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HindustanTimes Mon,24 Nov 2014

Kirron’s the heroine, Gul has key part

Aarish Chhabra, Hindustan Times  Chandigarh, May 18, 2014
First Published: 11:36 IST(18/5/2014) | Last Updated: 18:13 IST(18/5/2014)

Elections are tough for journalists, even for those who sit on a desk and claim divine right to wisdom. I wanted to watch Godzilla-3D that released this Friday, but May 16 meant slogging it out for 12 hours and watching The Grand Saviour and The Mummy instead. Now it’s time to pontificate.


It appears that Chandigarh has chosen pragmatic politics over well-intentioned radicalism. Even though Kirron Kher was only a compromise to quell infighting in the BJP, she was carried through by the Modi juggernaut.

The second spot also went to a wily old politician, sitting Congress MP Pawan Bansal. But, against all odds, the AAP finished such close a third that Bansal has effectively quit politics.

Drawing-room assessments by lofty-headed liberals, including yours truly, had said Kher and the AAP would aid Bansal by dividing anti-incumbency votes.

Also, that Bansal would prove too strong for a dummy like Kher and a naïve party like the AAP, particularly in his strongholds in villages and slums.

But in the face of an aspirational surge that placed BJP’s PM pick Narendra Modi as the candidate from every seat, the Congress cadre vote proved too little.

And, though this is hard to acknowledge for someone who cannot hail a leader who sells a heady mix of majoritarianism and material growth, I see that Bansal is wrong when he says it wasn’t Modi but just an anti-Congress wave.

Had there been just an anti-Congress wave, the assessments would have worked and he would have scraped through. In a Modi-versus-Bansal equation, the BJP won despite Kher.

To her credit, Kher never put up any pretence of being a candidate. When HT held a panel discussion with the candidates, AAP’s Gul Panag asked Kher, her senior from Bollywood: “Are you fighting to become a representative of the PM or of the people?”

Kher replied dismissively that she would rather represent the PM, and people would get their due automatically.

Now that the Messiah of Majority has to behave like the PM of the People, it’ll be interesting to watch how Kher handles the role of an intermediary.

Posh-sector yuppies hardly have problems beyond their pizza getting late; but Kher led in all rounds of counting and was a top pick even in villages and slums.

Difficult choices will have to be made, as she’s not just the MP of those who see maids getting late as the biggest problem when slums are demolished. Slums are so dirty, you know.

Where the candidate did prove key was for the AAP. For a party held together by volunteers, and which had to earn each vote, getting over 1 lakh means it convinced 24% of the voters to pick the ‘broom’.

Congress and BJP, even in their worst days here, start with nearly 1 lakh, thanks to cadres and core beliefs.

The AAP success happened despite the party having no imaginable shot at forming the government and having botched up Delhi. Much of the credit goes to the spunky candidate.

Indeed, after the AAP’s Delhi assembly success, people in Chandigarh — like in other constituencies that wanted to be part of India’s latest revolution — were waiting for Lok Sabha polls and an AAP candidate.

That dissipated after a deal with the devil led to AAP forming a government in alliance with the Congress.

It turned to disappointment, even irritation, after Kejriwal and party resigned in a huff. Worse, the AAP made an ill-informed choice in Savita Bhatti, widow of satirist Jaspal Bhatti, as its candidate.

She proved to be a quitter. As the replacement, Gul faced an uphill task made even steeper. But she earned even more admiration than her vote share, exuding the charm of a young, confident woman, and the smarts of a new Indian who remains angry towards our unequal system.

Unlike Punjab, where AAP got all of its four seats, Chandigarh had no anti-incumbency against any SAD-BJP regime to counter Modi. Many in AAP believe Gul would’ve done better had the voting in Chandigarh not been held 20 days before Punjab.

But all that is over, the future is here, and the real deal starts now. Kher’s success will depend on how she handles issues that have been mere vote-catchers till now.

Bansal is out of the way, but the Congress can make a comeback if Kher remains a dummy and Modi fails to keep his gigantically vague promises.

The AAP’s success will depend on Gul’s participation in Chandigarh’s politics. She may be a loser today, but must not prove a quitter.

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