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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

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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

THOSE WHO LIVE BY THE MEDIA DIE BY THE MEDIA

There is an old biblical dictum that says those who live by the sword die by the sword. This dictum finds its resonance in the Aam Aadami Party’s political journey so far which has been, to a large extent, created and nourished by the puissant media power. The media has created, sustained and heightened the euphoria over the curious phenomenon of AAP, which has managed to acquire an envious place of dominance in Indian democracy. But, this act of media need not be taken for granted.

Media makes heroes and creates haloes around them. In doing so media goes over the top; it blows each positive trait of the person out of proportion and cries up each single fact about them worth a mention. The 24×7 odes of praise combined with the visual availability of the man across the whole gamut of electronic and print media gives celebrity status to the person and thus the contours of a hero emerges. Both the media and its new-found celebrity enjoy the situation for some time before the media gets bored. As long there is novelty around the person and his ideas, media remains interested in him but the moment the novelty wears off the media gets restless. Now it requires some new heroes who could inject some cool air of freshness in the situation. Thus, media ditches its hero and cries him down. It no longer finds him saleable.

Maybe, the media-born celebrity in Arvind Kejriwal, too, realizes this situation well and hence, he is trying hard to inject some freshness in the affairs of his Aam Aadmi Party to keep the interest of media alive in him. This goes to explain the rhetoric and the theatrics that the party has of late taken recourse to which was well visible in its 2-day’s dharna at the Rail Bhawan in New Delhi. However, such theatrics are not going to yield favourable results for the AAP and the causes it espouses. Rather, it is sure to erode the confidence of a sizable number of the middle class voters, a majority of who had voted for the party in the Delhi elections. The middle class got appalled to hear his defiant chants of ‘anarchism’ and felt alienated at his actions which bordered upon lawlessness. This surely isn’t going to cut ice with a majority of his progressive voters, who put premium on means in equal proportions to the goals they cherish; a majority of them felt that that the goal of this dharna might be noble and sacred but the methods employed by the AAP leaders failed to find resonance with their world-view.

Similarly, the actions of the Delhi’s Law Minister, Mr. Somnath Bharti, leaves much to be desired. His high-drama mob-raids on unsuspecting foreign nationals and his mouthful of expletives against his seasoned political opponents are in poor taste which is sure to horrify the electorate. The AAP has got many lessons to learn in it. The party has come to power riding the wave of anger of the common man against the system. Now, its cadres feel empowered. The same cadre that once felt disillusioned with the system now feels emboldened to take on the system through its own methods. The party cadres are impatient with the system and hence not willing to let the system act in legally established ways; rather they feel the urge to set things right in their own whimsical ways. Thus, they are willing to raid the premises of vulnerable individuals riding on the zeal of their brute mob power. The party may score brownie points with segments of lower disillusioned masses of the state but at the same time runs the risk of turning its cadres into the likes of those fascist ‘black shirts’ or the ‘storm troops’ of Nazi Germany. Such mobocracy must stop. This is a dangerous temptation against which the party think tanks need to work overtime to guard its cadres.

The whole affair of Somnath Bharti is a blot on AAP’s escutcheon; the sooner the man is removed from the position the better for Arvind Kejriwal and his party. The minister has been indicted by the court on the charges of tampering with evidences but Mr. Kejriwal is standing rock-solid behind him cocking a snook at the court’s findings, which the latter finds wrong. Now, he’s sitting in judgment. This way, isn’t Kejriwal closing ranks with politicians of other political parties like the Congress or the BJP, who give similar pleas while refusing to remove their ministers accused of similar malpractices or indictments by the courts? So, where is the difference, Mr. Kejriwal? You refused to accept the pleas of pending enquiries in case of congress or BJP ministers but you’re running extra miles to protect your own minister stuck-up in similar circumstance. How can there be different yardsticks for similar situations?

