Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Great Expectations: Will Aam Aadmi Party's 'Paanch Saal Kejriwal' Election Slogan Becomes Reality?

The sweeping victory for Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi elections is a reaffirmation of hope for many. The saffron Modi Wave has been pulled down, it has hit the rocks and dispersed into Delhi’s chaotic order. And now comes the real challenge.

Delhi is the capital of this country. It is where the hopes and aspirations of millions of people collide. The culture of Delhi is a complex mix of innumerable cultures from not only neighbouring states and cities, but many distant places as well.
To name a few – Bengalis, Malayalis, Tamilians, Nagas, Assamese, Nigerians, Burmese Rohingyas, Kashmiris, Marathis, Andhras, Arunachalis, Nepalese, Somalis, Afghans; all of us are Delhiites. We are Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jews, None of The Above; all of us are Delhiites. All of us are the Aam Aadmi that AAP claims to represent.

I write this as a young middle class, upper caste male. I am privileged just because I was born in a certain family. And this is important because in Delhi the class divide is stark and significant – it can make or break your dreams. Now, more than ever, governing Delhi means looking after the lower classes, not just the middle and upper ones. And Casteism, well, however much we want to believe it’s not a thing anymore, it is actually well and thriving in our daily routines. Lower castes live horrible, undignified lives. And if you don’t have a caste, well then this city – like many other metropolitans of this country – will chew you out. Finally, there is your gender to “complicate matters”. Women, Transgenders, Queers – essentially, if you identify as anyone but a heterosexual male, then there is another list of problems added to the already existing ones.

So yes, Delhi is where the hopes and aspirations of millions of different kinds of people collide. And today, Aam Aadmi Party has been given a clear mandate to govern – not rule – the capital of the country. To be precise, the people of Delhi have chosen Arvind Kejriwal over Narendra Modi and Amit Shah (Kiran Bedi was just a name on paper in the elections). Thankfully, we don’t even need to discuss the Congress.

Last month, Kejriwal and his team presented a 70-point manifesto to the people of Delhi. Like most manifestos, it promises almost everything a common person living in a city needs. But history tells us quite frequently, and rather clearly, that what happens after the election is not exactly what was promised before the election. Whether that will be the case for Aam Aadmi Party’s Government in Delhi, only time will tell, but here are some basic expectations I do have.

I do not write here on behalf of all the people of Delhi, because I cannot and should not. Even though I call Delhi ‘home‘ and have lived and experienced middle class life in this city for two decades, my inherent privilege has unfortunately disconnected me from the lives and realities of the majority. But it has given me an opportunity to write and to be heard.

Be Tolerant And Show Empathy
There ought to be no room for any form of racism, sexism, misogyny, casteism, homophobia and transphobia. None whatsoever. Justifying gross and violent acts against any minority with reasons such as drugs, prostitution, safeguarding women and society makes matters worse. It shows that the government does not even understand the issues of drugs, sex work and women’s safety, whether or not these reasons are even applicable is entirely a different matter.

Somnath Bharti barging into the homes of Nigerians in the middle of the night, because he was listening to the people of Khirki complaining about a drugs and sex racket is a horrible approach. He has won in Malviya Nagar this time, I hope that the incoming government acknowledges his mistake and does not let it happen again.

For someone to be in a powerful position and to be empathetic at the same time is a great challenge in today’s world. But it is the most important one. Minorities are what makes Delhi what it is, both in terms of its beauty and its struggle. I expect this government to break the pattern and actually listen to, and work for, all the minority citizens.

Listen To The Marginalized And The Oppressed
The problems of the marginalized sections of society extend beyond this region, beyond the capital of India. And the incoming government has no real control of how the Central Government operates, but it can set a serious precedent. It can stand up for those who are oppressed and still work towards building a better Delhi.

To be honest, the previous governments have done a lot for the middle and the upper class. We already live dignified and respectable lives. We have our malls, roads, Internet, private hospitals, freedom of speech and expression. We have a startup scene, we have iPhone and Android apps to find deals and cabs – not that this is the only way to live dignified and respectful lives. But what we don’t have is any concern for those living in conditions worse than ours. And the new government can change that.

The homeless need more shelters, better shelters with access to essential amenities. The labourers that are constantly thrown out of construction jobs by private contractors need housing, food and water. They need security, just like the farmers who have been pushed out even from the outskirts of the capital. Sex workers want the state and society to stop seeing them as criminals. LGBTQ citizens want Section 377 to be struck down. Women want safer spaces, be it at home, in public or at work. This list is endless but hugely important. The Delhi Government may not have the power to change laws, policies and constitutional sections, but it does have the power to listen to the oppressed, to voice for them, to support them. Hopefully, you will not approach this by building walls and hoardings around the problem.

Environment And Pollution. Period
Seriously, one cannot stress upon this enough. Successfully providing cheap electricity will do nothing if we pump the air with pollution from thermal power plants. The previous governments built more roads just so that the rich could drive their cars on them. Shopping malls were built by cutting down trees. Plus, recently the Central Government has relaxed environmental protection laws. How much longer will this go on? In the name of growth and development, we have caused great environmental tragedies.

The Delhi summer is getting hotter and longer every year. The winter is getting shorter and colder every year. Those of us with air conditioning and heating will survive, but what about the lakhs of people who don’t have the resources? I hope this government actually works towards protecting the environment of Delhi. Whether that means more public transport, higher parking rates, costlier cars, reforms to curb pollution from industries is an important debate. I expect the AAP government to engage in it sincerely.

