Delhi's new Valentine

India's capital begins a relationship with a new brand of politics synonymous with the Common Man Party.

    Arvind Kejriwal's party won a landslide victory in state elections earlier this week [Reuters]
    Arvind Kejriwal's party won a landslide victory in state elections earlier this week [Reuters]

    Delhi is not even a complete state. The chief minister of Delhi is like a super mayor of the city of London or New York. But then why are the recently concluded elections getting such unprecedented attention?

    Some are comparing Arvind Gobind Ram Kejriwal with Greece's new hope Alexis Tsipras while some are advising him to follow the Italy's Beppe Grillo model.

    India's capital city is perceptibly more significant than any other state, but with a population of 13.2 million it represents a minuscule number of electorate in comparison to other states.

    In size or significance, the attention the Delhi election has attracted seems disproportionate. But, then,it is important not only for the government it has produced but the "message" it has delivered.

    The broom, the symbol of the new Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party, has literally swept both the national parties to a corner, one drawing three, another a blank, out of the 70 seats which were at stake.

    There are millions of explanations being offered as the result surprised everyone, including the victors.

    Before dissecting the numbers and making sense of the outcome, it is important to understand what this mandate has achieved.

    It has halted the Narendra Modi juggernaut - a series of electoral victories in the past eight months.

    Anatomy of ascent

    The massive and, at the time, unexpected win in the 2014 general election resulted in the BJP winning almost every state election since.

    In this, Modi was supported by Amit Shah, his trusted ally, who was elevated to the party president's post to complete his stamp on the party. They went into the Delhi election as favourites.

    They had 33 seats - only three short of the majority mark in 2013 - and had won all the seven parliamentary seats in May.

    They had the momentum, a strong organisation with resources, a battalion of ministers and parliament members to help their campaign.

    They had a credible face extremely well known in Delhi circles as their leader.

    Why then did they lose, and lose so horribly?

    The outcome defies easy categorisation.

    Nevertheless, the AAP's winning of over 95 percent seats would not have been possible without across-the-board support.

    It has put the grand old party of India (Indian National Congress) on notice. If they do not do something and quickly at that, they will be facing extinction.

    Traditional support 

    Congress, which governed India for 10 years, was defeated in May's national electionsm, winning only 44 seats.

    The party has also lost a number of state governments to the BJP.

    The alarm bells could not have been clearer and louder.

    The leadership of Congress has been uninspiring, their ways have been jaded, their cadres demoralised and their connect is showing very poor signals.

    This should put the First Family, the Gandhis, and its loyalists in the think lab.

    The party's traditional support base has shifted lock-stock to AAP.

    The new party has all that the Congress had to offer - they are centrist in nature, they are secular in their approach, and are believers in a welfare state.

    Hence, the Congress should be more worried about AAP as the anti-corruption party seems to pose a bigger threat than the conservative BJP.

    Urban-rural divide

    The Delhi election has once again highlighted that there is a definite urban-rural divide, not only in terms of development levels but also in terms of approach where caste and community unite and divide their electoral choices.

    The Indian capital has gone one way, but whether the other states accept this new brand of politics remains to be seen. It [AAP] has opened up the political system, Mridula Mukherjee of Delhi's Jawaharlal University, says.

    "Congress, BJP and even the left-wing parties have become closed shops, where entry barriers are high for a normal person to get involved with political activity," she says.

    Second, AAP is "volunteer based" as opposed to BJP which is "cadre based" that gives it more flexibility to operate at different levels and keeps it energised with new ideas and ways, she says.

    This is a big plus "if you look it from the demographic perspective, and that makes them interesting".

    A few analysts, however, are also pointing out to the fact that every party which has won Delhi has went on to win parliamentary elections. Whether AAP will be able to develop the party structure for that or not is a big question.

    Politics in India still remains personality centric. If the Gandhis are synonymous with Congress, Kejriwal is to AAP and Modi, at least for now, is to BJP.

    Sociologist's warning

    Ashis Nandy, a sociologist, warns against the growing trend of plebiscite kind of campaigning which Delhi also witnessed.

    "Every election cannot be a referendum on one issue or the other. That tends to brush everything else under the carpet. This is dangerous," he says.

    Personality-centric campaign is another danger, Nandy says.

    "With growing media reach, everything is becoming about one personality and one issue. This is not healthy for our democracy and can cause shorter honeymoons for the victors - which we have witnessed in the case of Mr Modi".

    However, the good thing, he says, is that Kejriwal is "anti-charismatic politics".

    The Delhi outcome has proved that "invincibility" is only a barrier. It has proved that people would like their leaders to be humble and arrogance is not taken kindly to.

    Welfare continues to be an expectation and too much focus on Sensex and "connected companies" [in other words "crony capitalism"] may not yield the requisite dividends.

    People are in no mood to tolerate corruption and coalitions are no longer the preferred form of government.

    This Valentine's Day, Delhi will begin its love affair with a new brand of politics. Whether the rest of India will fall for it, only time will tell.

    Follow Anmol on Twitter: @bolanmol

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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