People have lots of hopes and expectations pinned to the great experiment of the Aam Aadmi Party. The great Indian middle class has many cherished goals like good job, good espouse, good cars, good education for children, good house and good quality life. To this kitty of celebrated goals, it has further added the goal of having good governance and a corruption-free political order, by putting strong stakes in the AAP experiment. After having jumped the bandwagon of the AAP, some of those middle class electorates are feeling disillusioned. Hence, it is high time now that Kejriwal should speak by his actions. He needs to get into the teeth of governance and perform to give back some of those skies that he’s promised to the electorates of Delhi.

Governance is not all beer and skittles – it’s a difficult job, much more than the job of an activist. Hence, Mr. Kejriwwal, you need to get into the shoes of a Chief Minister now and act out of there. Well, take all those perks and privileges that your position offers; the middle class and those underdogs of your constituency won’t mind. But, get into action; get into governance and give your damnedest. The restless masses want performance. So long you deliver on those promises they give a damn about other things like your perks. Hence, no rhetorics, no theatrics – just deliver. Stop playing to the galleries to please those who don’t matter. Forget those hawks of media. They will sing praise in countertenors and sopranos once you deliver on those promises. Else, the media would maul you; it’s extra zealous in denouncing its jettisoned heroes and in debunking the aura around them.

Therefore, Mr. Kejriwal – don’t run the risk of dying by the media.

Krishna Kumar @ Thought Pourri 2014

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

New Year 2014 Wallpaper

As the year 2013 bows out, we’re set to welcome a new dawn – the dawn of 2014. Each outgoing year passes out and yields to a New Year, which is welcomed with customary hope, fervor and panache. People long and pray that the New Year may bring them happiness, peace, prosperity and all round wellness. But, soon the excitement over its newness wears out and people find themselves stuck up in the middle of the same status-quoistic circumstances.

To the majority of us, nothing changes with New Year; a New Year hardly means anything more than changing the calendars and shuffling dates in them. We turn a little older or come up with a little more greying or thinning of hairs, but our material conditions and circumstances determining them remain the same. This, over the years, goes to bring up cynical streaks in our worldview; we grow up into becoming crabby, nagging, and contemptuous humans where cynicism defines the core of our existence and pessimism clours our subtle consciousness.

But, this time around, the New Year has been a different ball game. The dawn of 2014 has been a momentous event in the history of Indian politics and democracy that carries the potential to revolutionize our collective existence in the society. In this dawn, a man has risen from the ashes of 2013 to demolish some of those stereotypes of our socio-political order that make us cynical, pessimistic and hardbitten about our circumstances. Yes, we’re talking about Arvind Kejriwal, the hero of a new-age Indian polity who shows incredible promises to cleanse the cesspool of Indian politics. He has comes up as the harbinger of wonderful changes in politics and society. He’s been the greatest discovery of 2013 and the most coveted gift to the masses of Delhi from the outgoing year. Though he’s won just an assembly election in a tiny state like Delhi – which, crudely speaking, is nothing more than a demi-state fighting for its long battle of full statehood – the tremor of the event is being felt all across the length and breadth of the nation. Afterall, never in the history of Indian democracy a political party has come to power without taking refuge to the parochial slogans of caste, community, regions or dynasty. He’s broken new grounds in Indian politics.

The psychological impact of the victory of the Kejriwal-led AAP is unfathomable throughout the nation. People have suddenly discovered faith in politics and have found meaning in democracy. They feel that governance can be improved, system can be changed and politics can be refined. People have discovered their unfeigned power under democracy and have found their true worth in the system. Now, a good number of people find politics truely engaging. They feel that politics and democracy can be a puissant weapon to take on the numerous malaises afflicting the nation in form of poverty, illiteracy, casteism, communalism, corruption and various forms of extremism. People are excited over the development and feel that soon the dream merchants of Delhi would get their teeth into governance and would never lie down on their job.

There is a sudden burst of hope, zeal and gusto around politicians; there is a growing conviction that democracy can be calibrated to create the structure of a system that can become the proverbial government of the people, for the people and by the people. In the nutshell there is a feeling of renewed hope, expectations and optimism that marks the beginning of 2014. People are in the grip of an exalted feeling of happiness, cheer and bliss. There is an air of feel good and a collective sense of euphoria over the prospects of seeing changes in our collective situations and circumstances around us.

