No Indian election in recent times has delivered such a triple verdict.
First, the people of Delhi have given the anti corruption party, which is how they perceive the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), an unconditional mandate to govern the National Capital Territory. Second, they have defeated beyond defeat’s records, the party that rules India under a superman-style prime minister. Third, they have reduced the Congress to nihilist nothingness.
They have raised a high-five with and for AAP, a mailed fist against the BJP for its manifest insensitivity to their daily grind of concerns, and dismissed with a wave of the palm, the Congress for its overall disconnectedness.
This three-way signal is quite a record set by them. But they have also presented us another ‘triple’. Within the compass of something like a year, they have given AAP a good result, a drubbing, and a sensational victory.
The first was part of a ‘teach the Congress a lesson’ intent, for its lacklustre and worse record. The second was ‘teach AAP a lesson’ for its abdication of ministerial responsibility. The third has been a ‘teach the BJP a lesson’ for taking them for granted. It has also been a ‘give another chance to AAP’, sentiment.
The BJP will do its introspective ‘manthan’ but will have to accept certain realities. These include the following ‘tactical blunders’: If ghar wapsi has no political traction, ‘ghar badli’ (house-change) does — negatively. Kiran Bedi’s distancing from the group that grew around Anna Hazare was put down to personality issues and caused no one surprise or anxiety. But her dramatic entry into the BJP as its chief ministerial candidate for Delhi was from its very first moment seen as opportunism — bad for her and worse for the BJP. The BJP may have won a dozen seats more if Bedi had not been disturbed from her privacy.
Some individuals, even in monolithic parties, get identified for personal attributes. The exclusion of Harsh Vardhan from the BJP’s bid for Delhi was seen as high-handedness. The doctor’s ‘ghar bandgi’ (house-confinement) was for the BJP, disastrous. His leading the BJP campaign may have moved its single-digit defeat to a more respectable numeration.
But tactics apart, the BJP may reflect on the price of hubris, the tax the public levies on hauteur. If there is one thing the government led by Narendra Modi cannot be accused of, it is modesty. Its majority in the Lok Sabha seems to have given the BJP a sense of pre-destination with India’s future, political, cultural and economic. For it, nothing except its peculiar brand of cultural nationalism is inviolable. It can let float ideas about amending the Preamble to the Constitution, amend defining Acts by ordinance, dispense with the Union Planning Commission, modify and hint at scrapping mega schemes like the MGNREGA, lull in to somnolence the revolutionary RTI Act, and introduce into our cultural ecology ideas that are majoritarian at best and bigoted at worst. The integrated intelligence of the people may not scan these trends in high resolution, but it gets a broad sense of the picture being very authoritarian.
If United States President Barack Obama’s visit coinciding with Republic Day to deliver an agreement on the India-US nuclear deal was supposed to have given the Modi government a great leg up, his departure-eve honest thought-sharing on sectarianism did anything but. It poured the coldest possible Potomac water on it. That was not, I believe, his intention. But when does a glacier intend to slide? Gravity does that for it. The Obama visit will be remembered not for the bilateral agreements that came from it but for his unilateral comments on Gandhi’s vision versus majoritarianism. That, without any doubt, had more than some effect on the climate surrounding the Delhi polls.
Analyses like the one above will come, and they will go. But the hard fact of AAP’s almost a 100% win, will be carved on the electoral history of India with a sharp and deep chisel. In terms of its absolute achievement, it puts the BJP’s national win last year in a very dark shade.
The fear of one party, one leader domination in the country has been allayed by the people of Delhi. And all eyes turn now to Bihar to continue the corrective. Modi’s clear five-year mandate will be strengthened, not weakened, by the knowledge that he has to account to an alert nation.
For those who are suspicious of behemoths, the cutting of the BJP to size in Delhi by AAP is a relief. The teaching of a lesson to the Congress is almost incidental. But the relief is followed at once by the concern that the huge, oceanic sweep of AAP should not make it lose its balance. Facing a three-member Opposition can give the 67-member strong party a sense of heavenly writ. Nothing can be worse for democracy or for Delhi.
Dadabhai Naoroji, the first man of colour to be elected to the House of Commons in 1892, won his Finsbury seat by three votes. Naoroji was called, in fact, ‘Narrow Majority’. The three BJP MLAs should show that what they do not have in numbers, they have in dedication and keep the Delhi government on its toes. By being only three ‘strong’ , their responsibility increases three-fold.
The AAP government must also show that grace has not fled its stage. It should offer to the BJP the speakership, if the BJP legislative group does not mind being reduced thereby to two MLAs. The AAP government should do better than the BJP in the Lok Sabha in the matter of recognising a leader of the opposition from among those three or two. It should not forget that Jyoti Basu was once one of only two CPI MLAs in the West Bengal assembly, and that chief minister BC Roy gave to the Communist leader the respect due to a ‘full-fledged’ LoP.
But even more important than all this, is the responsibility that devolves now on Arvind Kejriwal’s young shoulders. I said earlier that the BJP government at the Centre cannot be accused of modesty. The leader of AAP is not egoless. To his attribute of self-confidence has been saddled his role and style of ‘strongman’, of a palette-shade that matches that of Modi. Add to that, now, his monumental majority. The recipe for a new democratic one-manship is complete.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will have to be what Hiren Mukherjee once described Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as being: Leader of the House and Leader of the Opposition in one. He will have to be his own most trenchant critic, his own strict CAG, CVC and chief information commissioner. He will have to be his own Kejriwal. The size of the CM’s house and car can be small, the size of his ego huge and the size of his suspicions ‘huger’. Will he rise to the challenge?
I believe he will for this reason alone, that he knows Delhi now is master of the triple verdict.
(Gopalkrishna Gandhi is senior fellow, Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, Shiv Nadar University. The views expressed by the author are personal.)