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অভিনন্দন আআপা

December 23, 2013

এটা একটা টুইটপোস্ট, সবকিছু টুইটেই বলা আছে, বাকিটা শিরোনামে।

  1. Kejriwal: The power of the commonplace []

    Politics often deals with the unbelievable. It turns somersaults which are unpredictable and yet look inevitable in retrospect. Five years ago the idea of Arvind Kejriwal would have sounded like an untenable B-grade movie. Yet, today, as Mr Kejriwal waits to be sworn-in as the chief minister of Delhi, there is a sense of normalcy, even quiet celebration about it. One celebrates a difference and tries to account for the man.
    If R.K. Laxman were to redo the common man today, Mr Kejriwal could be an easy choice. He not only represents the common man, he feels commonplace. There is something mousy about him. His spectacles add to the timidity. His clothes are nothing to write home about. He wears them with a touch of absent mindedness, school boy collars poking diligently out of his routine sweater. He reassures you. One look at him and you feel, even I can be a piece of history.
    Political leaders always had a certain sartorial style. The socialist set had one kind of tone, with khadi and the cloth bag. The more upwardly mobile among them became the “FabIndia socialists,” labelled after the shop that produced great khadi kurtas. The Janata version often sported a safari suit, prompting wags to complain that one did not know who was the PA and who was the neta. Mr Kejriwal has the touch of the socialist style in his indifference to clothes. He is often ridiculously comic as he wraps his shawl around his head and then caps it with a topi. It looks ridiculous and yet that very ridiculousness signals a new period of history. This politician lays no claim to brand names. About the only brand he might claim is Surf white honesty.
    The alchemy of Mr Kejriwal consists of challenging cynicism. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party merely echoed each other’s corruption, claiming that the Aam Aadmi Party did not understand the logic of politics, the legitimacy of the legislature. They felt in privileging the people he was confounding myth and fact. They treated him as a joke and yet he made sure the joke was on them.
    Looking back, no astrologer would have predicted the rise of
    Mr Kejriwal. He lacked the Old Testament rhetoric of Anna Hazare. He could not cook up the ayurvedic-swadeshi politics of Baba Ramdev. Kiran Bedi exuded seniority and experience as a bureaucrat. Yet it was his newness that was appealing. This man was inexperienced but untarnished; his naiveté had a determined air to it. He explained corruption as if it were an Euclidian theorem he was familiar with. His moves were immaculate.
    He handled Mr Hazare with respect and yet turned him into yesterday’s newspaper. He moved on as if he just outgrew him. He sensed that people wanted change, wanted to go beyond the Congress. He realised Rahul Gandhi was a creature from the archives, an embalmed 40-something who spoke in family lullabies. Next to him, Mr Kejriwal represented the power and creative competence of youth — a coveted IIT degree, a stint in the revenue service. He talked a new, clear-cut language that evaded the dualisms of left and right, modern and traditional. One realised he was a man who defined politics as an ethic beyond ideologies. He emerged as a problem solver. Poverty, corruption, energy, water were not rhetorical issues but challenges to governance, and one solved them in the same unsentimental way as an IIT question paper.
    He was first among equals. Yet, standing with his colleagues, one sensed the teamwork. Sisodia, Ilmi or Yadav, each was distinctive and yet colourful. These characters made his simplicity more subtle.
    On December 8, the politicians sensed that Mr Kejriwal could be dangerous. He had a quiet genius for the unexpected. He could run elections on nothing, create an unbelievable cadre of volunteers, make the improbable sound possible, all with that mousy face which had a steely look. He moved from miracle to miracle.
    Narendra Modi needed to mobilise the media and the masses. This man seemed to pull out both like rabbits.
    Mr Modi appeared alert to the emergence of
    Mr Kejriwal, the colossal ego quaking before the ordinariness of the man. The masses could be summoned but Mr Kejriwal’s followers evoked citizenship, caring and an idealism no other group could match. His team and he felt something out of a desi version of Harry Potter or The Hobbit.
    One sensed his impact as one watched Sheila Dikshit’s body language over the last few weeks. She was the crafty politician who had ruled Delhi for 15 years. In a few days, she sounded like an abandoned woman. She complained like someone cheated of history. She sounded sceptical of his promises, behaving like a housewife reprimanding a lazy servant. Suddenly, the mighty sensed their vulnerability, smelling the end of history in his moves.
    Mr Kejriwal’s success should not blind us to the problems of his style. The first days of power reminded one of the first days of Janata rule — they had the same sense of anarchy. For a few moments one wondered whether Mr Kejriwal and the AAP had the Janata Party’s self-destruct gene. Yet he moved as sure-footedly as a goat on a hill.
    One problem is that his over-amplified idealism and problems might acquire, merely, a sense of piety. Piety lacks the substance idealism has and can be irritatingly ritualistic. Thirdly, even goodness has a cronyism of incompetence which he should have the wit to avoid. Fourthly, while he portrays the comic, there is little sense of the laughter in the Aam Aadmi Party’s proceedings. They should be able to enjoy their mistakes and talk freely about it. Yet one feels hopeful, because
    Mr Kejriwal has made cynicism unfashionable in Delhi. That to me is the greatest act of all. That’s why the future has become something we all look forward to.

  2. Brooms And Boardrooms []
    by Saba Naqvi

    The David and Goliath story has been a most enduring one down the ages. Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal this week made a move that clearly positioned him as the small man with the muffler taking on the richest man in India. The resident of Antilla, the tall skyscraper in Mumbai where India’s first business family lives, is the clear target in a political positioning that is both powerful and controversial.

