Afraid to challenge Modi, AAP turned municipal, while Congress joined also-rans.
Because it threw all it had in the campaign, the BJP loss in Delhi looks much bigger than it actually is. It had nothing going for it till Amit Shah took command of the campaign, overnight energized the moribund and badly divided Delhi unit into a 24×7 fighting-fit force. And succeeded in adding nearly 10% to the overall popular vote. Not a mean feat, especially considering the party lacked a charismatic local leader for chief ministership, had been out of power for over two decades and, besides, the record of municipal corporations under its control was dismal.
Now, consider what Arvind Kejriwal had going for him. One, his enormous ability to market himself. He would have done well as a salesman for a soap company. Two, freebies. Creating a financial stake for key sections of voters through free bijli, pani, bus and Metro travel, etc., are key motivators. Rewarding the benefactor, especially in the absence of an attractive alternative, was natural. It is hard to rise above self-interest, after all. Three, 16% Muslims over 90% of whom voted and voted with only one objective, that is to defeat BJP. And last but not the least, a vastly exaggerated narrative on governance. With a marginal improvement in education and healthcare, AAP went to town as if it had wrought a revolution.
Truly, it were freebies rather than anything else that mattered in the poll. This is borne out by the Lokniti-CSDS survey. If men, especially low-income, barely literate, were influenced by free bijli and pani, women were taken in by the additional perk of unlimited free rides on buses and the Metro—11% more women than men voted for AAP, the survey found.
Yes, recognising his shortcomings, Kejriwal most opportunistically refrained from taking a clear position on the number one burning issue of the day. He neither opposed Citizenship (Amendment) Act nor supported it, but, typically, encouraged his close lieutenant, Amanatullah Khan, the AAP MLA from Okhla, to instigate the Shaheen Bagh sit-out. Besides, gave tickets to Muslim defectors from Congress who are virulent anti-CAA campaigners. Such duplicity defines Kejriwal’s politics, ready to bend with the wind and claim victory when the storm passes.
Kejriwal seemed to have learnt the lesson from his poor third place behind the Congress in the parliamentary poll last May. At the time, he had publicly questioned the veracity of the surgical strikes, going to the extent of suggesting that Narendra Modi was actually hand-in-glove with Pakistan. He paid a heavy price for challenging Modi. He uttered not a word against Modi this time, Shaheen Bagh should note.
Meanwhile, if there was any loser in Delhi it was the Congress. Which shrunk from a 9% vote-share in 2015 to about 4.5% this time and, of course, zero seats on the trot. 63 of its candidates lost deposit. Such a humiliation for the grand old party in the nation’s capital ought to have triggered deep introspection. Instead, what we see is public recriminations among non-leaders, with P. Chidambaram gloating at the defeat of the BJP, inviting a quick put-down from Pranab Mukherjee’s daughter, Sharmistha, and Veerappa Moilly.
Chidambaram was like the man whose own house was burnt down but was still jumping with joy since his enemy’s house too had caught fire. He can be excused for being unbothered about at the decimation of Congress, given that he has relied on the crutches of the DMK for entry into the Lok Sabha. With leaders like Chidambaram introspecting, the Congress can forget about revival in the capital or elsewhere where a regional party has filled its space. The trouble with the Congress is that it has too many akhbari leaders—for proof, scan the Congress benches in the Rajya Sabha—and too few with genuine grassroots support.
In sum, the Delhi election saw AAP turn into a non-political Jhadhoo party, without a programme or an ideology, only with a municipal agenda, the BJP donned its full, bright nationalistic colours, and the Congress joined the growing list of also-rans.
Now, the big question: What does the Delhi outcome do for the revival of the Opposition? The answer is: Nothing. Modi was not on the ballot. His popularity even with those who voted AAP remains high. So those desperate to see the back of Modi will have to do something else. We can suggest an easy solution.
Get the Gandhis, all three of them, to solemnly commit on a sworn affidavit duly stamped by a first-class judicial magistrate that none of them will be a claimant for prime ministership, now or in the next two decades, at least. See how it galvanizes the anti-Modi crowd. Let the media champions who wage war nightly against Modi undertake this noble mission. In the long run it might profit them more than relying on a Mumbai moneybag to keep the business from going kaput.
WHEN JAISHANKAR SET RECORD STRAIGHT
Apropos the Twitter storm over the revelation that Nehru did not have Sardar Patel in the first list of his Cabinet ministers. Well-read and soft-spoken Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar threw his considerable scholarly weight behind Narayani Basu’s claim in her book, V.P. Menon: The Unsung Architect of Modern India, endorsing the claim. And, expectedly, historian Ram Guhua, a self-avowed Nehru fan, countered, saying it was untrue. Could it be that both might be speaking the truth?
Nehru was forced against his will to include Patel in his Cabinet following pressure from Gandhi and Mountbatten. Remember Patel, and not Nehru, was the first choice of a majority of the Congress Pradesh Committees for prime ministership. Gandhi’s ingrained weakness for a westernized Nehru vetoed the Congress majority. In this context, recall how he had remonstrated against Indians being categorized along with the blacks in South Africa.
Or could it also be that Nehru did not include Patel in the list feeling that the latter might decline to work under him, especially when the party had wanted him to lead the government? Remember too that Nehru did not want Dr Rajendera Prasad as President. But was obliged to accept him under pressure from senior Congress leaders. Again, he did not want Prasad to be given a second term but was forced by the Congress Working Committee, which then was peopled with those who had spines and were not afraid to stand up to Nehru.
As subsequent events fully bear out, Nehru, and after him daughter, Indira, did everything to wipe out from the public memory the stellar contribution of Patel and other greats to the freedom movement. As for Ambedkar, as far as Nehru and Indira were concerned, Ambedkar was a non-person. Nehru, in fact, went out of his way to ensure that Ambedkar did not enter Parliament or even the State Assembly, ensuring his defeat in both general and by-polls to the Lok Sabha. Only when the Nehru parivar’s star began to dim, did it start paying lip service to Patel, Ambedkar and others. Let Guha or anyone other Nehru bhakt refute this unvarnished truth.
GRANT THEM A FACE-SAVER, AT LEAST
Shaheen Bagh in Delhi is looking for a face-saver. Those who were quick to read into the sit-out inspirational republican meanings seem tired now. The government refuses to budge a millimetre. The mullah-maulvi cabal controlling it has only two options: One, to pack up and go. Or, two, continue regardless. The first will be sensible, especially when the Supreme Court has taken a dim view of a protest on a public thoroughfare. Besides, with Arvind Kejriwal, the winner of the Delhi Assembly poll, playing coy, refusing to openly identify with them, Shaheen Bagh has reason to feel cheated. Admittedly, the Congress did lend strong support, hoping it would earn the 16% Muslim vote. That vote went en bloc to AAP. Thus, the Congress has no reason to back the expensive show anymore. Under the circumstances, it is best to quietly melt away. But Shaheen Bagh must consider if Kejriwal can arrange to recite Hanuman Chalisa on television, why he couldn’t pay them a courtesy call. That seems to be the fate of Muslims, unfortunately. The party they back soon begins to treat them like untouchables.