By Vijay Darda | 16-02-2015
In the first place, a huge round of applause is in order for the Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal and his team. No amount of praise would be adequate enough for the manner in which they have surmounted the odds against them. They have overcome the combined might of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s persona, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s momentum, and the legendary organisational skills of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Indeed, they have succeeded when they were actually rated as underdogs. But the magnificence of their victory, makes it all the more special and thus laudable. In the end, it was not just a landslide win. It was a runaway victory. When this 27-month-old party ended up with 67 out of the 70 seats in the Delhi state assembly, the result was simply without precedent. That makes for 95 per cent of seats going to just one party. By converse logic it was a stunning defeat for the BJP.
Well, the size of the AAP mandate and the fact that the defeat for the BJP ended its dream run of electoral triumphs that began with state elections in late 2013, and continued through 2014, does augur well for the perception that the voter is the supreme commander in our democracy. But with the decimation of the Opposition, the immediate question that comes to mind in the context of this mandate is whether such a one-sided result is good for democracy. After all it does survive on checks and balances and its essence rests in the fact that it does not allow for the concentration of power in one entity. So, the next question is whether with such a hefty mandate the AAP will remain democratic?
This is not just a rhetorical issue. The last time the Aam Aadmi Party tasted power for 49 days, there were scenes that shocked even some of its ardent supporters. There was a chief minister on dharna, and the streets of Delhi witnessed chaotic scenes. Street protests are embedded into the DNA of this party. We have the assurances of their leaders on this count, and we can hope that this time there would be ‘responsible’ governance.
In the context of AAP’s promises, it has already been pointed out that these would require resources that far outweigh the available funds at the disposal of the Delhi state government. The ambition to get full statehood for the entity may have been endorsed by the BJP, but as we all know that there are many a slips between the cup and lip in such matters. So, the fact that the AAP leaders began their journey with emphasising this demand even before they took office could tell us something about the shape of things to come.
The other important issue is that post this verdict there has been a lot of talk about the national impact of these elections and the trend that could have been triggered by it. In this context, it has to be emphasised that the scope for a third force — other than the BJP and the Congress — has always been felt on the political landscape. Usually, this has been state specific and the gains for the third force have always come at the expense of the Congress. The rise of the third force has been quite in proportion to the decline of the Congress. In Delhi, the AAP got almost 55 per cent of the popular vote share as the Congress slumped from 25 to 9 per cent. We are always in election mode, and every year there are few states that go to polls. AAP will thus get an opportunity to test its model of third force pretty regularly, and we can be sure that henceforth in all the states where it does decide to participate in the elections, it would be seen as factor in the pre-election stage. However, its performance in government at Delhi will continue to matter in all these elections as that would be some kind of a benchmark for the people to make up their mind. It is quite possible, that even if it does not end up as a winner or runner-up in these elections, it would continue to play the role of the spoiler.
The Delhi verdict does offer a lot of food for thought for both the national parties. Even as the immediate cause for concern appears to be for the BJP — after all it got reduced from 31 to 3 and can hardly take comfort from the fact that its vote share remained the same as in the 2013 polls, as it cannot ignore the reality that it has fallen by about ten points as compared to the Lok Sabha polls. Such a fall in popularity within eight months of forming the government should be a matter of serious concern for prime minister Modi and his team. Of course, there would be a tendency to blame wrong tactics like bringing in Kiran Bedi at the last moment, but that would be missing the main message. The discontent among the voters at the government’s performance, and the growing feeling that it is not living up to the expectations are the main factors for the BJP’s rout.
In so far as the Congress is concerned, it appears that the policy paralysis that gripped the last days of the UPA-2 somehow continues to linger on with the party leadership even after such a long time has passed since the Lok Sabha debacle. The much anticipated revamp of the party organisation has not taken place and the ad hoc measures like bringing in Ajay Maken as the face of the campaign in Delhi have predictably failed to inspire the voters’ confidence. This is in an era of an aspirational electorate, and unless the party is able to break free from its traditional mould and offer the people a new deal, it would not become an attractive proposition. It has the history, the reputation and the ability to reinvent itself and measure up to the people’s expectations, but then it has to get into the act.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s gambit of using SAARC cricket diplomacy is nothing new. With the World Cup fever on cricket is in the air, and even in the past it has provided opportunities for the two hostile neighbours to break the ice. But then diplomacy needs to be practised in the Pakistani context with a lot of patience, and the road blocks need to be tackled intelligently without permitting the hostile forces to derail the journey. The two countries need to be constantly at it, irrespective of the slow speed of travel or progress.