The real development

All parties speak of development, but in Delhi, voters have expressed their preference for the AAP’s understanding of what it means.

Published:February 12, 2015 12:00 am
The idea of a corruption-free government, close to the people, focusing on their immediate needs, won the day. The idea of a corruption-free government, close to the people, focusing on their immediate needs, won the day.

By: Gurpreet Mahajan

Arvind Kejriwal’s sincere apology for past mistakes and the AAP’s electoral manifesto may have won them some votes, but an emphatic win in 67 of 70 seats was possible only due to the disenchantment with the BJP. When we look at the stunning defeat suffered by the BJP, this is the only possible conclusion. In the general elections that were held just a few months ago, the Congress lost a substantial portion of its vote share and its support base seemed to have moved to the BJP. In this assembly election, the Congress vote share dipped even further, but its sympathisers did not turn to the BJP. This time round, they looked elsewhere and found in the AAP a better alternative.

It is difficult to accept this harsh reality. For this reason, many are suggesting that the resounding victory for the AAP is simply inexplicable. There is no doubt that the numbers stacked by the AAP were unexpected; a safe majority had been predicted by pollsters, but a clean sweep was far beyond anyone’s expectation. But it would be a mistake to assume that the unexpected is also inexplicable. Just because we cannot predict accurately does not mean we cannot make sense of why it happened. One must, therefore, analyse the verdict and confront what it says.

From the time that Delhi voted in the last general election to this assembly election, nothing much had changed. At that time, and even now, Kejriwal continued to be labelled as a whimsical anarchist, a “bhagoda”, someone who could lead a protest but not govern. On the other side, there stood, then and even now, brand Modi with the promise of a strong, confident India, with high growth and world-class cities. So the rhetoric in Delhi around both these elections was much the same; yet, this time it was assessed differently.

Against the scam-ridden Congress, Narendra Modi’s persona, his style of campaigning, the promise to deliver good governance and development seemed to convince many voters. Those who were looking for a viable alternative to the Congress moved towards the BJP. Just eight months down the line, they are beginning to look again for a better alternative and Delhi voters have now put their trust and hope in the AAP.

Modi had secured for the BJP an impressive win by getting 31 per cent of the vote share; Kejriwal has upped the ante by getting 54 per cent of the vote in Delhi. No doubt, the expectations are high and the AAP has a tough job ahead. It has to fulfil the promises it made, sooner rather than later. It has laid out not just policies but tangible things that it would deliver; so people will keep count and maintain a checklist. The opposition will also not let it off the hook or allow the electorate to forget what was promised.

The AAP’s task would be made even more difficult by the fact that it would have to walk a tightrope. They could not have won such a large number of seats with substantial margins without winning the support of different social groups and sections. So, all of them will expect the party to attend to their specific concerns. Striking the right balance between competing interests will not be easy. Even the AAP’s promise of greater participation for the people through mohalla committees, along with greater say and control over the use of funds in that area, is bound to throw up conflicts and power tussles that would need a great degree of dexterity to resolve. They have an unenviable job before them, but the challenge before the BJP at this moment appears to be even more daunting as it is expected to take a hard and critical look at itself, its agenda and its functioning.

Development was the plank on which the BJP contested and won the last general election and it was the rallying call in this assembly election too. All parties spoke of development, but the voters have shown a preference for the AAP’s understanding of development. They may still want a high growth rate, bullet trains and safe nuclear energy, but what they want even more is that their immediate needs of water, affordable power, housing, better health facilities, cheaper vegetables, be attended to first. Clearly, they seek greater priority for and action on — not simply rhetoric or a blame-game — women’s safety and the accountability of public officials. Peaceful coexistence, religious harmony and less moral policing are also high on their list of preferences. To the Delhi electorate, the AAP seems to be more attentive to these aspects of development while the BJP appears to be on a different page altogether.

No doubt, the BJP will go into a huddle pretty soon and introspect. But one thing we have learned by looking at the Congress experience is that a politics based on the personality cult, top-down leadership, with a small and select coterie of the chosen few, does not lend itself easily to course correction. It would be relatively easier for them to comfort themselves and say that this is the result of just one state election. After all, Delhi does not represent India and what surfaces here need not be duplicated elsewhere.

All this is certainly true. But the Delhi election is an apt reminder that in a democracy people’s support is always conditional and subject to continuous assessment. Change is not only possible but never far behind. In Delhi, the idea of a clean, corruption-free government, close to the people, focusing on their immediate and most urgent needs, offering safety and security to all, won the day. The AAP became an embodiment of that idea and received overwhelming support. So long as this need remains unaddressed, similar political experiments will continue to surface and people will continue to script similar success stories that may baffle the more established political parties.

The writer is professor, Centre for Political Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi

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