By Siddharth Srivastava
NEW DELHI: The results of the recent assembly elections in Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan underline strong indicators for future. Political parties that ignore these will be upstaged, as the Congress found out the hard way.
Thinly spread welfare measures are no good without addressing and understanding the real aspirations of the people. The Aaam Aadmi Party (AAP) has found support from the rich, poor and the increasingly assertive middle classes.
Residents of slum clusters, middle income colonies in East Delhi and tony Greater Kailash BMW owners have voted for Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP. The electorate across caste, class and religion espouses similar expectations from their elected representatives. Indians are united in their disdain for corruption, high handed government functioning and inability of the leadership to deliver on basic civic amenities, law and order and governance. They seek employment and income rise.
These matters affect everybody, businessmen and blue or white or pink collar workers or the impoverished. The massive victory of Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh for the third consecutive tenure highlights yet again that voters will back a clean leader who understands people’s need for socio-economic mobility via development, growth, infrastructure building while retaining the need to help the poor in a focused way. Chauhan joins the league of repeat performers such as Narendra Modi or Naveen Patnaik.
The voter, literate or illiterate, fully understands that doles such as free food are not long-term solutions. They are just clever vote garnering stratagems of politicians. It is skill building and education that matter. Indians vote emotionally at times, but never foolishly. Thus, identity politics centered round caste, religion, minority appeasement is not finding resonance with the electorate anymore.
In Delhi, people voted for AAP due to its positive agenda against corruption. In Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot has been rejected. BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, given his aggressive pro-growth manifesto backed by performance in Gujarat has made an impact in Rajasthan. It would, however, be premature to say there is a Modi wave in the country, rather there could be none. The AAP performance in Delhi underlines voter misgivings about BJP’s communal antecedents, including the blot of 2002 Gujarat riots. People will not hesitate backing a greenhorn political outfit such as AAP, given BJP’s fascist baggage and non-performance of the Congress government under Manmohan Singh.
At the same time, AAP is not all bad news for BJP or Modi, especially in politically more significant states such as UP or Bihar, as the message from the assembly elections is people want their leaders and government to change their life for the better. In such circumstance, Modi with his growth-development agenda could appeal across India’s Hindi heartland, especially youth and first time voters, who seek a decisive leader who delivers.
In UP, for example, the powerful regional outfits Samajwadi Party or Bahujan Samaj Party have so far relied on caste and religious equation to retain power. In such contexts, it is possible that the BJP could make inroads due to the electorate’s frustrations with the existing parochial political outfits.
However, the emergence of AAP does queer BJP’s standing, even though it is too early to make a definitive judgment about AAP. So far it has been a party on a fault finding mission. AAP’s intentions are good. It has caught people’s imaginations and is looking to spread to other centers, including Mumbai, Bangalore. It intends to fight the Lok Sabha elections. However, once ensconced in power, bringing about systemic changes will not be easy. Recall VP Singh.
He was voted to power due to his anti-corruption crusade. Singh, however, failed the country miserably. His abiding legacy has been divisive caste based politics in India. Further AAP’s views on matters concerning the economy, foreign investment and business continue to be suspect and anachronistic.
Yet, there is no doubt the political space of the two national parties BJP and Congress is narrowing, unless they get their act together. The Congress faces annihilation in the general elections next year. Today, its existence as a political force has been wiped out in almost all states of India.
The mother-son Gandhi duo Rahul and Sonia need to introspect. Their top down high command NGO style welfare politics has failed. There is need for Congress to build local and grass root leaders that understand the pulse of the people, rather than sycophants. The Congress has refused to change though the writing is on the wall that it needs to get its act together. Insouciance has given way to arrogance. The BJP is doing better with considerable bench strength of high performers in North India. There is already talk that Chauhan could be an able moderate replacement for Modi, like Atal Behari Vajpaee was to LK Advani, should such a need arise in a coalition setup. General elections in India next year look to be a fight between BJP, the regional parties and dark horse AAP. The Congress is out.
(Siddharth Srivastava is the author of An Offbeat Story which can be bought here)