Reverse Swing

Whether appeals to reason can alter reality is debatable. But Delhi reality at the moment is likely to force power-monopolists to see reason. The unexpected Delhi verdict illustrates among other things that the Indian voter can never be taken for granted. True, Delhi is not India but India is being projected as a paradise of bounty hunters through the glittering showcases of millionaries and billionaries. In one of the most stunning comebacks in India’s parliamentary politics, the Aam Admi Party (AAP) led by the redoubtable Arvind Kejriwal, scored a landslide win in Delhi Assembly elections delivering to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) its first major electoral defeat since its historic parliamentary triumph in last May and reducing the dynastic Congress that had ruled the capital for more than a decade till 2013, to a virtual non-entity. In his first stint as Delhi Chief Minister with outside support, Kejriwal had to quit after ruling the capital state for 49 tumultuous days while leaving a lot of controversial questions unanswered. AAP (or the Common Man’s Party as they would like to call it despite its diverse composition) grew out of a movement—Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement to be precise, in 2011—is now all set to dominate political arena in Delhi for five years without any headache unless something dramatic happens. With a staggering vote share of about 55 percent—in other words an absolute majority—AAP can firmly remain in the saddle without facing any effective challenge from the so-called mainstream parties that never succeeded in claiming even 40 percent vote share, notwithstanding media-hyped wave. But the million dollar question is whether they could deliver in the long run with such a brute majority which itself may prove counter-productive.

For one thing the massive victory of Kejriwal’s AAP stunned both the victor and vanquished. Change was the outcry and it made sense to thousands of voters, young and old alike, because they could not conceive of life otherwise than in the form of a ballot-battle against price rise and falling living standards. No doubt Kejriwal’s middle class constituency has finally thwarted the march of Modi’s chariot. This is perhaps the worst time ever in saffron brigade’s forward push. Modi’s party—Bharatiya Janata Party—knows it well how humiliating defeat in Delhi polls will impact on their prospects in other states where election will be held in a year or two. That Modi magic is vanishing very quickly is a fact. That a united opposition to the saffron establishment, baring in one place or two, is not emerging is also a fact. AAP doesn’t stand for radical change but even localised opposition to the rising BJP which the saffronites would like to dismiss as a minor and temporary irritant, shatters the myth of BJP’s invincibility.

Arrogance coupled with money, media and muscle power actually added fuel to fire. Only consolation part for the saffron crusaders was that Prime Minister Narendra Modi turned humble as he would personally congratulate Arvind Kejriwal on his party’s landslide victory.

No doubt Delhi’s 13 million voters is a relatively small number but it comes down to a symbolism that matters to political parties, big or small. And it is more so in a situation where the left in general and communist left in particular, is fighting to justify its relevance. The BJP won general elections across the country in an earthquake and won different state elections on the back of ‘May Momentum’ and Modi euphoria. But euphoria seems to be on the wane in such a short time—just nine months. Kejriwal’s promise of cheap electricity and water ensured that for those in the toiling community and aggrieved middle class in the society, there was only one option when they went to polling booths—it was AAP. Nobody bothered about Congress Party’s negative campaign. Nor did voters coming from the poor segment of Delhi’s population and harassed migrants from North-eastern states, believe in development rhetoric. After all they didn’t identify their cause with that of Modi who is hell bent on executing ‘reforms’ to the detriment of national interests. Then religious intolerance, just on the eve of Delhi polls, culminating in vandalising a number of churches and communal riots, did its bit. Despite significant fall in oil prices in international market, food inflation continues to rise, hitting hard the daily wage earners and not-so vocal middle class people as well. Modi’s international diplomacy came of little help when it was the question of continuing price rise of essential commodities in domestic market.

Quite expectedly the crisis managers of BJP lost no time to downplay the outcome of Delhi election, dubbing it a very localised passing phenomenon. But it was not a municipal poll either. The BJP top guns think as they usually do in such cases, ‘Delhi’ won’t affect their prospects in Bihar, otherwise perennially caste-and faction-ridden, set for an election later this year. As Kejriwal’s party is neither left nor right in traditional sense and without any long-term objective, so the AAP upsurge will subside in due season. So they think, but it may not be that simple.

In many third world countries particularly in Latin America, new forces outside the ambit of orthodox leftism, are emerging in parliamentary politics. Even Greece, of late, has witnessed the rise of Syriza, not a traditional left. In effect these new political formations in those countries otherwise ravaged by plunder and loot by multinationals, World Bank and their sponsors, pose a serious challenge to unchallenged power of multinationals, putting brakes even though temporarily on unlimited exploitation of natural resources. Whether the AAP phenomenon can attract imagination of the under-privileged and marginalised is a matter of speculation, but it is certainly a break, notwithstanding its influence basically among urbanities. And those who are utterly frustrated with the paralysis of stagnant left culture, may find an alternative in AAP. To win election riding on populism is one thing but to deliver in the field is quite another. Not that AAP is free from some deep internal cultural-political differences that troubled the party leadership over the past one year or so. It remains to be seen how they face challenges, both internal and external. AAP or no AAP, it is still impossible for a large segment of the population to breathe freely.          11-02-2015

Vol. 47, No. 33, Feb 22 -28, 2015