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