We have suddenly developed a passion for politics again. I think this is because people are enjoying giving politicians, who thought they had electorates all figured out, a nasty shock.
The result of this sudden — and growing — interest is there for all to see: in a year’s time, an anti-corruption movement not only managed to morph into a full-fledged political party, AAP, but also won an assembly election, not in some far way place but right here in Delhi, the political nerve centre of India.
During his press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also acknowledged this new force, saying that the people’s verdict in favour of AAP needs to be "respected".
Even in other states, where the BJP managed to beat anti-incumbency and stay afloat, several non-performing ministers were sent packing home by the people. Voters have realised that ‘people power’ is not an empty catchphrase, it works if they chose to exercise it.
So, the year begins with one exuberant and buoyant bunch in the form of the people, and one nervous and jittery bunch in the form of politicians. This is a good thing: politicians have long used certain formulae, much like the masala films, to categorise the electorate. So we had the combinations of Kurmis and Koeris, Ahirs, Jats and Rajputs, Brahmins, Kayasthas, Dalits and so on.
Then we had the older generation, the women electorate, the young and so on. But today, everything is up in the air. The voter is not going to give the politician an easy ride by fitting neatly into preordained slots. Governance matters, interactive politics matters and, of course, personalities matter.
No less than Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi spoke of how the party needed to emulate AAP in connecting with the people. What he did not explain is that AAP spoke to people, not at people.
For those who have been in politics for years on end, are used to its enormous privileges, to effect this ‘I am one of you’ turn is not going to be easy. The comforts of life that a politician has are very hard to give up. I remember a conversation I had with a Union minister some years ago. He was carping bitterly about his party’s leadership.
So, I rather naively asked him why he did not say so within his party’s forums? Look at all this, he said, to me gesturing to his beautiful lawn in Lutyens’ Delhi. "I can get anything done with just a phone call, I cannot do that as a private citizen. Why would I risk all this to speak up and in the end make no difference at all," he asked. I could see his venal logic, though I was a little disappointed in such opportunism and cynicism.
But, he might have to eat his words come the general elections. The people have tasted blood. They are determined to teach the old-style politician a lesson. This is something that all political parties should keep in mind. BSP leader Mayawati may at one time have invoked pride in her flock by wearing diamond earrings and being feted with garlands of crores of rupees.
But today, even the smallest of voters are not willing to accept these token gestures, they want the real deal.
The BJP begins the year on a high, its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is in your face wherever you look. But make no mistake, even though he dominated our mindspace in Delhi, the BJP did not race ahead. So, the party needs to go beyond personalities and come up with real policy proposals on the economy, on security and on social welfare. Modi has pumped up the crowds with his digs at the Gandhi family, at the Congress culture, at the supine UPA. Now he has to go beyond that.
The Congress needs to drastically reinvent itself. Its past glories and stories of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi and her son’s martyrdom will not bring in the votes. It has to come up with a viable blueprint and not just grand schemes that involve a different form of dole, half of which never reaches the people.
Certainly, I think the young have played a very important part in cutting through all the claptrap that politicians are so fond of spouting.
They want to hear what is in it for them preferably in short, succinct speeches. The politician can also no longer come up with omnibus promises, he has to get right down to the wire and address local and specific issues. Big talk of national good no longer finds any resonance. In these individualistic times, they have to be far more focused and waffle far less.
I, for one, am looking forward to seeing our netas eat a bit of humble pie.
I have to confess to nursing several grudges against them, one being how I am shooed off the road as a worthy passes by red beacons flashing and posses of security personnel waving their fins at me. Others must be fuming at the assured power and water that politicians have, at their homes into which ours would fit into the outhouse.
I am not against politicians. I just feel, as do more and more people now, that there cannot be a different species lording it over us. A little equality goes a very long way in getting people into political office. A heartening thought as this politically crucial year begins.