“Maen akela hi chala tha
Jaanibe manzil magar
Log saath aatey gaye aur
Karavan banta gaya”
(I was alone when I set out towards
But people kept joining in and it
became a bustling caravan)
Thanks to AAP, there is a new kind of thrill in the air. The pool of drivers leaning against their awkwardly parked cars in my lane, sharing one newspaper, are suddenly looking smarter in their winter wear. There is a certain bounce in their tread as they open the doors of cars, and slam them carefully and drive their employers away.
Raj, who looks stately on the wheels of my modest jalopy, has recently not been very communicative. My inquiries about his voting preference drew a blank. This stoked my lately acquired communal reflexes: when people don’t share with me their political inclinations, I assume they have decided to vote BJP and that they feel they should not share this detail with me. But the problem is inside my head because contrary to my suspicions, all the drivers, indeed scores of others who work in the neighbourhood, have gone and voted AAP. Why then were they secretive with me?
It turns out that in their minds it was a “class” thing. ‘They’ as a class had voted AAP. And they saw us, notches above them in lifestyle, as affiliates of the corrupt system AAP sought to upturn.
The refreshing thing about this Delhi election is that those being driven by Raj and his cohorts have, in many instances, also voted AAP. Just as Mir Taqi Mir felt ‘hemmed’ in by the walls of the city, so too were a section of the ruling class suffocated by the two stale ruling parties. This split in the ruling class has to be watched.
The electorate had handed to AAP the best possible result: crowded opposition benches to menace any ruling party. The BJP’s performance in the state would remain in critical focus. The momentum AAP had built up would have enabled it meanwhile to stitch together organizations in other states, harness the phenomenal energy it has unleashed, connect with likeminded souls ploughing some lonely furrow elsewhere.
AAP volunteer groups are mushrooming in unexpected enclaves. These groups are even working on devices to keep donations kosher. In my 40 years of covering elections, I have never seen anything quite like this. Unfortunately, AAP will have to refashion its gameplan in the event of a re-poll in Delhi. It will then have to prepare for power in Delhi, not the best prospect for an inexperienced team.
The outcome of these elections have not been bad for the BJP but there is enough in these results to question the promised Modi magic.
The Congress is too large to become a cipher but the party has been on its knees at least since 1996 when P.V. Narasimha Rao’s perceived inaction on the fall of the Babari Masjid brought it down to 140 seats in a house of 543.
The 1991 elections were peculiar. Had Rajiv Gandhi not been assassinated half way through the elections, he would have had to sit in the opposition. Even with the sympathy wave after his assassination, the Congress could only muster 244 seats, leaving it to Narasimha Rao’s wiles to manage a majority. The winning mark is 272 seats.
One of the great puzzles of recent Indian politics is the equation between what Congressmen insist is Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s charisma and the party’s electoral fortunes.
Sonia Gandhi took over the party from Sitaram Kesri, who was party president in 1998. Kesri could claim his party won 141 seats, which is one more than what Narasimha Rao could claim in 1996.
When Sonia Gandhi was at the helm in 1999, the party slid to its lowest ever: 114 seats. However, it did pick up to 145 in 2004 when Manmohan Singh was nominated prime minister. The quantum jump to 206 in 2009 was attributed to the youth surge, minorities boosting the Congress in Uttar Pradesh and, of course, Andhra Pradesh.
On Andhra Pradesh, the party is attempting the impossible: to pull the rug from under its own feet.
Why Muslims will circumvent the Congress is a subject for a separate article. Nothing has annoyed the minorities more than Congress smugness, communicated by word and gesture, that with Narendra Modi looming so large, “they have no option but to come to us”.
And now emerges a third option in the form of AAP gifted with a winning formula: people are fighting this election. If AAP can keep away from sectarian vote banks and the clergy as vote getters, they will have rediscovered the dictum: the whole is stronger than the sum of its parts.
The youth soufflé has gone flat because Rahul Gandhi probably doesn’t want power right now. Remember what he told the Confederation of Indian Industry in April.
“As opposed to parliament and state legislatures there were 2.4 hundred thousand village panchayats. It were these that had to be ’empowered’ as the nodal points most in contact with the people. Legislators and policy makers have to develop institutional mechanisms to liaise with Pradhans who implement policy at the village level.”
A project of such extensive architecture sprouting from the mind of Rahul Gandhi may take a decade before the crown prince readies himself for governance. After all, he has plenty of time ahead of him. I had written in April: “He will be only 48 during the 2019 elections and 53 for the 2024 election. By that time all other parties will have exposed themselves as rotten or so he reckons. Only the structures Rahul will have built will deliver unto him the absolute majority without which Prime Ministership is a crown of thorns.”
It is quite another matter that by that time there may be no Congress left to restructure.
(13.12.2013 — A senior commentator on diplomatic and political affairs, Saeed Naqvi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed are personal.)