Gujarat was turned, at the cost of two thousand Muslims, into a Hindutva laboratory for electoral consolidation via political polarisation. It paid off. Since then a Gujarat is being done to India. We call it the Modi magic. It is in this light that the Delhi Assembly election assumes great significance. If there is one politician the BJP fears, it is Arvind Kejriwal. The reason is obvious. He has turned Delhi into a counter- Hindutva laboratory: a laboratory for reviving grassroots, pro-people democracy. The AAP is an alternate paradigm.
The BJP, for all its mammoth efforts and the evident desperation to annex Delhi, has come a cropper. It is impossible to improve on the comprehensiveness, aggression and communal divisiveness of the campaign that the BJP mounted. Delhi witnessed an all-time low in political decency and civic propriety. It was no holds barred for the BJP leadership. But it doesn’t seem to have paid off. This raises the question: What can the opposition parties, whose very existence is at risk, learn from the AAP model of halting the BJP juggernaut? This question should be of interest especially to the Congress.
Arguably, the most significant feature of the Indian electoral scenario is the contrast between parliamentary and Assembly polls. If Modi is truly invincible, he should be so not only in parliamentary polls but also in state elections. That is clearly not the case. What does this mean? The PM’s invincibility is a negative thing. It is not that he is invincible in himself, but that the absence of a viable alternative makes him seem so. You can’t blame, or praise, voters for choosing Modi when there is no one else on the horizon. In state elections, where there are alternatives, the so-called Modi magic doesn’t work; Delhi being the latest example in a series.
The magic thrives on the inability of opposition parties to evolve an alternative to him. The disenchantment is real and deepening. It is beginning to be tinged with anxiety. But there is no focal point around which this resentment can crystallise. The Modi-Shah magic seems invincible by default. The second major insight that the AAP experiment affords pertains to the need to connect to the people. It is futile to counter Modi by paying him back in his own coin. The common man is not interested in who has the sharpest tongue, or the most vituperative vocabulary. He is interested, especially in these difficult days, in who can lighten his burdens and mitigate his suffering. That is where Kejriwal scores. He goes about his work of serving the people of Delhi even against odds. The Centre did all it could, through the L-G of Delhi, to obstruct the pro-people measures Kejriwal wanted to implement. He fought it out, prevailed, delivered and added value to the life of the people.
The people must be trusted to know what is good for them, despite propaganda and communal obfuscation. That is not all. Kejriwal stayed focused on organising his party as an efficient, election-winning force. As B R Ambedkar said, a political party comprises three concentric circles of organisation: (a) the high command and the professional, full-time politicians surrounding it, is the party machine, (b) the ideological circle of traditional or habitual followers and (c) the ‘floating population’ of potential supporters, who form the majority.
The most crucial thing for a political party is to connect to and absorb this uncommitted outer circle. This is where the BJP leadership invests the most in the form of invoking communally polarising, emotive issues like anti-Pakistan, anti-Muslim and anti-Congress sentiments. They are the ‘buttons pushed’ at the centre so that the current is felt in the gallery: the ‘floating’ gallery of neutral people who are potential voters. In this respect the Congress is clueless. Regional parties are better off for being connected to the people. It is easier for the people to connect to regional satraps, who speak their language, nourish local sentiments and address bread and- butter issues. Hence Modi finds it hard to beat them; Mamata Banerjee being a case in point. For the people of a state to connect with a national leader, they need help. It is the duty of a national party to provide that help. Which Rahul Gandhi does not. It is profitless for him to compete with Modi in rhetoric.
How valorously or smartly he attacks Modi means little to the people who are in the grip of a grim predicament. To connect to them, and enable them to prefer him to Modi, Rahul needs to demonstrate his capacity to make a difference where Modi has failed the people or has hurt their interests. Opportunities did present themselves to him, but they went a-begging. Courage to resist is laudable, but it is nothing if not applied to causes and demonstrated through realised ends. Else, it becomes indistinguishable from habitual negativity, which inspires none. Had Rahul taken up any one issue in the last five years and applied himself to making a difference, demonstrating the will to deliver, he would have won the trust of millions. He did not.
It is alarming that opposition parties as a whole appear not to be bothered about the frightening vacuum in respect of the democratic dynamic of informed resistance. The PM would not have pushed ahead with agendas like the botched-up demonetisation, the abrogation of Article 370, the vivisection of J&K, the Citizenship Amendment Act, etc., but for the absence of effective opposition. Also, the regional parties that went along with the BJP in these matters would have been more circumspect. This is amply clear from the aftermath of the CAA protests. Even the regional allies of the BJP that facilitated the passing of CAA have disowned it because the people of India came forward spontaneously to fill the vacuum created by the paralysis of the opposition parties. Nothing more needs to be said about the deracination of the opposition parties and the desperation of the common man who wants to make both ends meet and live in peace and amity with all.
(The author is the former principal of St Stephen’s College, New Delhi)