    In a dramatic move last week, the AAP government in Delhi directed its anti- corruption branch to file an FIR against Mukesh Ambani, chief of Reliance Ind­ustries Limited and Union oil minister Veerappa Moily among a few others. The charge: conspiracy to double gas prices in order to benefit, among others, RIL. Simultaneously, AAP’s Yogendra Yadav questioned Narendra Modi’s closeness to the Adani group. How has Adani become super-rich in just 10 years? What is his relationship with Modi? he asked in a series of tweets.

    Clearly, crony capitalism was under the AAP scanner. Journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta has a book coming out soon titled Gas Wars: Perspectives in Crony Capitalism—The Ambani brothers and the battle for India’s natural resources. He has this to say: “The Ambanis could not have ripped off the system if the government had not allowed them to do so.” His book argues that brothers Anil and Mukesh Ambani fell out over the utilisation of the KG basin gas resources, with the older brother eventually winning in court. It also chronicles how successive governments structured contracts in order to benefit the Ambanis. He asks: “It is worth noting that the Manmohan Singh regime is supposed to be firm believers in virtues of the free market. How is it then that in the case of gas they are for administered prices determined by the government and not open market prices?”

    The political response to AAP’s actions from the two big political parties has been muted—they feel it’s another hyste­rical act from someone who’s been beha­ving unreasonably ever since becoming CM less than two months ago. The BJP’s Arun Jaitley probed the legalities and constitutional viability of a state government seeking to investigate the actions of the Centre in an article. “The AAP government must realise that enthusiasm and adventurism may not set the best of constitutional precedents,” he wrote. Congress spokesperson Ajay Maken told Outlook: “Let us hope there is no political vendetta on the part of AAP. Meanwhile, we are open to all investigations.”

    The consensus of the traditional ruling class appears to be that AAP is badly behaved, unreasonable and itching for its government to be brought down. There is no way of knowing whether that is indeed the case, but one thing is clear: they have no intention of following table manners at the crooked high table.

    Meanwhile, Congress sources say they are focusing on the LS elections and hence will not oblige Kejriwal and make a martyr out of him by withdrawing sup­­port to his government. The BJP feels the longer Kejriwal rem­ains in gov­ern­ment, the more the AAP promise fritters away. That may be their point of view, but AAP supporters argue that every action described as “anarchic” is popular with the people in the neighbourho­ods of Delhi. There is however a debate even within AAP on whether the middle class goodwill—crucial to launch a real all-India party in national elect­ions—is being somewhat taxed.
    But why has Kejriwal raised the issue of gas pricing now? Because the old gas prices are effective till March 31 and on April 1, the new prices come into play. So the CM argues that in battling and seeking to investigate corruption, he is also fighting inflation. He has a point there as many things will become more expensive due to the gas prices hike. It’s also not insignificant that the issue was raised days before AAP released its first list of candidates for the national elections.

    It’s clear now that Kejriwal is quite fearless about charging into battle. At a time when he was already getting some bad press, he’s again picked up the gauntlet. This is his biggest battle and there’s also a little history to Kejriwal vs Ambani. In November 2012, under the India Against Corruption platform, Kej­riwal and Co had raised the gas pri­cing issue, following which they faced a black-out in certain sections of the media. AAP was actually formed later that month, on November 27 last year, and worked from the ground up in Delhi taking on controversial methods that would eventually prove to be effective.

    Lawyer and AAP core committee mem­ber Prashant Bhushan says they learnt to survive in spite of a media that often ignored them or turned hostile. He says that “if there was an honest investigation, then Mukesh Ambani and many bureaucrats would be in jail. The gas scam is not one scam but a series of scams. We know that both Congress and BJP are beholden to the Ambanis and on this issue both parties would have a similar attitude.” He adds that, for AAP, this and the Jan Lokpal bills are core issues on which they are ready to sacrifice their government. He also believes that it’s a matter of conjecture as to how long the system allows the AAP government to survive.

    At a time when the common citizen is so burdened by all-pervasive corrupt­ion, it’s possibly satisfying to see the high and mighty exp­­o­­sed. And AAP is tapping that sentiment. Kejriwal and team have given us some pretty thrilling moments in that regard and his targets have been impressive. ‘Congress son-in-law’ Robert Vadra, Nitin Gadkari, then the BJP president, a host of smaller pla­y­ers along the way, and now once again Muk­esh Amb­ani, who’s frequently accu­sed of manipulating Indian politics and policies.

    There’s another bit of history with the other Ambani brother also. In the Kejriwal version of the civil disobedience movement against inflated power bills in Delhi last year (where he went about restoring connections that had been cut for non-payment), he had taken on both the Sheila Dikshit government and the Anil Ambani-owned BSES. Bhushan says this: “Arvind has understood that anyone seriously interested in fighting corruption has to take on the corporates. The analysts missed the woods for the trees when they did not realise this would happen ultimately…they kept harping on the RSS presence in the early rallies and the grant given by the Ford Foundation.”
    It was perhaps presumed that Kejriwal would get co-opted by the system once in power. But every action taken by his regime and ministers shows they have no intention of playing by any rules but their own. And their big idea continues to be to rock the boat and not steady it.

    As for the battle against corporates, there may be questions over limits of jur­isdiction but ultimately this is the sort of stuff that gets AAP going. Even as this battle has begun, another is just round the corner over the Jan Lokpal bill. The Delhi L-G, Najeeb Jung, who spent several years in the employ of Rel­­i­ance Ind­ustries, can then be cast as not­hing but a villain in the rogues’ gallery of AAP. Expect more action in Kejriwal’s Dilli.

  3. It’s not just corruption [

    AAP doesn’t recognise how much absence of predictability and order also hurts the poor.

