The Delhi Assembly Election results confounded everyone across the board- political pundits, psephologists, survey agencies, media, government agencies, columnists, bloggers and intelligence agencies. The reason was the stupendous success of the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party), which won 67 of the total 70 assembly seats! It has elicited several brilliant articles about the cause of such a sway in favour of the AAP. As is usual, brickbats for the BJP and kudos for the AAP were a natural response. But a deeper analysis is still awaited. This article tries to do a bit in that direction.
As stated in my previous article, the election was reduced to competitive populism targeting the poor. However, the parties forgot the quality of the poor in Delhi and in other parts of India. The Delhi electorate consisted of 13.3 million, of whom close to 7 million are officially categorized as poor. Recent statistics released by the NSSO (National Sample Survey Organization) for Delhi reveal that 93% households spend below 31000 rupees a month equivalent to US$ 500 a month ( of them 21%up to 7000, 60% up to 13500). Only 67.1 % of the electorate cast their vote in the election on 7th February. Of the votes cast, the AAP bagged 54.3%; the BJP got 32.2; Congress 9.7 and others 0. The BJP got 33.1 % votes a year ago, hence it lost around 1.1% votes and still slid to just 3 seats against 31 in the 2013 assembly elections. The AAP not only increased its vote share from 29.5% to 54.3% in the same period but harvested 67 seats. How did it happen? It happened due to transfer of approximately 16% votes of the Congress and the others (14.9 + 0.9). It makes a neat total of 45.5. Along with the lost votes of the BJP and new voters added to the electorate, the AAP reached the figure of 54.3%. Therefore, it was this vote which resulted in the astonishing victory of AAP. It was less due to the popularity of the AAP but more because of the last minute disarray in the ranks and leadership of the BJP and gloom in the Congress establishment. Both these parties, in a way, were trapped by the craftily executed strategy of the Aam Aadmi Party. The AAP pricked, provoked and panicked them, The Congress Party was still nursing its wounds struck by Narendra Modi in the parliament elections held in May 2014. It had neither a convincing roadmap for Delhi nor a trustworthy leadership, because the corruption cases of its previous government of 15 years were still fresh in public memory. The rise of AAP Chief Arvind Kejriwal was due to his victory over the Congress leader and incumbent chief minister Sheila Dixit. The BJP was done in by its irritating fringe elements, who needled the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a daily basis and alienated a major chunk of the electorate. They were trying to prove to the PM that the victory in the parliament elections in May 2014 was due to them and not because of him. The fact remains that it was a vote only for Narendra Modi. If the BJP has not suffered loss of more than 1% in the 2015 Assembly Elections in Delhi, it is because of the faith of the voters in his leadership. But it influenced the transferee votes and additional votes. On the one hand were the fringe activities and on the other was the organized activity of “secular” (anti-majority) elements from political stream to the religious outfits. Churches were systematically damaged, insinuating the hand of the majority or BJP. Naked direct involvement of the clergy in issuing religious dicta to the devotees to vote for the AAP, in particular by an imam in Delhi, who has been active in politics for no less than 38 years, who spits venom against the BJP, Narendra Modi, and has received open criticism from the leaders of the Muslim community itself. He has to guard his enormous property and huge illegal income by stoking communal feelings and politics. He perceived the BJP as a threat to his business and saw the weak AAP for the present to protect his economic interests. Trapping all his opponents in the cobwebs of his creation, Kejriwal went about his business silently in the most unobtrusive manner. He is the only one in politics who has carved out a constituency for himself: it is the Urban Poverty. He has the unique distinction of working among the urban poor in Delhi through his NGO Parivartan since 2000 and actually working for the improvement of their day-to-day living. This helped him acquire a deep understanding of the real problems caused by urban poverty inspite of various welfare schemes of the government for the poor for almost a decade. While Rahul Gandhi was mocked by the media for his one-night stay in a poor man’s hut somewhere in UP during the 2014 parliamentary elections, Kejriwal never attracted any flak for working among the poor in Delhi.
