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Worst of times, best of times

In this assembly election, the voter has voted for governance, for ordinariness, for a clean image, for individuals who are seen to be daily companions in our sorrows and sufferings, writes Sagarika Ghose.

india Updated: Dec 09, 2008 20:30 IST

Every action has acquired an unimaginable, almost, ridiculous trajectory. A friend laughs and sits back in her chair and the question arises, will we meet again like this on a sunlit afternoon? A child runs towards its mother, the trajectory flashes out again: was there a child that was shot before it reached its mother? We brush the trajectories away. Foolish flights of imagination. Why think about them when the sun is out again and we are still alive? But the trajectories creep up on us repeatedly, reminding us that our lives are hemmed in by an invisible destiny. In the aftermath of 26/11 we have all subconsciously confronted those unimaginable trajectories that now exist in all our lives.

<b1>Yet in a curious irony, while we were enduring the worst moments in India’s collective existence, we were also blessed with a glimpse of the best. The same days that brought horrifying tragedy, were also days in which that wonderful inheritance of 60 years came once again to touch our lives. India’s democratic process, the dream of Nehru, Ambedkar and Gandhi that every destitute woman, every bewildered orphan, every homeless man must have the right to vote — that inheritance came to stand quietly by our side at exactly the same time as the terrorists invaded our homes, as if to say, look, I am still here, the dream still lives.

Four states went to the polls days after the terrorist attack. As the events of 26/11 raged, Madhya Pradesh voted the very next day, Delhi on November 29, Mizoram on 30, Rajasthan on December 4. Pundits predicted that the assembly elections would be a ‘referendum on terror’, a frightened cowering electorate would not even bother to vote or else would vote for leaders who were ‘tough on terror’. Instead what happened? The voting public turned out in their thousands, the record turnouts (almost a 60 per cent turn-out in notoriously apathetic Delhi) were like a repudiation of any attempt to break India’s soul. And what kind of leaders did the Indian voter elect? The Indian voter shunned the big slogans of ‘terrorism’ and ‘economic slowdown’ and resoundingly elected plain homespun hardworking leaders.

The verdict of 2008 has redefined political charisma. In a stunning result, a 71-year-old lady with untidy grey hair and a crumpled sari, who walks in mohallas as easily as she does in drawing rooms, who slogs away at her city bringing change wherever she can, got the vote of the young, old, poor and middle class citizens of Delhi. For Sheila Dikshit to have won a record third term as CM in a city once considered a bastion of the BJP is remarkable. In her persona, she embodies a new kind of leader that perhaps the voter is looking for. Dikshit conveys an endless source of comfort to the stressed and traumatised residents of the Capital. She embodies a spirit of sincerity. Above all she is synonymous with hard work.

Shivraj Singh Chauhan of Madhya Pradesh and Raman Singh of Chhattisgarh also won in their respective states, beating back that dreaded ‘anti-incumbency’. What do Chauhan and Raman Singh embody? Chauhan is a ‘man of the sangathan,’ someone who describes himself as a humble party worker, who does not look good on TV, cannot speak English and yet has worked tirelessly to serve his people. He’s the ‘aam aadmi next door’ in MP, the worker ant, the low profile nondescript RSS member who has not made drama-filled speeches on Hindutva or terrorism or ‘minority appeasement’, but has worked at his development schemes quietly and constantly. The voter in electing Chauhan has elected a politician who does not look good on camera but who works hard all day, does not take money (except for the single allegation of favouring a business house on the purchase of dumper trucks) and is not seen to be overly flashy.

Raman Singh, now set for a second term as CM of Chhattisgarh is known as the ‘Chawal vale baba’. He may have won because of his populist promise of rice at Rs 3 a kg, but Raman Singh is another leader who is neither flamboyant nor telegenic. The ayurvedic doctor toured his state before elections and painstakingly changed MLAs to blunt anti-incumbency at the local level. In fact, the BJP CMs, whether Raman Singh, Chauhan or even B.C. Khanduri in Uttarakhand, are increasingly emerging as efficient and popular leaders. The ‘Narendra Modi formula’ of development, personal popularity and administrative efficiency is being used by them to become genuine leaders in their states. The ‘Modi formula’ does not include hard Hindutva any more. None of the successful BJP CMs emphasises hard Hindutva or takes an aggressive ‘anti-minority’ line. The BJP leadership would do well to take a few lessons in governance from its CMs.

The defeat of Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan is once again a reminder of how verdict 2008 has redefined political charisma. This vote was for the ordinary hard worker. Raje, too, undoubtedly worked very hard for her state. But just her own glamorous persona may not have satisfied the humble and ordinary quality that the Indian voter is now looking for in leaders. In Raje’s case the gender bias inherent in the patriarchal politics of her state may also have played a role.

The Indian voter endures the unimaginable, yet he or she still sends out a sane and calm message. In this assembly election, the voter has voted for governance, for ordinariness, for a clean image, for individuals who are seen to be daily companions in our sorrows and sufferings. Politicians, take note: we are a democracy forged by fire and death. We do not tolerate phoneys and fakes anymore. We hanker above all for goodness and humility .

The writer is senior editor CNN-IBN