    Understanding the nature and risks of the AAP’s decision to quit the Delhi government requires understanding this historical moment. Indian politics is defined by two major narratives: plutocracy and paralysis. As William Bryan Jennings once said in a similar chaotic moment in American history, “Plutocracy is abhorrent to a republic; it is more despotic than a monarchy, more heartless than an aristocracy, more selfish than a bureaucracy.”
    The AAP is a reaction to plutocracy. The reach of that plutocracy has been corrosive. As Shekhar Gupta reminded us, the pepper spraying of Parliament is such a symbolic manifestation of plutocracy: the rich control politics, they control the banks, and then spray pepper into peoples’ eyes. While we protest Penguin withdrawing Wendy Doniger’s book as an assault on free speech, let us not forget that it is impossible to publish on companies in India. A book called Polyester Prince on a certain Indian tycoon was “made unavailable” a few years ago; journalists cannot write on Sahara and apparently ministers, to show how cutting-edge Air India is, ensure no analytical book on it is published.
    Plutocracy is not just about money. It has corroded free speech and other institutions. It has generated a politics of excess.
    The other crisis is a paralysis, where there is a sense of the country drifting like a ship in the night without direction, without a captain. There is a foreboding of what iceberg we might hit next. As if the dipping growth rates are not bad enough, no one wants to take responsibility. Those who wield power carry on the charade of helpless outsider victims.
    To simplify a bit, the AAP has positioned itself on the first crisis, Narendra Modi on the second. The fight against plutocracy will, by its nature, have three features. First, it will stand outside of conventional understanding of institutional frames.
    Its point is precisely because all the things we cherish, law, procedure, Constitution, Parliament have been so corroded by plutocracy, that we cannot rely on conventional means for reform. They are now technical niceties that have become weapons against the people; these institutions have become anarchic.
    When Kejriwal said the “assembly is a temple, papers tabled in it sacred books”, the sentiment was sincere. But it was also a reminder of how little credibility conventional politics has. Second, the attack on plutocracy will have the appearance of a smash and grab. Since the rich stole, some of that must be reappropriated. The argument over pricing, whether of gas or electricity, is not about technically optimal pricing. It is a crystallisation of the politics of reappropriation.
    Third, it will be a politics of excess. For an insurgent party to grow, it has to deepen a sense of how ensnared we are by corruption. The self-righteousness, the seeming unwillingness to compromise, can be annoying. But just before an election, it is standard strategy to deepen a sense of crisis. The Congress and BJP block bills they agree with all the time to deepen a sense of crisis when it suits them. In the use of constitutional discourse, all sides were using argument of convenience. But in a way, the AAP is tapping into the psychological excess that plutocracy has created. It will also speak a more populist version of “ends justifies means”. What unfolded in Delhi was entirely scripted. Our cool rationalist heads may decry dramatic gestures, but that is how politics works. The AAP has taken a gamble to play big.
    So where does it leave the AAP? It is hard to speculate, but Arvind Kejriwal’s stock may have gone up a bit. Even those of us who have reservations about his institutional imagination have to acknowledge that plays the sincerity card well. Just as an aside, it is perhaps a semiotic manifestation of our unconscious disgust against plutocracy and yearning for sincerity that lawyers now make the least convincing spokespersons in all parties, no matter what the cause.
    Yogendra Yadav and Kejriwal are master communicators, compared to the damaging Prashant Bhushan; Nirmala Sitharaman does more good to the BJP than her mendacious lawyer colleagues, and the Congress was destroyed by lawyers. In short, sincerity counts for a lot and Kejriwal will benefit in his core areas. He will also probably deepen his base amongst the poor in Delhi, where the politics of reappropriation (not redistribution) has a justified resonance.
    But Kejriwal’s resignation also gives a boost to Modi. While the AAP may argue that its version of institutional reform is the road to regeneration, the fact of the matter is that in the short to medium run, its approach risks deepening the current paralysis. A revolution always has this dilemma.
    The process of change risks deepening a crisis in the short run; and it may deepen it to the point where there is a yearning for predictability and order, even if a bit tainted. Those who worry that our paralysis now poses as big a risk as corruption are not unjustified in their fear. Low growth will doom India’s prospects. And the challenge of the hour was to combine both with good judgement: tap into a prosecutorial instinct we are developing against plutocracy, but also to demonstrate a steady trustworthiness in governance. An insurgent party like the AAP needed to use its time in office to project a trustworthy team. Instead, its mode of functioning raised huge questions about the judgement of many of its members. The fires of agitation, instead of calming down into the responsibilities of administration, threatened even more chaos.
    The AAP has put all its eggs in the former basket. It has underestimated how much a lack of economic certainty, the absence of predictable, humdrum administration, is also hurting the poor. Sure, it can argue that the cause of this is corruption. But that is an analytical mistake. Corruption is one element of our slowdown story. The deep intellectual confusion, the constant agitation, the complete devouring of energy that being too clever by half requires, the absence of any big thinking about India in the context of profound economic changes, has sucked the life out of any forward-looking endeavours. The ship continues to drift and potentially hit an iceberg, while we continue to squabble over who stole the food from the ship’s galley. Modi may or may not be the best answer to this challenge. But, purely as a piece of political analysis, it has to be said that he will gain from this fracas. Even though the BJP is complicit in the corrupt system, it will gain as an alternative mode of protest. We will see what fear triumphs the most: the fear of plutocracy or the fear of paralysis.

  4. Importance of being dull []

    AAP has shown a penchant for the spectacular. Why that is not going to be enough.

