Fifth Column: Well done, Kejriwal

It served as a warning to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he has not delivered on ‘parivartan’.

Written by Tavleen Singh | Published: February 15, 2015 12:09:58 am

If you have read this column more than once you would know that I am no supporter of the AAP. My lack of fervour for the political party that is the flavour of this week comes from its similarities to the unlamented National Advisory Council. I detect that same moral superiority, those same good intentions and that same romantic idea that poverty can be ended through handouts. But I am delighted that the AAP won a stunning victory in Delhi. For the BJP to be reduced to three seats in a city that has long been its bastion should serve as a warning to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he has not delivered on ‘parivartan’. India’s voters did not give him a full mandate in the hope that he would govern just like the last government did. The mandate was for change and he seems to have forgotten this.

When after eight months Delhi’s voters noticed no sign of change in governance, policies, political culture or economic ideas, they voted once more for ‘parivartan’. It is true that the AAP ran an excellent campaign and the BJP a lousy one, but the fundamental reason why Delhi gave the AAP 67 out of 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly was in the hope that this fledgling political party might bring real change. You do not need to leave Delhi to see how badly India’s development model needs to change.

As someone who is as far from being a ‘povertarian’ as it is possible to be, let me say that it sickens me to see shiny malls rise out of squalid slums. It sickens me to see the finest private hospitals and schools sit beside government schools and hospitals that are a public disgrace. It sickens me to see spotlessly clean streets in Lutyens Delhi while older, historic areas of the city resemble vast garbage dumps. If you want proof, take a trip to Chandni Chowk or Mehrauli.

Nobody expected everything to change in eight months but what was expected was at least a hint of real change. This has not happened. And, what people began to become painfully aware of was that the Prime Minister appeared not to have noticed that while he was making fine speeches in foreign capital cities, nothing was changing at all in India. For Delhi, what definitely made this absence of change more painful was the sudden manifestation of ugly Hindutva.

There are those who point out correctly that there have been no major incidents of communal violence under the Modi government, but in a city that has not seen any communal violence since 1984, one burned church is one too many. In a suburb that saw the worst killings of Sikhs in 1984, there was clear evidence that aggressive Hindutva led to tension between Hindus and Muslims. If these things happened in the hope that there would be what political pundits call a ‘communalisation’ of the vote, then it is time that the BJP’s strategists realised that young voters have no interest in the tensions of an older time. Those who voted for the first time in the last Lok Sabha election were born after the Babri Masjid came down and I am willing to bet that it would be almost impossible to interest them in building a temple to Ram where the mosque once stood.

The Prime Minister understood this so well that not once during the Lok Sabha election did he mention Ayodhya. So why did he allow one of his own ministers to get away with calling Muslims ‘haramzaade’? Instead of apologising on her behalf in Parliament, would it not have been better to have announced that Sadhvi Jyoti was being sacked because what she said was obscene by any standards and completely unforgivable in a minister.

Political analysts of leftist persuasion have written gleeful reams about how Delhi was lost because of Hindutva raising its ugly head. I do not believe this to be true. In my view, younger Indians are so uninterested in such things that they would have been willing to ignore the sadhus, the sadhvis, the ludicrous homecomings if they had seen signs of the promised ‘parivartan’. They know that something has gone very wrong with the way India has developed and been governed and it is this that they want to see change.

If the Prime Minister wants proof that nothing has changed, he needs only to summon a Cabinet meeting and ask each of his ministers what changes they have brought about in policies and methods of governance. He will find that there have been changes so minimal as to not count as changes at all. When this is combined with exactly the sort of arrogance we learned to despise in the ancient regime, it becomes a recipe for defeat. This is why Delhi was lost.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

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