All political parties have made the poor as the target for their special attention. The Congress was the first off the block by coining the slogan “Garibi Hatao” (Poverty elimination), which brought tremendous popular support for Late Indira Gandhi and continues to fuel the Congress Party’s programme in new formats like the MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) or the proposed Food Security Bill aimed to cover about 67% of the population for subsidized food grains @ rupee 1 or 2 a kilogram. The last Congress CM Sheila Dixit had started a scheme of providing lunch @14 rupees. It was followed in Tamil Nadu as Amma Thali launched by Chief Minister Jayalalitha. The communists have done all their politics in the name of the poor and the proletariat. The BJP has its own programmes under the Antodaya (upliftment of the last man in the pyramid). The Aam Aadmi Party of Arvind Kejriwal prides in the name Aam Aadmi or the common man (in the name of the party). But the poor of the AAP are different from the poor of the other parties. The difference lies in the focus on the poor, especially in the rural areas by all parties. But the AAP is the first party to have concentrated on the problems of the Urban Poor. The problem of the urban poor has been identified long ago and even a new Ministry of Poverty Alleviation had been constituted to deal with the poverty in rural as well as urban areas. However, urban poverty is a new kind of problem demanding specialist care.
The surprising win of the AAP in all parts of Delhi, East/West/North/South/Central can be explained only by understanding this problem of urban poverty. From the Rashtrapati Bhavan to Seemapuri and all other outer Delhi localities, this problem has only aggravated due to neglect by successive governments. What does one make of pockets of abject poverty, unemployment, disease, suffering right near the residence of the first citizen of India? Delhi’s pride is Lutyens Delhi; it is the shame of urban poverty. Of the total of some 7 million poor in Delhi, no less than 0.2 million reside in this proud locality. They occupy the “servants Quarters” & “Driver Quarters” and other ranks of attendants serving high dignitaries, bureaucrats, Members of Parliament, Ministers, Judges, industrialists, press & media journalists, foreign country representatives, professionals, scientists, clergy, artists, authors and middlemen. Their ratio stands at 1:6 or more as voters (for one vote of the employer, there are six votes of the employee). The 7 million poor live across Delhi. Their conditions can be appreciated only by making visits to their localities: congested, infested, degraded, narrow, miserable, depressing, dirty, dingy, doomed. Electricity & water is their immediate need. Proper housing, health care is what they require. Employment is their urgent need. Security comes next. Protection against the excesses of the police and municipal authorities is what they pay for but want to get rid of. Most of these are migrant people from West Bengal, Odissa, Bihar, UP, Tamil Nadu, North Eastern states, who came to Delhi in search of employment and livelihood and have opted to undergo all the miseries of life in Delhi in comparison to torture and exploitation back home. Worse than them are the local poor of Delhi, who have come to suffer the fall from a fairly dignified living standard to a miserable life of dust and squalor all around them; shrinking of their living space by overcrowding by poor people seeking cheap dwellings in what are called “urban villages” or “Lal Dora” villages. Any research scholar studying the effects of urbanization on village populations is bound to throw up astounding conclusions about economic, social, cultural aspects. Those who have not seen the suffering of the inhabitants of these villages due to the throttling effects of the increasing urbanization surrounding them will not be able to understand urban poverty. They are choked by plush multi-storey complexes owned by the rich, driving swanky cars; markets and malls around them where buyers look like participants to a fashion parade; the shopping bags overflowing with purchases; jewellery displayed and restaurant spends by customers. Contrasted with their life styles, it can lead to mental break downs any day: women in the farmers’ attire, tending to the buffalo, making cow-dung cakes with bare hands, pools of muddy water in the middle of the village, children playing by its side, old man coughing and youth loitering aimlessly. Look into their eyes and you will find them blank, because they are unemployed, even un-employable for lack of education or training or connection. I am not talking of some distant village in Rajasthan, Bihar, UP, West Bengal or Odissa. I am talking of the most costly place in Delhi called the South Extension. I am not talking of the last century, I am right on 2015. I am not talking of Uttam Nagar or Matia Mahal or Jahangirpuri, I am on Shapur Jat in Hauz Khas or Pilanji in Sarojini Nagar adjacent to the highly envied locality called the Chanakyapuri, which houses most Embassies! For the voters in these localities, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is honourable and his development agenda acceptable, but their urgent need is water, sanitation, electricity, health care, education facilities, equal opportunities as available to the fiercely urban segments of the population. They are frustrated. They are angry. They feel offended when politicians ask for their vote promising to fulfill their requirements if elected, but disappoint them later. They derive the pleasure of giving severe punishment to the party in power by voting the alternative which might appear a viable one. AAP Chief Arvind Kejriwal had started his media publicity by re-connecting power in houses of defaulters himself like an electrician, inciting them not to pay their bills and promising them reducing the charges to half. What else could these voters ask for? The magic worked. He accused the private power distribution companies for exorbitant price of domestic