The Indian voter is an astonishing creature. He looks everything that he is not. The men and women in those long, winding queues before
polling booths appear docile and innocent, a submissive type who wouldn’t harm an ant. Get closer and examine their faces; they
still look like a gentle, easily handled and undemanding lot, a flock of sheep, really. When they come out of the booths, their fingers stained with democracy, their faces are as expressionless as Manmohan Singh’s.
Then the results come.
Then shock waves spread.
Because the world learns that the sheepish-looking herds were in fact tigers, that they had caused bloodshed in the booths, that these docile, expressionless, innocent citizens are giant killers, that they not only have the power to strike but also the wisdom to know when and where to strike.
Remember 1977? Indira Gandhi, the invincible Indira Gandhi, made yet more impregnable by the Emergency, was given a beating by the voter that shocked the world. The voter had no one in particular to vote for. But he had someone to vote against. When those who assumed power by default turned out to be a circus troupe, the same voter had no hesitation in booting them out and bringing back a subdued, if also more insecure, Indira Gandhi. The same thunder was heard last May. To The Family that held the Congress party in bondage, the people have been saying what Cromwell told Britain’s Long Parliament in 1653: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.” But The Family wouldn’t go. So the Mighty Indian Voter punished the Congress so summarily that it could not even become the official opposition in Parliament. The Family still wouldn’t budge. The voter, this time really angry, penalised the party with the biggest humiliation in its history—a duck in the Delhi election.
Will The Family and the party get the message at least now? Seems unlikely if the staged clamour for Priyanka Vadra is any indication. But then, will the AAP get the message? Will the BJP? Arvind Kejriwal’s inaugural speech struck the right note by emphasising humility. This suggested an understanding of people’s yearning for an end to conventional politics and its conventional evils. The message of this election is that Indians are tired of a system where money decides who contests and who wins elections, a system that perpetuates the world’s most miserable poverty levels even as the number of billionaires rises. The AAP offered a ray of hope with its simple declarations in support of the poor and against corruption.
Similar hopes triggered also the landslide that carried Narendra Modi to power last May. Those hopes have not evaporated and Modi’s personal popularity remains high. But the Hindutva fanatics upstaged him. (The latest from Sadhvi Prachi is that ghar wapsi will continue and that Mahatma Gandhi should not be called Father of the Nation because Vir Savarkar and Bhagat Singh deserve more credit for India’s independence.) Modi’s inability to control the fanatics made the middle class seriously worried about the direction in which political India was moving. The BJP’s mortifying 3/70 score is a projection of this worry.
Has the AAP also, like the BJP, raised hopes too high? Power at half rate, free water and hundreds of new schools are easier said than done. The consolation is that delay in the delivery on promises will be excused by the people if sincerity of purpose is transparent and convincing. If the Kejriwal government eliminates everyday corruption and is seen to be doing so, half the battle will be won.
It is also important to recognise that the AAP’s triumph in Delhi has implications beyond Delhi. The Anna Hazare movement was the first indication in post-Emergency India of public awakening for change. Although that movement dissipated, the realisation that ordinary people could make their voices heard became deep-rooted. The AAP was carried to victory this time by ordinary people, many of whom gave up professional positions to devote themselves to the party. Volunteers came from all parts of the country, meeting their expenses and expecting nothing in return. After Gandhi, and then Jayaprakash Narayan, this is the first time that volunteerism is contributing to the making of India. The signs of change in the political landscape cannot be clearer. That astonishing creature, the Mighty Indian Voter, will not rest until the system is cleansed.