    The Aam Aadmi Party is gone as a party of government, at least for now. It mounted an astonishing electoral insurgency, and swung the doors of power open without having political lineage or the financial backing of business, the two standard features of contemporary political parties in India.
    It did not organise a caste-based, religious or regional mobilisation, the other typical characteristics of Indian politics. Demonstrating how new political formations can emerge against all odds when the existing political parties generate citizen apathy or disgust, it also illustrated that democracies can have self-correcting mechanisms.
    Nonetheless, a 49-day wonder is over. What does the AAP’s fall show? What does the future hold?
    The AAP’s brief governing career illustrates, most of all, a well-known political truth. When those attacking the system come to power, they find it hard to govern. Insurgents tend to be terrible governors. Anti-system parties, a term coined by political scientist Giovanni Sartori, are good at undermining the system, not at running it.
    The AAP is, of course, not the kind of anti-system party that totalitarian parties or the communist parties in Europe during the two world wars were. It is committed neither to violence, nor to an overthrow of the Constitution. But it does wish to overturn the way politics is done. It loves India, but dislikes India’s polity.
    By definition, an elected government must function within the existing framework of rules and laws. If those rules and laws are disagreeable, the government can change them. But fundamental, as opposed to marginal, change cannot be brought about by decree or in haste. Patient communication, meticulous negotiation and careful alliance building are necessary.
    The initial challenge of insurgents in government is always the same: they must first follow the rules in order to change them. A chief minister sleeping on the sidewalk in protest, wrapped in a quilt on a cold winter night, may satisfy the inner moral urge of the insurgent, but governance is not a branch of ethics. Without an ethical core, politics does lose its shine, but with ethics alone, no polity has ever been run.
    Consider three other errors of the AAP’s excessive moralism.
    First, should a law minister encourage vigilantism, however much he suspects the police of being corrupt? Unauthorised nightly raids can’t reform the police. Police reform is a dull, prosaic business, not a site of dramatic, guerilla-like forays. Similarly, racial remarks don’t accord with modern law, which seeks to establish individual, not collective, guilt. It is not enough to say that vigilantism or racism was not intended.
    Hamaari niyat to saaf thi, logon ko gussa aa gayaa (our intentions were pure, the people got angry) — this is an empirically inadmissible theory and a terrible excuse. Crowds gathering around crusading ministers, attacking the police, tend to be nasty, brutish and furious. They can’t easily be controlled. Even Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest mobiliser of the masses in the last century, perhaps longer, found it difficult to discipline the masses entirely. A paradox always marks the transition from insurgency to governance: without mass politics, movements can’t be built, but with a release of mass furies, governments can’t be run.
    Second, should a government unilaterally lower electricity tariffs, charging power companies with padding costs, unless a rule-governed audit has established cost inflation beyond doubt? Private companies may well be venal, but how to calculate the costs of production is a complex economic matter. In my first book, I tried to calculate the costs of wheat and rice production, presumably a much simpler matter than the costs of power production. It became a forbidding enterprise. The complexity of the calculation was brought home, deflating earlier, and simplistic, statistical enthusiasm. The implication ought to be obvious. A careful audit should first be ordered and then the price lowered, if costs were indeed inflated, not the other way round.
    Third, should a government issue an FIR for corruption in a business dispute, which is already under investigation in a court of law? Doing so is a truly odd governance principle, for it disrespects the judicial process. It demonstrates a penchant for the dramatic and the spectacular, not for the often dull and painstaking art of governance. The AAP’s election manifesto had talked about the necessity of “udyog anukool neetiyaan (business-friendly policies)”. In the 49 days of governance, we saw an incessant lashing out against business, not business-friendly, investment-attracting economic announcements. To be sure, governance requires attacking corruption, but it also calls for sensitivity towards the avenues of economic growth. The AAP in power went for the former with extraordinary fury; the latter did not even get a chance.
    Finally, consider the AAP’s critique of representative democracy. That Indian democracy functions well at the time of elections, but between elections governments become insensitive to the people is now a well-known argument. The AAP has rightly tapped into this democracy deficit, promising to bring governance closer to the people. But is it making a necessary distinction between popular will and popular sentiment? The concept of popular will, a sine qua non of democracy, has an irreducible element of deliberation and judgement. It is not equal to the popular sentiment of the day, which can quickly change. If democratic legislation based on popular will is to have any meaning, it must embrace the idea of people’s representatives deliberating, debating and concluding. If representative assemblies are not working well, one has to think about how to reform them. But democratic decision-making simply can’t be handed over to people’s assemblies, hastily put together in parks, maidans and stadiums. Mohalla sabhas are fine as deliberative spaces, but weekly janta darbars, luckily dropped, and state assemblies meeting in stadiums in full public view, luckily not allowed, are not. Popular furies do not amount to well-thought-out judgements. Emotions and biases do not add up to rationality.
    Can the AAP make a comeback? Yes, it can. Troubled by its agitational ways, a section of the urban middle class, certainly its upper segment, is likely to leave the AAP. But its dramatic mode of governance is also likely to increase its appeal to the urban poor and lower middle class. These classes harbour similar anger against the existing system. Moreover, since television now reaches over 800 million people in India, the urban-rural voter dichotomy is not likely to hold up as neatly as it did in the past. The AAP’s theatrical style, best symbolised by the chief minister sleeping on the sidewalk and the law minister challenging the police, is almost certain to appeal to the rural electorate close to Delhi.
    The gain at the lower end of the social spectrum is likely to be bigger than the loss at the upper end. As a consequence, the AAP’s performance in Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, western Uttar Pradesh and some of the bigger cities of India may well be substantial in the next elections. The AAP is here to stay. Delhi was one part of a long and evolving political story.
    But even if the AAP does come to power, let us say in Haryana or in Delhi again, the same cycle of electoral exhilaration and governmental emaciation may haunt the party. How to combine an anti-system impulse with governance will remain the AAP’s fundamental political dilemma. It might want to study how the provincial Congress governments of 1937 functioned in British
    India, or how the Left Front governments evolved in Kerala and West Bengal after they first came to power.