power in Delhi. The proletariat loves nothing more than the attack on the private companies and corporates. It worked magic with the masses. The Congress and the BJP tried to reason it with the proletariat and only upheld the AAP charge that they were favouring the companies at the cost of the poor people. The word poor created a new constituency, erasing the Berlin Walls of caste, community, creed, gender and region. So the Tamilians were seen to be supporting the Keralites as the Biharis and Bengalis were on the same page; even husband & wife, who seldom agree in happy circumstances, agreed for once to unite in voting at least. The reason was their common experience in all walks of life, as auto drivers, rickshaw pullers, street vendors, vegetable sellers, roadside tailors & barbers at the hands of the cutting edge of administration in the form of policeman, municipal inspectors, doctors, pharmacists, teachers. They experienced discrimination, deprivation and denigration. They were unhappy to see the difference between their condition and that of the rich. They aspired to attain the same level as the rich and famous but didn’t know how to get it. They are the right customers for whosoever can sell dreams to them. The cheats of Delhi are famous for centuries: they can sell the Rashtrapati Bhavan or the Red Fort and sell manifestos promising the moon in elections. They have been sucked earlier by others; what is wrong in giving the AAP a chance this time?
The AAP Chief Arvind Kejriwal is a product of the IAC (India Against Corruption) crusade under the leadership of Anna Hazare. The AAP is a party created by him. The party dons the Gandhi cap with little modification to claim originality but creating the illusion of a party cast in the mould of the Gandhian principles. But it is just a mirage, created against a white khadi clad Gandhian like Anna Hazare to complete the illusion, though the two caps are dissimilar! Arvind Kejriwal made the best use of the IAC crusade. This anti-corruption agitation connected him to the masses, especially the middle class in Delhi, who were disgusted with the naked loot of public funds by the corrupt Congress government in Delhi in the purchases and other expenditure on the Commonwealth Games. It was exacerbated by enormous corruption cases of coal mines allocation and allotment of 2G spectrum and many more. While the anti-corruption agitation connected him to the middle class, the focus on urban poverty connected him to the urban poor Delhi residents. There lies the mystery of the “scary” victory of AAP in Delhi assembly elections. It contains a hidden message for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to think of “smart villages” before you devote all your energies on setting up or developing 100 smart cities. You need smart villages to sustain smart cities.
The AAP did not carry the baggage of any specific ideology: left, right or centre. At core it has an excess of Naxalite jargon. It practices direct action, stirs rebellion against the system, takes the law into its own hand, demolishes every single constitutional institution from President to the Prime Minister, Judiciary, Parliament, Election Commission, political parties, professionals, bureaucrats, corporates, rich and the so called “majority”. Those familiar with the Naxal movement of the decade of the 1960s would be familiar with these antics. The Naxalbari movement had cast a great spell over the student community in those days. It was an arm of the communist party of India whose motto was that power flows from the barrel of the gun. Today it is called LWE (Left Wing Extremism). It has failed to achieve its revolution but is a terrible nuisance to the government of India as also the states affected by it. However, it needed to enter Delhi. Donning Gandhi cap makes it easier for them to hide their true identity. Terrorists and Naxalites are reported to have forged a common alliance to fight the government. They are getting support and arms supplies from the ISI (Inter Services Agency of Pakistan), which is active in reviving their sleeper cells responsible for bomb blasts in Delhi and other places in India in the past. Narendra Modi’s victory was a great setback to them. They tried their best to check Modi in his march but failed. The BJP success in Jammu & Kashmir elections rattled them as never before. Had the BJP fringe elements not played the spoiler, Modi would have sprung the biggest surprise by winning a few seats in Srinagar for the first time. Even then, a government in J&K is possible only in alliance with the BJP. It was not easy for Pakistan to stomach. So Delhi was their last hope to harm the BJP, especially the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. The ISI has been manipulating the “secular” parties & politicians for decades and has been very active in UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, North Eastern States, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab and Haryana. A sizable population from these states resides in Delhi. Their political game has been played through the clergy in Delhi. This time the preparations gave them enough time to seed disaffection against everyone excepting the AAP, whom volunteers sponsored by them infiltrated. The dominant English language media played to their tune. It was overtly anti-Modi, deliberately misconstruing the Obama speech about tolerance editing out completely his reference to the atrocities of the Crusades/Inquisitions & Muslim cult of violence culminating in ISIS. The media was hostile to the BJP and openly siding with the AAP. It is rather strange to find them disillusioned by the huge score made by the AAP. They have since been fumbling and trying to seek favour from the AAP by telecasting Exclusive interviews with leaders of the AAP they have ridiculed in the past 3 months. The media is completely foxed due to the absence of a soft punching bag called the BJP. Now the BJP is not there to “polarize” and Delhi stands united in secular colours of white and green without saffron!
