Smell of Change…

Archive for the month “February, 2015”

Politics is the last refuge of a common man: Does it sound the end of the politics of vote-bank?

It's scary: Arvind Kejriwal on Delhi poll victory

Politics is the last refuge of a scoundrel’. I believed in this Samuel Emanuel inspired dictum as a gospel truth till I saw the recently held Delhi elections. The outcome of this election threw up interesting trends that made me turn my view up-side-down. Now, I’ve gone to reverse the dictum and substitute it with a new aphorism that says ‘Politics is the last refuge of a common man’. Honestly.

The common man – long cheated, mistreated, overlooked and underestimated – is now the new king of electoral politics. He has learned to assert his voice through voting and has discovered the benefits of it. Now, he’s clear in his mind and giving the best possible mandate to politicians in successive elections. Take the examples of Bihar assembly elections of 2005 and 2010, UP assembly elections of 2007 and 2012, successive Gujarat assembly elections since 2002 to 2012, the Orissa assembly elections under BJD, the general election of 2014 and the just held assembly elections of Delhi – the one thing that is conspicuous by its commonality is that the people want to give clear and decisive mandates. They’re no longer the disenchanted citizens of the past who stayed away from electoral processes with the conviction that nothing changes with elections and voting. Now, people are convinced that things would change. If it doesn’t happen from above, the people have learnt to force it from the below. The common man has learnt the art of playing the role he’s supposed to play in the game of democracy – the role of a master.

Earlier, political parties looked for segmented groups in societies whom they pampered and catered in return for votes. The Congress banked upon the Muslims and the Dalits, the Bhartiya Jansangh/BJP banked upon the Brahmins and traders, the communists banked upon the peasants and industrial labours, the post-mandal regional parties like the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Bahujan Samaj Party, etc banked upon the respective castes cultivated and catered by them. Such groups held their respective parties in reverence and voted religiously in favour of them in blocks. The allegiance of the voters to their party was ultimate and political parties in turn catered to the meanest interests of such groups in order to keep their voting base cemented. Such segmented political groups were known as ‘Vote Bank’.

The vote bank politics has long dominated the political discourse of the post-independence India and has guided the behaviors of the established political parties towards the process of electioneering. The political parties, accused of manipulating policies to accommodate narrow goals of dominant interests groups, have been long criticized and ridiculed for designing their political manifestos with the aim to comfort the moods of their respective vote banks. So long the politicians kept these specific segments well-humored, the latter remained loyal and returned huge political windfalls to the politicians. The whole decade of the 1990’s that saw the politics of Ram Mandir and caste-based reservations, was dominated by the vote bank politics. Here, the politicians had the last laugh. They won or lost but their vote bank remained intact; people never ditched their ideological masters.

Come the new millennium and many things changed in Indian politics. The restructuring of the economy and the changes in the policies during the early 1990’s took time in taking roots and by the next decade results had started flowing. The economy expanded, jobs started rolling in, opportunities opened up and development came to stay. The IT industry led the India-story from the front, and using the energy and talent of the youth, became the powerful engine of development. The young generation became the face of the change and through its dominant influence in society, unleashed the youth culture in India defined by individual freedom and personal choices; the youth was no longer prepared to run behind pseudo- ideologies and blind legacies. It had largely freed itself from the ideological bondages of early decades.

This trend had a telling effect on politics. Politicians started talking of development sweeping their older agenda under the carpet. Newer breed of politicians emerged who made development their mantra and pursued the goals of governance with ruthless zeal. Narendra Modi, Naveen Patnaik, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Nitish Kumar and even Sheila Dixit became the new role models and had people swooning for them. The common man had well understood that his future was hitched only to economic expansions and growth. The resurgent India had taken recourse to a single-ideology – the ideology of development.

