Election dispatch from Delhi: Aam aadmi has voted for self-rule

  • Vinod Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 11, 2015 08:32 IST

What now? How did it happen? These are routine questions after all elections. But Delhi was different. It was an election that has marked the arrival of a new India that existed without being so overtly articulate in previous poll outcomes.

Elections have to be about people. They had revolved around parties for years, and far too long. Perhaps for the first time, the voter mandated himself. He gave Delhi a party of its own!

That's Arvind Kejriwal's opportunity — and challenge — in the face of the daunting majority he has. Delhites identified with him as he voiced their concerns, fears and hopes in their lingo.

He'll have to afford them a large measure of self-rule now; easier promised than delivered.

Delhi after all is a city-state half ruled by the Centre and civic bodies under rival regimes.

Having won against odds, Kejriwal has to govern against them, a battle he won't win without sustained popular support. And full statehood for Delhi.

The BJP lost because it erred in seeking to bedazzle the voter against the AAP's better designed but relatively economical campaign.

The ostentatious ad offensive it mounted, exhorting people to be in step with Narendra Modi did not click. It sat uneasy in a discourse dominated by issues of sustenance: electricity, water, inflation, fight against corruption, security.

The BJP flagged these but with weaker resonance. Its pro-people promises were lost in its diatribes aimed at deconstructing Kejriwal "the quitter, the anarchist and money-launderer." The people would have none of it, not even when it came from the PM himself or Kiran Bedi, whom he handpicked as his CM candidate but failed even to get her returned to the Assembly. Kejriwal remained the unrivalled Mister Teflon in the popular mind.

"Arvind has human flaws. That's why he's perfectly human," reasoned a set of auto-drivers I met across my east Delhi apartment. They number nearly a hundred thousand in the city and weren't amused by the PM making light of them at a public rally.

"We aren't tricksters who ask people to sit in our autos for free and disembark for a price. We are the ones tricked by the pro-rich system," they declared.

At a street-corner in a tony south Delhi area, daily wagers at a paan-seller's kiosk seemed agitated. They asked: If the promise of distributing black money from foreign accounts among people was a jumlaa (rhetoric), what does one make of allegations of money-laundering against AAP?

Not surprising that the strategy to counter Kejriwal's appeal through Bedi brought no electoral benefit to the BJP. It stoked instead an intra-Parivar dissent that wasn't audible except for intermittent discordance.

But resentment in the rank and file was tangible as local party faces were either forced to play second fiddle or relegated to the background. A few among them went around predicting Bedi's defeat from Krishna Nagar days before the poll results.

Nearly a dozen central ministers and over an hundred MPs from other states were marshalled to manage constituencies and ramp up electioneering. Some among them came to dominate the moving picture in saturation TV coverage that teleported the campaign into living rooms across homes.

But watching them wasn't a pleasant experience. Smiles were rare; frowns aplenty.

A study-in-contrast was AAP's younger spokespersons — picture perfect, cerebrally endowed and mostly unflappable! They were a breath of fresh air in a claustrophobic poll ambience; endearingly simple Morris Minors in a glitzy Formula One event.

In fact, the BJP's gigantic poll machine made its fledgling rival look the underdog deserving support. A section of the unaligned citizenry became their volunteers in middle-class neighbourhoods.

These self-motivated groups could convince the undecided and the staunchly pro-Congress electorate to vote tactically.

The AAP gigantic vote appears a mix of empathy, aspiration and retribution. Identity could be seen guiding north eastern settlers categorized as "immigrants" in the BJP's vision paper, Jats upset with the installation of a non-Jat CM in nearby Haryana, and Sikhs suspicious of the Dera Sachcha Sauda that repeated Haryana in Delhi by declaring support for the BJP.

The Vaishya community's faith was shaken by front-paged ads mocking Kejriwal as one from the "upadravi" gotra. Call is bad imagery or metaphor. The AAP leader twisted it to his advantage, lavishing praise on the "peaceful and hard-working" Aggarwal community "vilified" for his doings.

In so arguing, he took a leaf out of the 2014 poll dictionary that had the PM cannily interpreting Priyanka Gandhi's "neech rajniti" jibe at him as being derisive of subaltern and lower castes.

How the glib-talking BJP could get it so wrong, and so soon, is mind-boggling — especially when it so neatly used political lexicon to change the discourse in the Lok Sabha polls.

The battle for the ballot was really a battle of wits, and David ran circles around Goliath. That's the closing poll dispatch from Delhi.

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