Across the Aisle: Lessons for all in the Delhi election

Good and bad ideas will come the AAP’s way, and there are many of both kinds in their manifesto.

Written by P Chidambaram | Updated: February 15, 2015 12:22:31 am
 He will make a great beginning if he announces at his swearing-in that, for five years, he will not step out of the boundaries of Delhi — for pleasure or for politics! He will make a great beginning if he announces at his swearing-in that, for five years, he will not step out of the boundaries of Delhi — for pleasure or for politics!

There is a lesson for everyone in the Delhi election.

The Winner: In the campaign, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) avoided theatrics and played with a politically straight bat, remained focused on “bijli, paani and sadak” (electricity, water and roads), and connected with voters belonging to all classes. In government, the people of Delhi will expect the AAP to avoid theatrics and play with a straight bat. Good and bad ideas will come the AAP’s way, and there are many of both kinds in their manifesto.

The Jan Lokpal, unified transport authority, free Wi-Fi, more schools and colleges, guaranteed education loans, e-rickshaws and some others are good ideas. Halving electricity bills and making Delhi a manufacturing hub are examples of ideas that are half-baked or plain bad.

Mr Kejriwal’s biggest problem is the problem of plenty. Seven of the 67 MLAs will become ministers and one the Speaker. How will he keep the remaining members empowered, engaged and on the straight and narrow path?

I sincerely hope that Mr Kejriwal will realise the limitations of the Delhi government and its budget and deliver on his promises one by one. He will make a great beginning if he announces at his swearing-in that, for five years, he will not step out of the boundaries of Delhi — for pleasure or for politics!

The Runner-Up: Strictly speaking, there was no runner-up. We could have called the BJP the Best Loser but for the fact that it made a hash of losing the election. The problem started with the slogan Chalo Chalein Modi ke Saath. People asked, “Go where?”. If the BJP worker is honest, she will admit that Mr Modi had made — and continues to make — a number of attractive promises but has not taken the country anywhere near the promised land. Not one Bill of consequence has been passed, not one major scheme has been rolled out, and not one policy initiative has impacted the lives of the people. The kindest comment that one could make is that the BJP government is still in the first year of its term.

There were many people who had queered the pitch for the BJP. Among them were Mr Mohan Bhagwat (“one language, one god, one religion”), Mr Sakshi Maharaj (“four children”) and Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti (“haramzaadon”). During the campaign, more joined the diatribe tribe calling Mr Kejriwal “anarchist”, “thief”, “monkey” and “liar”.

What people noticed and resented was not so much the name-calling but the silence of the Prime Minister in the wake of the outbursts, campaigns and attacks that not only targeted the minorities but also insulted the tolerant and liberal average Hindu voter.
The lesson for the Prime Minister is that he cannot look in the other direction or remain silent. The lesson for the BJP is that there is no permanent winner.

The Congress: I did not say this, Mr P C Chacko said this: “There were no committees at the district, block and ward levels in Delhi.” That is the perfect script to lose an election. The Congress has been mulling over a new script since it lost the Lok Sabha elections in May 2014. There is no more time to be lost.

I believe several ideas are on the table. There will always be a numero uno, but it is good to present a picture of a collective leadership. King Arthur had his round table. Secondly, the Congress must constitute or reconstitute the committees at the block level. It is a task that can, starting from scratch, be accomplished in 12 months or less. Thirdly, the Congress must communicate its views to its cadres and to the people every day in Hindi, English and other Indian languages.

The most important lesson for the Congress is that there is no permanent loser.

The Others who did not run: These parties learnt their lessons even before the first vote was cast in Delhi. A tiger must guard its own turf and not venture into unknown territory. So, in the foreseeable future, Mr Mulayam Singh and Ms Mayawati must confine themselves to Uttar Pradesh, Mr Nitish Kumar and Mr Lalu Prasad to Bihar and Ms Mamata Banerjee to West Bengal. There is space for each of them in their respective state.

The Communists: Their pride will not allow them to admit it was a huge blunder to withdraw support to the UPA, vote against the UPA government and expel Mr Somnath Chatterjee from the party. Notwithstanding their archaic economic views, the Communists have an important role to play to ensure that the polity of the country leans in favour of the poor. In developed countries the “poor” will be the “middle class”, and as India develops, the polity must lean in favour of the middle class. It is a mystery to me why the Communists abdicated this duty.

The Voter: She teaches lessons. She also learns lessons. She must always remember that she is the class monitor. If the political leader or the government becomes uncaring or self-seeking or arrogant or vain or corrupt, it is because she failed to monitor the class.

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