  5. ।। I want to begin with a story. Last night, I received a phone call from a friend of mine. She told me that she was on a truck heading for the Kolar Gold Fields to campaign for a friend who had joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). She hinted that AAP there spoke a different dialect from AAP in Bangalore or Varanasi.

    AAP, she claimed, was a collection of dialects, a set of murmurings, whispers and silences. She did not use the word voice claiming that social scientists had wrecked the meaning of voice, divorcing it from speech. AAP, she claimed could be an amplifier of murmurings, little fragments of protest scattered across the landscape. Her candidate, Ramiah would not get the attention that a Nandan Nilekani commands but it is precisely why the former is important. AAP, she and others claim, is not a taproot like the Congress, or the CPI(M) or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); it is like a rhizome ready to spring anywhere and connect to anything. In an organisational sense, AAP is not a hierarchical party, with a centralised voice. In recreating the idea of empowerment as an enabling exercise, AAP has to continue to be inventive. Murmurings were her label for the new politics. She referred to it as the politics of humility because it captures the power of small protests. Empowerment, she said, begins with the marginal, or the forgotten; it has to entice the music of politics out of the silences of our time. Politics takes storytelling to realms beyond the formal by translating the “murmurings” of our age, the still inarticulate protests of our time. The beauty of AAP is that it is full of surprises. It realises that the conscience of politics will come from these people.

    I realise my friend was right. One of the most magical moments of this election was the rise of AAP. I am not referring to Mr. Kejriwal only but the AAP effect, that magical moment when people saw politics once again as an act of faith and hope. Thousands of people including students, retired professionals, journalists and housewives saw in AAP a new phenomenon which renewed their faith in citizenship. In fact, the story of AAP is not just AAP’s story, it is the story of these people reinventing politics and themselves. AAP may not win many seats but it is an exemplary exercise. It will continue to reinvent itself long after this election is over. It is a chrysalis for the future.

    This essay asks itself what the directions in which an AAP can create new worlds and possibilities could be.

    Incompleteness of citizenship

    In reworking politics, it questions old classifications. It realises that citizenship is not a fully hatched word like a large ostrich egg. It is a growth, a promise, a hypothesis which has to be tested. Citizenship is not a guarantee of entitlements but a promissory note. What AAP has to emphasise is the incompleteness of citizenship. It is the recognition of the fact that the refugee, the scavenger, the nomad, the subsistence farmer, the pastoral group, the fisherman and others in the informal economy constitute over 70 per cent of India and lack rights or even a temporary claim to citizenship. To reinvent democracy, AAP has to retain the mnemonic of the informal. In challenging the temporariness of citizenship, AAP creates a durability, a competence around the fragility of the informal threatened by clerks, police and goons. Empowerment is a way of going beyond these obstacles to rework cities, offices, hospitals, villages and technologies.

    Learning from Gandhi

    The history of AAP begins with the politics of body because the body is the real site for politics. In claiming the body as a vehicle of being and protest, students discover the violence of the state and vulnerability of their bodies facing water cannons, stones or lathi charges. The body gives politics an immediacy which fine-tunes protest. It is a site for struggle. The body also prevents politics from straying into the abstractions of ideology or policy. It is a statement of presence, of sensing politics and suffering as part of a sensorium of sounds, smells, touch, taste and memory. In this world, poverty can never be a statistic, but a way of experiencing the world. Poverty can never be reduced to Rs.32 a day when it is lived through the body. The body keeps politics concrete, tangible, and personal and creates a space for ethics. This much the AAP generation learnt from Gandhiji.

    An experiment in politics as truth begins with the body. It is the tuning fork for understanding poverty, well-being, torture, communication and time. It gives politics the depth of everydayness as it understands pain, joy or stigma. When Mr. Kejriwal was stoned and slapped repeatedly he realised that there were other messages beyond coercion. When he communes with Gandhiji at Rajghat, he articulates a new strength and vulnerability that is profound by moving. Language then becomes critical because language is not mere text but speech and dialect. AAP realises the world of manifesto as text comes alive in speech, in orality, in gossip and rumour as the nukhad and mohalla embrace and debate an idea. Because language is playful, politics can be playful, allowing for humour, ambiguity, translation. In being playful with language, AAP can liberate politics from its pomposity, its ideological heaviness, and the hypocritical impasses it has got into. AAP has to return magic to old tired words like secularism, development, security, participation, and nation state. It is more open to mistakes as it is constantly rereads its own politics. It creates a new language of error which liberates it from pomposity. What makes AAP refreshing is the ease with which it owns up to mistakes. AAP has a more relaxed view of its role in history so it can see the comedy of politics.

    An experimental party

    The politics of AAP cannot be an act of storytelling in linear time as history and most U.N. and World Bank reports are. The obscenity of development is that it has no sense of defeated or obsolescent time. One needs a plurality of time to dream of diversity. Tribal time, body time, peasant time, displaced time of refugee, the obsolescent time of a craftsmen need space, voice and articulation. They cannot be confined to indifference. The nation state seeks to create a uniformity of time while AAP politics should seek to pluralise time. One cannot think of an ethics of memory or an ethics of sustainability without it. In this sense, AAP is creating a link between the ethical and the political, pointing out to the lost times in each word. History eats up myth, development destroys nomadic time, and innovation hides obsolescence. Forces like globalisation only understand speed and instantaneity. AAP, by creating a commons of time, allows for memories, silence, new tales of suffering, and new kinds of ecology. AAP in that sense is not a specific timetable but an act of storytelling, which unfolds terms of its own rhythms. This variety of time allows for little experiments all over India. Instead of a million mutinies, AAP becomes the politics of a million inventions, many of which are life sustaining. Democracy without that diversity of experiments in technology and livelihood is doomed.