The New Year comes with new hopes, new opportunities and new possibilities.

Happy New Year!

Krishna Kumar @ Thought Pourri 2014

The Pied Piper of Delhi: History Lies in His Momentous Existance in Power

Thousands thronged the historic Ramlila Maidan on the sunny noon of 28th December to witness a great historic moment unfolding; it was a moment that carried the promise of changing the character of Indian democracy like never before. The hero of the moment, Arvind Kejriwal, who had upstaged a stunning debut in the Delhi’s corridors of power, was walking up the stage with six of his chosen marauders, who had slain veterans in the just concluded electoral battle of Delhi. Leading his pack, he climbed up the stage with somber countenance while his mind seemed focused on something far away from the immediate sight. Maybe he wasn’t thinking of the maddening crowd or of their victory chants or galvanizing placards eulogizing him rather he was thinking of the challenges ahead – the challenges that were made bigger by heightened expectations and, far more than anything else, by his own towering moral standards. Soon, he was uttering his oath with grit, determination and scrupulousness; after all, he meant each word of it.

The hero of the moment had well realized that the days of fiery speeches and lofty sloganeering were over and now it was the time to act. He always talked of action; while crying down the government of the day in streets he bandied about thousands of innovative ideas on governance and decreed that a will power to ACT on those ideas are the key to achieve swaraj. And now, it was his time to act on those ideas; it was his time to implement his cherished swaraj. At the moment, it was that element of action that was weighing heavily on his mind.

This darling of democracy had always been reiterating the view that governance is not a rocket science. And, of course, it is not. Governance is simple execution of few commonsense solutions as well as ruthless execution of few daring ideas that carry the potential to ease as well as revolutionize the socio-economic existence of the citizens. It doesn’t require geeks and policy wonks with crude technical expertise to make lofty plans rather few committed individuals with steel in their spines to implement some commonplace solutions aimed at common welfare. Looking at his and his team’s level of commitment to bring about the professed changes, it can be said that it should not be difficult for him to achieve those targets. The political environment is buzzing with innovative ideas; all it needs to have someone who can seize upon them and ACT on those ideas.

Here, the AAP leaders need to step in and prove their worth. The odds are stacked against them – They’ve come up against a hostile opposition, have no majority in the house and are still terrible greenhorns in politics; moreover the onus of governance has fallen upon their unprepared shoulders in the most unexpected manner by a conspiracy of circumstances and not by their own sweet volition. They were not yet prepared for the role; the electoral outcome caught them slightly off guard. Yet, they’re willing to take the bait; they’re willing to shoulder the responsibility. They’re the heroes of a new political order, the rising sun of a new dawn coming over the democratic landscape of 21st century India. They will rise and shine to the occasion. They’re heroes and heroes show their characters in adversity.

Many say they would fail but still they wish to give success a chance. They’re determined to give good governance. If they fail they would like to go down taking the battle in the enemy’s camp. They would expose the opposition; they would expose their unholy designs in bringing down the government. Hence, they have nothing to lose. They’re the proletariat of democracy in the 21st century India who are out to dislodge the formidable czars of power. They’re set to reformulate the political discourses of our time and are destined to redefine the agenda of modern politics. They will redefine the political morality and will dictate the terms of democracy on their formidable rivals in the days to come.

It has been a matter of a great political debate that how long will this government survive. Germs of destruction have been set in its very foundation. Well, the great experiment of the Amm Aadmi may come out to be a short-lived affair but it is going to change the tone and tenor of Indian democracy forever. The politicians will no longer remain the distant figures cut off from their surroundings, the politics will no longer be a byword for sleaze, dirt and scandals and the democracy will no longer remain the fiefdom of few dynastic despots or casteist-communal demagogues; the rules of the game will change forever.

That’s why the ascendance in power of the Aam Aadmi Party, which embodies the collective anger, frustration and disenchantment of the nation, is a unique moment in Indian democracy whose importance lies in its momentous existence in power. History lies in these very moments. It’s outcome is not that important.

The dreams of the Pied piper of Delhi will come to reality sooner or later.

Krishnakumar@ThoughtPourri 2013

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