Unimpressed by power and money — that’s Delhi's message
Delhi says we’re an incredible democracy: bold, unpredictable, emphatic and unimpressed by power, rhetoric or money. Wednesday was a proud day for India’s democracy, not least because so many of its top politicians were diminished by the people who ultimately matter, writes Karan Thapar.columns Updated: Feb 14, 2015 23:16 IST
If distance lends perspective then perhaps the view from London, from where I watched the election results, can help put in sharper focus the message from the voters of Delhi. Of one thing I’m certain: they may have spoken in one loud and clear voice but they’ve said different things to different parties.
For Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party it’s a verdict of trust and expectation and, yes, wholehearted forgiveness for his behaviour the last time he was in office. I would say three aspects of Arvind’s platform attracted widespread support and, beyond that, the people of Delhi were hugely drawn by what he and AAP symbol ised.
The three were free water, 50% cheaper electricity and the belief he alone will tackle the corruption that not just vitiates the life of Delhiites but, for many, makes it a living hell. The huge scams that brought the UPA to its knees are the stuff of media headlines. But the daily haftas and liffafas were like termites that eat into the everyday existence of ordinary people and shatter their dreams.
As important is what Arvind and AAP symbolise: a different politics from politicians who were people like us. But let me venture a step further.
Perhaps AAP’s victory also heralds a new urban politics focused on the secular but common needs of city folk whose lives face a daily grind other parties either do not understand or, at least, respond to.
But there’s a warning too. It isn’t loud or even clearly expressed but it lingers beyond the resounding vote. If you don’t deliver we could bundle you out as comprehensively as we swept you in.
For Narendra Modi and the BJP the message is equally sharp and targeted. After eight months speeches, advertisements, tweets and Mann Ki Baat are not enough. The change you promised has to be delivered. Again, I would go one step further. Ghar vapsi, love jihad and Hindutva rants disturb the Indian people. They create an uneasy and unsavoury, even an unsettling, environment. India’s Hindus do not like these campaigns or this rhetoric. Some, or many, are repelled by it.
However, this is not a verdict that’s dismissive of Mr Modi’s foreign policy successes. To claim it is would be to misunderstand it. But it is a loud shout that says our first concern is the economy. For many the test of the BJP’s response will be the budget. But I suspect Mr Modi has to grit his teeth and call a Joint Session of Parliament to push through major reforms, both those that are presently stalled as well as others so far deliberately side-stepped.
Finally, the Congress. Delhi has turned its back on the party and will not look in its direction until it presents a new and credible face. It would take a miracle for that to be Rahul Gandhi. After defeat in 1979, Labour changed leaders four times before it returned to power 18 years later. The Conservatives had to go through as many leadership changes before they emerged from 13 years in the wilderness in 2010. It’s unrealistic to believe the Congress will be different.
There is one other message from Delhi: it’s the deeper meaning of what the city has done. It says we’re an incredible democracy: bold, unpredictable, emphatic and unimpressed by power, rhetoric or money. Wednesday was a proud day for India’s democracy, not least because so many of its top politicians were diminished by the people who ultimately matter.
(The views expressed by the author are personal.)