The AAP has been successful in painting the Congress and the BJP as corrupt. Congress as mentioned earlier, but BJP for its work in the Delhi Municipal Corporations, where it has been in power for more than a decade now. In Delhi, checking setting up of illegal colonies, encroachments on public land or roads/footpaths and such other activities come under the authority of the MCs of Delhi. Instead of checking its spread, it is allowed for bribe in the form of weekly or daily payments. The sufferer is the common man: the vendor for the harassment and bribe and the public for the inconvenience or nuisance. Disposal of garbage is a very big problem of Delhi. How big the problem is can be gauged from the fact that the PM had recently launched the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign). Supply of drinking water, electricity and police or housing by DDA, hospitals, schools are some other areas which bring discredit to the government, whether Congress or BJP. The neglect and corrupt activities of the BJP municipal councilors was responsible for alienation of the common man. The thousands of homeless, braving the extreme Delhi cold winters, hot summers and humid monsoons under the open sky presented a picture of government apathy fully cashed by the AAP.
This strange concoction helped Kejriwal acquire the aura of a poor-man’s messiah. Coupled with Congress rout and BJP’s unthinkable blunders, the vote overwhelmingly went to the AAP, leaving the BJP voter percentage almost intact. BJP had not announced its CM nominee in time, para-dropped an apolitical bureaucrat in the last days, discredited the party apparatus, disheartened the party workers and created a leadership vacuum in the midst of the election. The people concluded that the BJP was not interested in winning the elections in Delhi and opted for AAP. That explains the rout of the Congress and loss of the BJP.
It needs to be emphasized that it was the plutocracy of the Congress and the BJP versus the democracy of the AAP in contest in this election. The AAP had chosen to pick up party volunteers from among the poor, local members of the colonies, some of whom were hardly matriculate. It gave them a great boost. When the poor are imparted dignity in this manner, a whole segment of the society gravitates to the party. This AAP strategy worked successfully, as the Delhi voter is different from the poor elsewhere. Here it is the aspirations of the urban poor, who have access to water, electricity, education and health even in the misery they suffer. They have cash in hand but not enough to buy them the humblest one room economically weaker sections of the society flat. Promising them modern dwellings in place of their shanties is too good to believe but hugely attractive. One who can reduce power tariffs can be trusted to make available houses also, so they trust! Otherwise the AAP format is no different from the Congress or the BJP or the communists: caste & Community; poor & the rich; regionalism (West Bengal CM appealing to vote for AAP, Bihar ex-CM appealing for vote for AAP etc.). This Delhi election saw regionalism in its worst form in selection of candidates and voter groups of almost 6 million from these regions. With the same old format and a massive support of school, college, Jawaharlal University, Jamia University, IIT Delhi and other professional institutions student community fervently working for the AAP, it could win only a mere 54 % vote. Seen in the context of the total electorate of 13.3 million, it is less impressive as popular mandate but huge in terms of seats won. This verdicts contains hidden fault-lines.
