Let’s hope Shri 5000 Bottles loses

Let’s hope Shri 5000 Bottles loses

By M.J. Akbar | 31 January, 2015
One learns that Shri 5000 Bottles might be a trifle old-fashioned. Others of his partisan ilk do not indulge in anything so step-heavy as direct disbursement of bottles. They distribute unsigned, and therefore untraceable, chits to men on the take.

How many men do you need to cart over 5,000 bottles of whisky into a Delhi warehouse on the eve of an Assembly election? Fewer, certainly, than the number needed to transfer this elixir to the men it is intended to influence. These bottles were discovered after a raid by the Election Commission, and were clearly intended for voter manipulation since this was illicit hoarding. A legal distributor of spirits does not hide his wares; there is no reason to.

Here is more evidence that corruption requires some serious managerial skills. Obviously, the accused — a candidate owing allegiance to a self-styled saint — will deny any malfeasance. To accept would invite punitive action from the Election Commission. Enquiries take their time, and elections will be long over before they are complete. In this fog, you can mask the truth from media, and brazen your way through the campaign. But there is one category which knows the truth: the voter. After all, the consumption of spirits is spirited business, and only alcoholics or depressives do this alone.

One learns, after a little mild investigation, that Shri 5000 Bottles might be a trifle old-fashioned. Others of his partisan ilk have devised a smarter way of achieving the same purpose. They do not indulge in anything so step-heavy as direct disbursement of bottles. They distribute unsigned, and therefore untraceable, chits to men on the take. These chits are honoured by a designated liquor vendor, who passes on a bottle.

The incident begs a question or two. Let us work on the fair principle that what is discovered constitutes only a small part of what has been stashed. The total requirement of Shri 5000 Bottles could easily be double, or three times what has been seized. His expenditure on political whisky alone therefore is at least Rs 20 lakh and almost certainly much more. This candidate's total election spend, by such standards, is going to be above Rs 2 crore. And he will be the nominee of a party that insists that its core commitment is honesty in public life.

God save Delhi from such honesty.

Does such bribery work? At best, very partially. Indian society is in constant, and progressive evolution. One healthy consequence is the emergence of new electoral demographics, groups that vote outside the conventional arithmetic of victory, based on caste and creed. They still exist, and will be evident in the Delhi polls as well, but they no longer command decisive space in the process.

In the plethora of statistics that have emerged out of the recent Jammu and Kashmir polls, there is one which is particularly interesting: 2,635 valley Kashmiris voted for the BJP candidate Masood ul Hassan in Hazratbal, which is on the edge of Srinagar, and on the banks of the Dal Lake. This may not seem too vast a number, but it represents nearly 10% of the votes cast, and is more than two and half times the support that Congress got. Hazratbal is a very special place, world famous for the shrine which is home to a very special relic, the Mo-e Muqaddas, a hair of the Prophet Muhammad. Who were these voters who punched the machine in favour of the lotus? They came from a new community, for whom development and jobs are far more important than ethnic or emotional considerations. Elsewhere in the country, the development constituency is becoming the largest component of the vote.

Women and youth are in the vanguard of this vote. In Delhi, women are trending heavily towards BJP for two very good reasons. As is evident in both his powerful oratory and in policies like the "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" movement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made gender equality and women's empowerment a signature theme of his governance.

This has already created strong levels of empathy. Second, women trust Kiran Bedi to understand their deep sense of insecurity in a capital seething with angst of many kinds. They are also convinced that, as an experienced police officer, she will do something more than provide verbal assurances.

Corruption, security and a far better quality of life are the three primary demands of the Delhi electorate. The leadership of Narendra Modi, and the executive authority of Bedi in Delhi, offers reassurance on all three concerns. AAP's support, in comparison, is coming from the emotional vote, or from those who are still infected by the politics of fear. This is a reflection of ground reality, not a judgement. In that sense, AAP represents the politics of the past.

Delhi's heavily mixed electorate often encourages commentators to believe that it is a microcosm of other parts of India. This is a fallacy. Every voter makes up his or her mind on the basis of problems in the immediate environment, not on what happens elsewhere. And so while JD(U) might get some play in Bihar, it gets none in Delhi among Bihar-origin voters.

We all hope our preferred party wins. But equally, we can all agree on one: that Shri 5000 Bottles loses.

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