    Finally, AAP is experimental. As a result, it is not inflexibly tied to any ideology or any charter of the future. AAP wants politics to be full of surprises. In that sense, it is not a planned rocket but a wager. It does not need the mass leader in a fascist sense but insists that citizenship, when it is no longer passive, is a form of leadership. It takes problem-solving in a modest way realising that solutions to work are contextual and local. AAP requires a million exemplars to sustain itself as a paradigm. In doing this, it breaks the fossilisation of democracy as a fetish of rights, elections and governance. It is the democratisation of democracy that makes AAP the party of the future. I think this is why we have to look at AAP differently, expect more but expect the less predictable from it. This is what makes it the party of the future and a party with a future. ।।

  6. The return of AAP

    History and newspapers have a tendency to side with victors. When a new regime comes into being, it is declared a fait accompli, an inevitability. All that the citizen can do is to accept the normalcy of it. Rumours of dissent, stories of opposition recede from the main pages and the defeated have to recover and reconstruct in anonymity.

    One senses this happening with the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party fading into the back pages. One has never felt much sympathy for the Congress as it squandered its advantages, but one always felt empathy for AAP.

    AAP smelt of the future, of hope as it was minted in sheer idealism of the time. What made AAP ultra was not the publicised leadership, but a merging of two generations which constituted the rank and file of the party. It had a seasoned generation of veterans, from Admiral Ramdas to Kamal Mitra Chenoy, who played sages, curbing their own ego and seeding the party with insight and balance. It also had a younger generation full of enthusiasm — men and women who learnt their politics, their sense of debate quickly.

    Despite this AAP failed, because its leadership was caught both in the throes of bad judgment and endemic narcissism. AAP’s success was heady, setting the stage for irreversible blunders. When Arvind Kejriwal stepped down from the chief minister’s seat, his followers felt betrayed and cheated. They wanted him to show maturity and durability, but he continued playing the knee-jerk dissenter. The trouble was AAP saw itself as a major Opposition when it was only the embryo of a future Opposition. It misread time and collapsed like a pack of cards.

    But time heals, time teaches. And the APP leadership has learnt to curb its narcissistic urges. It has realised that to be a democratic party, it has to sustain democratic forces within. It had to understand that gender was a sensitivity, and that its psephological wisdom was hardly immaculate. Any astrologer would have had a better sense of the climate and culture of the politics of Delhi.

    AAP had to fumble to realise that mistakes can be redressed, that smartness is no substitute for wisdom. Initially the public was surprised to see a party function almost without any sense of balance. It was as if a gyroscope had gone awry. Even when it had become marginal, AAP pretended to act as if it was at the centre of things. Mr Kejriwal and his troupe took time to realise that they had turned from being immaculate politicians to a bunch of bumbling clowns. But two things redeemed it: The loyalty of its core members and the sense that AAP needed to reinvent itself — it was a public forum performing a public good that our democracy desperately needed.

    One felt shivers of hope as Mr Kejriwal apologised for the Delhi debacle. He had realised that he was no longer a media darling. Instead, the media wanted to lampoon him. A sense of realism slowly soaked into the party, and APP leaders saw that the party had lost both magic and charisma. It had to acquire the humility of everydayness. They realised that they had shrunk from being media prophets to roadside commentators. There was a sense that their theory of corruption was knee-jerk, an accountant’s reverie.

    As the electoral scene settled down, and the banality of policy decisions took over, AAP realised it had to rediscover itself as a party. What was poignant was that while the AAP leadership was busy with its antics, its enthusiastic followers were desperately pleading for sanity. AAP owes its idealistic following an apology and a self-critical analysis.

    The period of recovery is always painful. And reinvention is looked at more critically. Yet, Mr Kejriwal worked at it. He was no longer the children’s crusader, the angry young man. He had to present himself as a mature politician who is easy with himself, relaxed in the presence of dissent, and someone who is able to laugh at himself. He had to make the media feel at home with him, convey that he was the recipe for future success. He was like a part of a once popular serial being re-launched, with the hope that he would kindle something in the political imagination.

    There is still hope because AAP is yet to play to its full potential. There is also a deeper reason to bet on AAP. The Bharatiya Janata Party won, but its only achievement was to defeat the Congress. It was AAP that acted like a true startup with fresh ideas of what is the political. Narendra Modi and his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh/BJP combine reflected organisational skill, but it was AAP that ignited hope, conveyed a sense of effervescence and inventiveness. It showed the possibilities of empowerment and at least conducted thought experiments on how policy could be constructed differently. By picking issues like drug abuse in Punjab, it challenged the very tenor of conventional politics. AAP still represents that possibility, that hope, but as a tired hypothesis.

    To recover, it has to recollect and reflect. It has to assess itself. It has to accept the normalcy of defeat and go beyond it. Cleaning up after an electoral defeat is a bit like cleaning up after a cyclonic disaster. It is difficult to move from blame and self-pity to reconstruction. Yet, one senses that AAP is moving in that direction.
    AAP is now becoming a party with a more comprehensive set of strategies.

    But there has to be a harder edge to its expectations. In terms of audience response, there is no urgency for APP. A lot of its future voters will be new, and their attitudes will be different. Like shoppers in a political market, they will demand paisa vasool outings. AAP needs to be back in news with the drama of new issues — that’s how it’ll be at the centre of hope and attention again. AAP needs to work hard, create recipes for normalcy and yet play shaman and trickster again. Democracy needs a sense of surprise, excitement and expectation, and among the current parties only the AAP can provide that.