Those politicians who talked of development and growth – by preference or strategy – were rewarded handsomely. But, those who failed to keep their ears to the ground were made to lick dust. Those old-school veterans, who refused to dance to the tunes of the emerging times, were pushed to irrelevance. The vote banks had crumbled. Its pieces, each written with the sad story of a failed politics, lied strewn all around the old warhorses sitting in opposition.

But, the story begins form here. The common man has now understood the power of his being; he’s tasted the power of a master. Thus, he has grown restless. He wants results – tangible results – within the promised time. He frets at delays and grumbles at failures. Today, a politician can’t expect to be given a long rope. If promise, deliver within time; else, make way.

The common man has grown smarter. He has become opportunist. Today, the common man is no one’s eternal enemy, no one’s perpetual friend; only its interests are eternal. It has no allegiance. The people of Delhi, who had given all the seven seats to the BJP in the parliamentary elections just nine months back, changed allegiance and handed down the BJP its worst electoral defeat in the Delhi assembly elections. Hence, it is important for the politicians to understand the psyche of a common man. This common man is now no one’s man. He will turn whatever way he finds his interests being served. Yesterday, the same common man found the BJP to be promising and he’d fallen for it. But, in Delhi in 2015 he found Arvind Kejriwal offering more. Hence, he turned for him lock stock and barrel. This is smart politics. Such people’s opportunism is good for democracy. Now, the politicians will think twice before promising moon. And, if they do, they’ll sign advance contracts for a sincere moon mission.

Now, no one loves anyone. If you deliver you’ll be loved; if you fumble you’ll be kicked hard in the teeth. And, no mercy for big names! Many big names have been thrown off to a place of oblivion by the people in recent past. Hence, the Delhi elections, which sits pretty top on the series of similarly concluded elections, tell the political class one thing – don’t fool the people and don’t mess up with their expectations. The same holds true for Arvind Kejriwal as well. The euphoria generated and the bonhomie created has heightened expectations of the masses which will act as a double-edged sword. It can cut both ways.

The politicians have long played politics with the people. Now, it’s people’s turn to play politics with the politicians. The common man has long been cheated in politics. Now, he’s understood well how to get his due back. Now, politics is the last resort of a common man. Is it the end of the vote-bank politics in India?

Krishna Kumar@ThoughtPourri 2015


The Ten Messages from the Victory of AAP in Delhi

Delhi Election Result: Dream Victory for Arvind Kejriwal's AAP, BJP Flattened

Arvind means ‘Lotus’ (Kamal) in Hindi. But, the BJP which proudly flashes lotus as its symbol, couldn’t imagine in its worst dreams that one day another ‘lotus’, called Kejriwal – long ridiculed and written off – would totter on the way of its proud victory march and blow away its whole rank and file like a hidden landmine. A new ‘lotus’ is born in Delhi through a historic mandate that would probably never be beaten in times to come. The victory of Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party is stunning, spectacular and full of messages.

The first message is that no one is a spent force in Indian politics. The only thing that matters is the capacity to hang on and to keep slogging one’s way through all adversities. The one who has vision and perseverance to implement his vision would see through the hardship to emerge victorious some day or other. Hence, in politics, just hang in the middle and leverage your opportunities judiciously to be the winner on your day. Arvind Kejriwal, once discredited and ruled out of the fray, proved that decisively. Mind, no one is out of the race – neither Congress nor Lalu, not even the Communists. They’re just biding time to rise from their ashes which one day, they will.

The second message is that key to political success is the ability of a politician to reach to the people in their own alleys. The Aam Aadmi Party had a people-centric vision and they planned things to implement that vision. While the opposition BJP – riding high on people’s mandate and money-power – made all sorts of noises about the ‘promised’ development on the television and social media, the AAP volunteers huddled back to the drawing board, drew a robust plan and went to the deepest alleys in the remotest corners of Delhi to reach to the last man from the marginalized section of society convincing them that they were their last hope. The people believed them because they found them well-intentioned, honest and approachable as opposed to the traditional politicians cut off from the masses and the ground realities. Tea with ‘Barrack’ is definitely important but no less important is to continue tea parties with people as well in the way Modi had been doing during the Lok Sabha hustings.