Delhi can afford to have only 7 ministers including the Chief Minister. But there are 67 aspirants. It means 60 of them are going to remain only MLAs. This includes those who were lucky to get appointed ministers in the earlier AAP government of 49 days. It would be expecting too much for them to keep quiet for next 5 years without the trappings of a ministerial position. What is politics if you can’t throw your weight around. Here they are going to wait long for even a meeting with the chief minister once the government gains traction. They may have to be satisfied with meeting the Deputy Chief Minister or even the minister. As the AAP has used the “filter” of the Lokayukta for others, it will not be able to maneuver out of it to permit its MLAs to get the work of the public done. The fairness or corruption of any decision in the government is to be judged on the basis of legality of the work done or not done. Politicians exercise power by freely doing illegal work all the time, reducing democracy to plutocracy. That is the greatest weakness of the Indian democratic system. Otherwise what is it that the AAP government can do better for Delhi? Can it set up another AIIMS, IIT, University, Public School Quality government schools or remove encroachment of pavements in markets or footpaths, ensure healthy fruits & vegetables free of chemical spray or acid wash, healthy street food, employment or safety of the children or women? The beneficiaries of these facilities, built from the taxes paid by us, have flown to America or other countries to make money and are selling dreams of corruption free better Delhi and India to us? They will learn their lessons soon that running government is not as easy as selling dreams in elections. The simple solutions they proffer for water and electricity are laughable. If the AAP sincerely were to fulfill the promises made in the run up to the election, they would end up adding to the Nurseries of Poverty instead of finding a sustainable solution to the problem of Urban Poverty. It would do well to ask its supporters from professional background and foreign residents or returned to devise means of tackling urban poverty in a way that makes Delhi a genuinely better place. The people of India have witnessed such hoopla in the past and collected disappointment every time, be it the Young Turks of Indira Gandhi or the Total Revolution of Jaya Prakash Narayan (JP)
The BJP ought to learn fast some lessons from this election. The fringe needs to be trained in democratic governance. They have no business to needle the prime minister on a daily basis. If they don’t understand diversity or Mahatma Gandhi, they need education. If they continue to crow around any further, the BJP must be ready to lose power even before the next election. The Modi government has to assiduously make all efforts to march on the chosen path of development, the Sabka Saath- Sabka Vikas strategy. India is under threat. The “foreign hand” late Indira Gandhi referred to is in full motion to destroy this country in the garb of secularism. The World had suffered several wars, including the two world wars, none of which was fought for establishment of a Hindu nation; they were either Crusades or ISIS kind violence in the name of Christianity or Islam. There was no secularism about these wars. The present climate of violence by terrorist organizations is nothing less than World War-III. The success of ISIS threatens all human values, in particular secularism. The 9/11 made America review its policy but the Charlie Hebdoe massacre in Paris and violence in other parts of the world in the name of Islam has compelled the developed world to formulate appropriate policies to face the threat posed by ISIS. Even Pakistan was shaken by the brutal massacre of school children in Peshawar. India has not yet given a thought to this problem. Instead the AAP has parroted the Congress, communist and other political parties’ version of secularism, going low to the extent of raking up the Batla House encounter resulting in the death of a brave Delhi police officer. While the world is looking at the validity of secularism in 2030; 2050; 2100; 2150; 2200, we in India have yet to take a serious view of these frightening developments in respect of increasing violence and zero tolerance in the name of Islam. Has the AAP, which has the advantage of youth with high quality professional training, worked out any matrix for facing the challenge in the coming years with ISIS getting Indian youth for joining them to carry out terrorist assaults in foreign countries and even India? What is their perception of the state of secularism in 2030/2050/2100/2150/2200? Will India survive the ISIS attacks and talk secularism after the next 15 or 50 years? Are they aware or oblivious of the foreign interests undermining India under the veneer of secular? They have abused the freedom of religion in India, maligned the Hindus and pose a threat to our sovereignty and survival. They are welcome to profess and propagate their religion as mandated by the constitution of India, but should not indulge in hurting the feelings of others. I personally consider religion as commerce for a handful of people, exploiting the trusting masses not unlike the politicians promising the moon but delivering more miseries.