  7. Delhi elections 2015: What makes Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP a formidable contender

    As an election battle of never seen before bitterness and desperation reaches its crescendo in Delhi, political pundits are groping to explain why the Arvind Kejriwal led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is showing such resilience and bounce. Not only has it expectedly replaced the Congress as the main contender against the BJP, but from all reports and opinion polls, AAP appears to be nosing ahead in these crucial final days, forcing the BJP to yet again revamp its strategy.

    The key factor fuelling AAP’s popularity is the support it is getting from the city’s vast ‘underclass’ – industrial workers, unorganized sector laborers, petty shopkeepers and traders, office and shop employees, service providers of all hues and shades. But what many do not realize is the vast numbers involved. Here is a glimpse of this under-city that is flexing its political muscle for perhaps the first time.

    Delhi has a population of over 1.7 crore according to the 2011 Census, and about 1.3 crore voters, as per the latest revised electoral rolls. According to an NSSO report of 2011-12, an astonishing 60% of this population lives on less than Rs13,500 per month. In fact 21% of the population survives at less than Rs 7,000 per month. The official minimum wage fixed by the government is Rs.8550 per month, and in most units it is never complied with.

    “I get Rs 8,550, but only after working 12 hours per day,” says Sunder Lal, a worker in an automotive parts making unit in East Delhi, revealing the Delhi’s own brand of looting the poor. Minimum wages are fixed for an 8-hour work day. The next 4 hours of work should be considered overtime work and paid separately. This is a big source of resentment – but no government has so far listened to them.

    But what about the great middle class? There are over 3.5 lakh Central government employees and 2.5 lakh state govt. and local bodies’ employees, as per DGET data for 2012. They are part of the 30% segment of Delhi’s population that earns between Rs15,000 to Rs 30,000. At the upper end, the NSSO data becomes patchy because of small sample – just 7 percent people fill up the vast range of monthly incomes between Rs 30,000 to Rs1.2 lakh.

    An overwhelming number of Delhi’s working people are employed in the informal sector where even worse conditions prevail. About 82% of Delhi’s workers are in the services sector – trade, transport, education, health, personal services (like maids, security guards, cooks) and so on. And almost all of this is marked by ‘informal’ relations.

    Another NSSO report reveals that in Delhi, 62% workers in the informal sector had no written job contract – they could be thrown out with no benefits or hearing in the blink of an eye. Nearly half of them did not get paid leave or any social security benefits.

    AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal’s public meeting at Rohtas Nagar in Delhi. (TOI photo)

    “I had to take my sick daughter to a private doctor. I paid a back-breaking fee and I also lost a day’s wage. Is that fair?” asks Ishaq, an employee at a godown in Narela.

    There are about 9 lakh ‘establishments’ in Delhi, that is, units doing some kind of economic activity, according to provisional results of the 6th Economic Census conducted in 2013. These employ over 29 lakh persons. The average number of employees is just 3.3 per unit. The share of units with 8 or more employees is just 3.3%.

    It is this atomized mass of humanity, struggling at minimum wage levels, living in cramped hovels, fighting for water and electricity, and oppressed by the bureaucracy and police, that Kejriwal is finding support from.

    “It is not that Kejriwal will solve all our problems,” says an enthusiastic Vimala, a resident of Jehangirpuri, a giant resettlement colony in North Delhi.

    “But for the first time there is a party that gives us poor people a hearing. It’s the beginning of ummeed (hope),” she asserts.

    Perhaps that’s the reason why AAP is cruising along, giving all the big guns a run for their money.

  8. The return of the AAP

    Over the last month the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) juggernaut has been busy celebrating itself, narcissistically pleased as it looked at the electoral mirror. It has already become the majoritarian phenomenon that critics feared it would become. As a policy formulator, the regime seemed to love spectacles. It was delighted with recommendations from world leaders and the diaspora. Yet it knew that the context was changing in Delhi. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), instead of destructing itself fully, as many critics hoped it would, has been reinventing itself. It is today a formidable prospect in Delhi. Amit Shah, the formidable strategist of electoral chess, seems to have been outplayed by the AAP. There is a fable here that we must understand.

    Politics in India does not get exhausted by current parties. The Congress, the BJP and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) are conventional structures which have no new ideas, styles, or experiments to offer. When the AAP emerged, it created a politics which was different in style and substance. It played out its existence as a protest movement and as a party. Its success was so overpowering that spectators could not decide whether it was a cameo performance or a full-blooded new movie. For a few stunning months, the AAP created hope before destructing itself in a predictable fashion.

    What kept it alive was its supporters — its rank and file enthusiasts for whom politics had become the vocation. Behind it were groups of shrewd advisers who worked to stem the rot. These groups reflected something deeper in politics. They were symptomatic of the need for a different politics, an imagination and an organisation which could go beyond the noise of current politics to the silences that haunted Indian democracy.

    Possibility of new politics

    In its first foray, the AAP provided for the possibility of a new politics. First, it stoked an enthusiasm for politics. I want to emphasise that a pursuit of power is different from a passion for politics. One is an act of self-aggrandisement; the second a creative search for the public good. What marked the AAP was a younger generation of idealists who felt moved by politics and its possibilities.

    Second, the AAP did not talk in terms of the standard vocabulary of parliamentarians —of parliamentary privilege or legislative priority — but attempted to create a new language of empowerment. AAP’s was not the old legislative style of politics where politicians proposed and disposed of issues. Here the citizens defined politics as fresh acts of problem-solving. It was this approach that got superficially understood as anarchistic. Our politicians were correct in fearing it and condemning it as anarchism in the original sense; one which sought to empower communities rather than the state. This is why Narendra Modi equated the AAP’s anarchism with Naxals as a threat to the state.