The third message is that while living in this world, you can’t hope to survive by living on the ‘digital continent’ rather you need to come down to face the people in flesh and blood. In today’s world, social media is a wonderful way of connecting to the people but in no way it’s a substitute of a face-to-face contact. Those who think that the social media and radio contacts would keep them well-connected with masses need a serious re-think on their strategy. Had it been truth, the BJP, with its highest presence in social media, wouldn’t have been beaten so badly in the highly urbanized constituency of Delhi with a cosmopolitan outlook. Hence, the message is – don’t shy; be among the masses to wipe their tears, something that only a hand can do and not a Smartphone.

The fourth message is that the public can’t be fooled long with empty sloganeering and political symbolism. They’re fed up of talks of development, growth, progress and results. They’re ready to wait; they’re prepared to give you time. But, don’t fool. Show honest intentions. Slogan mongering is good for entertaining the audience but they can’t necessarily fetch votes. To win votes you need to win people’s faith which requires honest efforts and plausible outcomes. Hence, the message is – If you promise, deliver; if you say, fulfill; if you commit, enact or else be ready to be swept out of your ivory tower of illusion.

The fifth message is that never trample the ambition and wishes of your grassroot workers. The politicians feel that they carry the goodwill of people. But, that goodwill emanates from the abilities of their grassroot workers, who keep trudging the lanes and by-lanes of hinterlands over years building up the aura around their leaders’ persona and generating goodwill. But, the leaders sitting pretty comfortable on this goodwill forget the importance and relevance of such grassroot workers and insulate themselves from the latter’s voices. Thus, they take arbitrary decisions overlooking their collective interests. The same happened in BJP, which parachuted an outsider in Kiran Bedi into CM’s position, totally overlooking the wishes of its grassroot level workers who had been working since decades in the party. The result was general dissension among the cadre leading to a considerable dent on their enthusiasm. Hence, the message is – abuse abundantly, but respects your men when they ask for it.

The sixth message is that the masses are kind; they forgive your blunders if you approach them with folded hands admitting your mistakes and repenting them over and over again. The same happened with Indira Gandhi after emergency in 1980 and the same happened with Kejriwal now. He bowed his head in repentance and in absolute subservience to people’s judgment. The public conceded the mistakes of Arvind Kejriwal and rewarded him with a handsome second-term. Hence, when make mistakes, admit instead of offering irritating justifications.

The seventh message is that the people, when silent, are most decisive. In democracy, politics is the last refuge of people; if you play politics with them, they will play politics with you. Hence, politicians! Beware of people’s mood and work for collective interest. Time and again, people have expressed their verdict in a decisive manner. Hence, don’t mess up with people mood. When they make up their mind, they punish decisively.

The eighth message is that the marginalized poors, the social underdog and the have-nots are a dominant force in Indian democracy and time and again they’ve proved that when given a free and fair opportunity to exercise their mandate, they speak up with their votes. This constituency, which lied orphaned after the sad demise of the Indian left after the 2009 general elections, was a big constituency to cater to. The AAP has stepped into the void and seized the electorate.

The ninth message is that a strong state, having a formidable mandate of the people will have a better bargaining power with a strong centre. Hence, it will result into the era of a better-run co-operative federalism with a new hope for development.

The tenth and the most important message is that a strong opposition sitting in Delhi is good for the politics as it will act as a constant spectre of defeat in the visions of the central government resulting in curtailment of autocratic tendencies in the leaders. The aura of invincibility around any politician is not a good sign for democracy. The constant fear of people’s whim will be the driving force behind performance. Moreover, periodic defeats are necessary for political parties for much needed course corrections as well as for removal of complacency from their word-views, which creeps in eventually.

Krishna Kumar@ThoughtPourri 2015

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