Transparency And Participation
One of AAP’s central focus in the election campaigns has been transparency. To maintain this while in power is a whole new ball game. Who is benefiting from government contracts? The people or the contractors? How much profit are the private corporations making because of the government? Who is paying how much tax?

The Central Government is a nationalist, right-wing one. Of course that complicates matters for the Delhi government, which is not even a state in itself. The police, the bureaucracy and land control are all in the hands of the Central Government – or should I say Narendra Modi. Maintaining transparency will help the public understand what is going wrong, and where. People generally expect that a political party in power will hide its mistakes, and sweep its problems under the carpet. I hope the Aam Aadmi Party can change that. Because like we heard AAP say, it is not about the chair, it is about the people.

Participation of citizens in matters important to their lives is a must. Again, it does not mean that you barge into other people’s homes for no real reason, just because a majority in the Mohalla Sabha meeting wanted it. It does not mean that you look down upon Dalits, Muslims, Homosexuals, the queer community, the sex workers, those who choose to love outside of the institution of marriage, those who resist unjust authority in the name of religion, or patriotism. Other political parties make the same mistake in the name of vote banks.

Participation just means that you let people, all people, participate in governance of their own lives.

I know there is only so much that one can expect from a state government today. I am aware that this is nowhere close to a revolution, that this is a very minute jolt for global capitalism and its predatory nature. But this government can push for decentralization of power, for minority rights, for tolerance among people, and in the process I hope and expect that Delhi has a stable government for the next five years.

The much awaited results of the Delhi assembly polls are out and the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party has swept Delhi in a landslide, following a bitterly fought electoral battle, marked by a high-pitched campaign and much mudslinging. However, the decision by Narendra Modi's man Friday and BJP chief Amit Shah to rope in Kiran Bedi as the party’s chief ministerial candidate has not gone so well and the BJP failed to gain its foothold in the national capital. Here is why the BJP failed to charm Delhi.

Fading Narendra Modi wave
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today faced his first state election defeat since sweeping to power last year. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party to India's biggest election mandate in three decades. This time too, unleashing a slew of promises from 24/7 electricity, portability of electricity services, a corruption-free system to building a house for every slum dweller, Modi tried to pitch the development agenda. However, he failed to woo voters despite his high-pitched campaigns.

Though Modi's popularity has had a lion’s share in the BJP’s victory so far, it seems like with time, the 'Modi wave' is fading away. In the recently held by-polls too, BJP hardly managed to win any seats. In Maharashtra BJP emerged as the largest party, but failed to get a complete mandate despite Modi conducting 25 rallies.

Even in Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP could not get complete mandate. Modi may have been successful in pleasing the international community and Indian diaspora across the world. But at home, it has failed to satisfy the expectations of the people. Somewhere, the Modi wave has also been hit by his own party men who have forgotten the agenda of development and are more interested in engaging in a war-of-words than action.

Though the capital city has little say in national politics, it plays a pivotal role in the perception war. A defeat of BJP in the national Indian capital may harm Narendra Modi’s chances of consolidating power in Parliament. 

Choosing Kiran Bedi as CM candidate
Former top cop and Team Anna member Kiran Bedi's entry in politics and then BJP declaring her as the chief ministerial candidate was seen as a master-stroke by political experts, but this gamble by the BJP has not been a fruitful step for the party. Though Bedi gave a face to the BJP in Delhi, the party's campaign was marked by infighting with party workers frustrated with Bedi’s appointment.

The differences within the party was openly seen when supporters of Delhi BJP unit chief Satish Uphadyay protested in front of the party office for not giving a ticket to their leader. Meanwhile, Kiran Bedi came out with her own 'Blue Print', while BJP brought out a 'vision document' before the elections. However, unlike AAP, they did not promise statehood to Delhi. Next to Modi, the BJP was banking only on Bedi's popularity, but she too failed to woo voters.  

Division of votes
Throughout the election campaign, the Congress party, which was decimated to 44 seats in Lok Sabha polls, was nowhere considered in the fight between Aam Aadmi Party and BJP. A major portion of the Congress vote has perhaps shifted to the Aam Aadmi Party.

The exit polls had predicted first place for AAP, second place for the Bharatiya Janata Party while the Congress was placed at a distant third. Compared to the last assembly polls, the number of voters have increased significantly from 11.9 million to 13 million this time. The increased number of voters and converting the Congress votes in their favour have played a vital role in tipping the scales towards AAP.

Making the right noises
Even though AAP chief and chief ministerial candidate Arvind Kejriwal had resigned from his post just 49 days after coming to power in his last stint, voters in Delhi once again reposed faith in Kejriwal following his promise to not repeat the charade this time.

Even when the issue of dubious funding raised by the BJP created a storm, AAP did not run away from it, and insisted on setting-up a Special Investigation Team by the Supreme Court. Also, AAP had been successful in raising issues related to the common man. It also promised to provide free electricity and water. 

Mobilising cadre for campaign
Interestingly, even in a short period, AAP has been successful in strengthening its base in Delhi. Rather than just relying on social media and television interviews, AAP used a different style of campaigning to reach out to every voter. Through flash mobs, AAP grabbed many eyeballs. 

The Delhi election was considered as significant, since a victory for BJP would have increased the party's confidence ahead of assembly polls in Bihar and West Bengal. A defeat for BJP in the national capital may harm Modi's chances of consolidating power in other states.

No comments: