Toll on the party
The churning occasioned by the election campaign is over. As the nation awaits what is sealed in the EVMs, this interval may be profitably used to revisit what this election was about. Democracy is ordinarily constituted by two things: claims and counterclaims on one hand, and a robust respect for institutions and procedures on the other. Elections and campaigns presuppose the latter while continuously reworking the former. So, how did this election fare on these two basic criteria?
In the recent past, campaigns have produced claims on behalf of the Hindu community as well as on behalf of the backward castes, galvanising electoral contests during the 1990s. Later, especially in 2004, the Congress party tried to wrest the initiative by bringing back the language of poverty and the claims of the aam aadami. So, did these elections reconfigure the claims and counterclaims of various social sections?
There was a deafening silence on this front as far as the state parties were concerned. This can be understood if we take into account the fact that most of them are ruling parties, or were ruling parties in their respective states till recently (barring the state parties in Andhra Pradesh). More than ideas and claims, they were worried about their performance records. So, we did not witness any new — or renewed — claims on federal grounds or based on social justice. Many would have expected a substantive discourse by the Aam Aadmi Party. The party certainly captured the imagination of many new entrants to politics and made an important claim: a claim on behalf of the ordinary citizen to reclaim politics. But as it spread itself across the length and breadth of the country, this claim was stretched thin. Besides, such claims, made on behalf of the common citizen, tend to be appropriated by those who think that they are genuinely representing the common citizen. The AAP got somewhat overburdened with such self-appointed claimants and in the process, the purpose of its claim was deflected. Third, the language of bravado and permanent confrontation adopted by its national face, Arvind Kejriwal, contributed neither to enriching nor to communicating the substance of its message to the audience. It generated a lot of sound and fury, but in reconfiguring the claims, the AAP’s campaign was not very successful.
The record of the two larger parties is most dismal. At the beginning of the campaign, or even earlier, there were indications that this election would be a battle over three ideas — all three coming from the BJP. These were: development, nationalism and “Congress-mukt Bharat”. The Congress did not even try to engage the BJP on its idea of development. This continued…