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An election out of the ordinary

  By Vijay Darda | 02-02-2015

Over the next week, the people of Delhi will vote for their state assembly, and then during the mid-week the results would also be known. The electoral battle essentially began as a cakewalk for the Bharatiya Janata Party under the almost unchallenged leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the party president Amit Shah. All the seven Lok Sabha seats from the national capital had been bagged by the BJP a few months ago. The 2013 assembly polls runner-up the Aam Aadmi Party was yet to pick-up the pieces after the big loss of face and credibility. In so far as the Congress was concerned, it had not even begun the process of putting its house in order.

But then it is not for nothing that a week is described as a long time in politics. Far from being sure of romping home comfortably, the ruling party has been showing signs of extreme nervousness. In the first place, the party underwent a major strategic shift. In the state elections that followed the Lok Sabha polls, it had gone into the battle without declaring the chief ministerial candidate. Thus Devendra Fadnavis (Maharashtra), Manohar Lal Khattar (Haryana) and Raghubar Das (Jharkhand) were all projected at the first election rally for Delhi as ‘common men’ who had become chief ministers thanks to Modi’s approach towards picking up state leaders. Now the same approach was to be followed in Delhi as well. The chief ministerial candidate was not to be declared before the polls. However, things changed after this rally itself. In fast moving developments, Kiran Bedi, the retired IPS officer and a member of Team Anna, was not just inducted into the party, but also named as the chief ministerial candidate.

Clearly, the positioning of the battle had been changed. Instead of the usual Modi versus the rest, it was now Bedi versus Kejriwal. This was also acknowledgement of the fact that the former chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had been back in the reckoning, and his standing with the electorate as reflected in the pre-poll surveys was clearly making the BJP uncomfortable. The party could not afford a Kejriwal versus Modi battle in Delhi. So the strategic shift was introduced and it was converted into a Kejriwal versus Bedi contest. It made sense as well considering that both had been part of the Team Anna that ran the India Against Corruption campaign.

All through 2014, the ‘total election’ concept that has been implemented by the Modi-Shah combine not just down to the booth level, but to almost every voter has paid rich dividends for the BJP. It is this strategy that combines all the elements of advertising, social media campaign, booth management — leaving virtually nothing to chance that has seen the BJP capture areas like Maharashtra and Haryana and even Jammu and Kashmir in unprecedented number. The same approach is being repeated in Delhi and the fact that Union ministers are holding daily briefings from the state unit office, and ministers from various state governments have been deployed down to the constituency level, shows the determination of the party to put everything into this battle. Now, this can be interpreted as a sign of its nervousness or alternatively of its desire to make sure that nothing goes wrong. It obviously follows that whereas the activities are prima facie carried out within the four corners of the law, but then nothing — no effort or expense is spared to win the contest. The rationale for getting ministers to campaign is also quite elementary — they are party workers first and then the holders of any office.

The impact of this total election approach can be seen in its emulation even in the lesser known elections like those to the local bodies in different states. The desire to win an election without sparing an expense or effort manifests in the enormous use of money power to an extent that it raises very fundamental questions about the entire democratic process. It is not unknown for the candidates to the post of panch –the elementary member of the three tier panchayati raj — to spend lakhs of rupees in offering gifts, liquor and cash to their voters. The fact that these elections are beyond the purview of the Election Commission, and thus are not subject to the usual supervision by expenditure observers, only adds to the free flow of money. But then to be realistic enough, even the paraphernalia of all the observers and the various cash hauls hardly makes any measurable dent on the role of money power. The Election Commission may serve warnings to leaders like Nitin Gadkari and Arvind Kejriwal when they call upon voters to accept cash from all those who offer it but exercise their franchise in favour of their respective parties, but this hardly conceals the reality. Money power plays its role in influencing the outcome of the polls and the Election Commission is a paper tiger in this context. If money power is one aspect, then the use of intemperate language is the other one. Without pointing fingers or taking sides, it can be asserted that just as no expense is to be spared, then similarly there is no verbal arrow that has to be held back.

It is in this backdrop that the maturity of the voter needs to be appreciated. Cutting through all the campaign noise, and overcoming all the temptations and inducements they come up with a verdict that makes political sense. The Delhi voters’ verdict in this context will have a larger than life significance. It would not only decide the shape and future of the Delhi state government. But then it would have an impact on the course of national politics as well. The BJP wants to consolidate on all the gains have accrued to it so far, whereas its opponents are looking for that single breakthrough that could dent its winning run. In terms of numbers nothing much would change, but then there would be major changes on the larger political landscape of public perception. All this makes it an election out of the ordinary.

Before I conclude…

An important outcome of President Barack Obama’s three-day visit has been the definitive delinking of the Indo-Pakistan axis in the context of the American strategic approach to our continent. Given the American influence (material and strategic) in Pakistan’s affairs, it could be expected that in the days to come, bleeding India with a thousand cuts may not remain a viable option for Pakistan. Its shakers and movers may not genuinely imbibe this as a policy approach, but with the change in America’s stance, this would cease to be a feasible strategy.


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An election out of the ordinary


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