Prime Minister Modi has antagonized the media by relying on social media. They have taken revenge on him. They are blaming him for the dismal performance in Delhi elections. There is no doubt that his image has considerably suffered but he has achieved a feat by teaching a lesson to the fringe elements who were threatening to upstage him. If these elements refuse to take their lessons even now, they are destined to suffer for the next 50 years. It would be extremely painful for all of us. We have already lost confidence in our values. Even non-violence is called a hapless person’s only option (mazboori kaa naam Mahatma Gandhi). Chivalry is gone, so when a woman s harassed or gang raped nobody ventures forward to help her. We proudly display our credo “Satyamev Jayate”, but do we really practice it? Our 100,000 rupee an appearance lawyers are quick to prove the victims as liars. You are considered dumb if you depend on truth; it is cool to be smart. Diplomacy is hard to practice in the light of this statement. We leave our parents in complete wilderness of a pilgrimage place or unfamiliar surroundings, divorce is common, domestic violence is on the increase, morals are loosening, bravery is limited to the armed forces, mercy stands replaced by unkindness and inter-personal relation have suffered at the hand of power or position or wealth. In these circumstances the media can paint virtues as vice and vice as virtue. The politician is constantly at risk of media whipping if he opens his mouth. Subjects like gender, LGBT, secularism, terrorism, morality, valentine day celebrations, are overplayed to create controversies for commercial interests of the content starved TV channels. There are endless futile and insipid debates on these subjects by people who are not even aware of the topic being well researched academic field. They join the debate and speak from the limited frame of their personal experience, which only aggravates the debate interspersed with long commercial breaks. The negativity spread by the media since morning till one retires to bed on 24×7 is enough to rob a normal person of his peace of mind for years. Do we really need to consume so much negativity? At least the Prime Minister should not provide the media opportunities for indulging in hostile propaganda like the price tag attached to his suit or 15 lakh rupees in every account, reduction in the retirement age of employees, punctuality in offices with undependable means of commutation, and secularism or prices. The media is big business and they have been dominating the government so far in the name of corruption. AAP Chief also acquired an aura provided by corruption. With fringe providing grist to the media on daily basis, a hostile media can prove very damaging.
I pose a simple question to all those activists of anti-corruption movement: what do you call under payment to domestic servants or not paying them the minimum wages prescribed under the law? Are the urban poor not lawfully entitled to the minimum wages payable to them? Will they get them recover the wages so unpaid for the last 10 years in Delhi? Will the AAP leaders and volunteers honestly disclose the details of the domestic help or servants, part-time or full time, the wages paid by them on monthly basis, leave allowed and pay the differences, if any, now and put the details in public domain? Will they expose the corruption of their parents, siblings and friends with the same amount of ferocity as others so as to kill the demon of corruption in India? Anna Hazare would do that. Can his volunteers do the same? This will be genuine service of the poor. For the present, we keep reading in the newspapers accounts of barbarity perpetrated on poor servants by the MPs, Doctors, Bureaucrats, Technocrats, women and contractors, which ends many a times in murder or other kind of assault. If this is the state of affairs in the national capital, under the trustful security of the high & mighty of society, their condition in other places in the country can be well imagined. The poor were experiencing such atrocities, exploitation and suffering before the enforcement of the constitution of India. They felt relieved for a few years. Now again they are in the same state of bonded labour doing beggar (free labour), getting punished without hope of justice. These questions assume significant in the hope the AAP is likely to throw up a new breed of leaders in India, who will be respectable members of the knowledge society, who opt for public service through politics rather than minting money through politics. If they engage domestic help without paying the minimum wages themselves, they violate the sanctity and provisions of the law they make. It is easy to find faults with others, but difficult to set an example by demonstrating a fault-free conduct personally.
It is time to deliver on promises made. There is no escape route available. The fault-lines are too many and too obvious. Unless personal ambitions are subjugated to common programme of serving the people sincerely, it will cause mass disillusion. So far there was only one voice of Arvind Kejriwal. After the results, there are Exclusive interviews with more leaders. Patch work or subsidies are not the remedy of urban poverty. Enforcing discipline is a far cry. To some extent, employees are corrupt by upbringing but the distances and problems of commutation, cost of living, falling standards of government facilities and high unaffordable prices of private services impacts the high standards of ethics of public servants. Education and health take away more than 60% of employees’ incomes. Unless public services are raised to the level of the best in private sector, things are not going to change much. Corruption is likely to change form. People will watch this Delhi government. It has the energy to change the way of governance. How successful it turns out to be will be anxiously watched.