shares that Karnataka has enacted a law to stop defections in civic bodies, and that can be extended to Chandigarh if there is political will. That’s a bridge too far.

In Chandigarh MC polls, the lack of interest among voters and a complete absence of propriety among the parties feed off each other. That’s why shameless acts such as luxury ‘study tours’ are committed by all sides, and then quietly buried. Even our MP Kirron Kher can disappear after the spotlight is off, and we won’t notice unless she pops up in the Delhi poll campaign. In theory, the way out is for the voter to be more aware and demanding. In practice, everyone’s more interested in the elections that are on TV. Closer home is not that much fun, you see. aarish.chhabra@hindustantimes.com

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