    There are dangers of such an experimentalism to the AAP. One makes mistakes and mistakes can lead to a chain reaction of errors which can become tragicomic. But the beauty of the AAP was that it held through the crisis and became sure-footed, even nimble. The leadership realised that Delhi was critical for its future and it apologised for the error of abandoning power in Delhi earlier.

    People also realised that the BJP was no great problem-solver. The party preferred shows of strength to acting normatively on that strength. Gradually the AAP’s scorecard, while not impressive, looked credible. The citizens of Delhi, especially the marginalised and parts of the middle class, felt it deserved a second chance.

    The BJP is now clear that the AAP, not the Congress, is its real opponent in Delhi. Such a confrontation adds to the magic of the electricity of politics. Democracy feels more justified when the underdog threatens the dominant party.

    The BJP’s nomination of Kiran Bedi as the chief ministerial candidate was an attempt to mimic the AAP’s politics by calling an outsider to lead the party. In an ironic way, Ms Bedi appeared mechanical, a gudiya of the party, unwelcome to many in the BJP cadre. She was as stolid as Arvind Kejriwal was effervescent. She seems happier with a lathicharge than the politics of persuasion and negotiation. Worse, she is an indicator that the BJP has been outfought by Mr. Kejriwal.

    Future of the AAP

    It is clear that the AAP is back. The final numbers can be totalled up tomorrow, but surveys are clear that this party is here to stay in Delhi. The question now is not about the election but about the party’s future behaviour and strategy.

    As a sympathiser who wishes to be both critical and constructive, I hope the AAP will be continuously inventive. Its idea of an ombudsman for the party was a creative one. Corruption and drugs were two great issues that it raised in a brilliant manner. It also raised issues about how much should one pay for education, water, electricity if they are to remain public goods. Politics as the search for public goods must now look at services in terms of a new audit of access, quality, participation, everydayness, instead of mere economics. The citizens as user and consumer must have a say in the nature of service provided.

    In the first few months, the AAP set the tone and style for such audits. It emphasised that audits in a slum and audits in the middle class areas have to be metered differently. It asked that corporations like Reliance treat the oil they process as part of a commons of resources. These were path-breaking themes which went beyond World Bank pieties.

    The AAP also has to rescue livelihood issues from technocratic and managerial notions of the economy which seek to emphasise security and profit. By raising the logics of livelihood, it raises the question of how the marginalised people in a society perceive the mainstream definition of a problem. The idea of livelihood is more complex than employment. Livelihood links life, lifeworld, life cycle, lifestyle to issues of access, quality, and participation. It opens citizenship out to the world of problem-solving instead of treating every problem as a technical answer to a technical question to be solved only by a technocrat.

    One sees this most clearly in the debates about nuclear energy. By raising the debates in Kudankulam to a national status, the AAP has showed that local problems are not locally bounded. It argued that fishermen as citizens had the right to respond to the location of a nuclear plant; that their protest did not verge on nuclear illiteracy but showed that citizens could raise technical issues rationally and passionately. The AAP’s ombudsman, Admiral (retired) Laxminarayan Ramdas, has an impressive track record on linking security to issues of livelihood, sustainability and democracy. The politics of livelihood and sustainability should be the party’s running preoccupation.

    The party needs to realise that reworking party politics is not enough. It has to reinvent the city, not as a smart city, but as an inclusive urbanism which understands the role of the migrant and the power of informal society.

    The party must also realise that the culture of politics needs a theory of politics of culture. It must take stands on issues like gender, religion, science on an active case-to-case basis, according to context.

    Deep down the AAP must learn to listen to the silent screams of politics and amplify and translate them. By moving beyond the politics of the gaze, which created structures of planning and surveillance, to the politics of listening, it becomes open to the language of suffering, obtaining a sense of the diversity of world views. Its very inventiveness and everydayness make it the party of the future. The challenge before it is to sustain this politics of hope. In redefining politics and reinventing democracy lies the real future of the AAP.

  9. The obvious and not-so-obvious reasons for AAP victory

    First the obvious. The surprising part of the result is not the victory of the AAP but the huge margin. This clearly indicates that this is not a negative vote. There are two important reasons for the AAP victory. The first is that a great majority of Delhi – especially the deprived – found the 49-day government to be one which had yielded positive results: petty exactions by police and government personnel had disappeared, electricity and water bills were favourably impacted for the consumer. Retrospectively this seems to have produced a sense that AAP provided a representative party of governance and was not just a party of Opposition.

    The second important feature is that AAP not only managed to survive the Lok Sabha verdict but actually consolidated their organisation. Elected councillors implemented schemes with their allotted money and the conviction of volunteers was energised again by the Delhi Dialogues which brought them into close contact with local needs of especially the underprivileged and produced local manifestos. All of this brought back the involvement with practical activity and the belief in using the political machinery to serve the nation, which is the real core of the conviction that propels the AAP volunteers. These initiatives kept alive the memory of the benefits of the 49-day government, gave conviction to the volunteers and produced a sense of participation within the processes of party functioning in the voters.

    In general what we are seeing is a politics of practical results, of which the main beneficiaries are the underprivileged. These benefits may not be very large – indeed may be much less than what is promised by election manifestoes. But it is a visible testament to the fact that voting can make a difference to one’s everyday life – after the elections are over. What is surprising here is that the middle class too appears to have been influenced by a wave that was apparent only in the lower sections of the social ladder – quite reversing the trend where any pro-poor measure was seen as populist and hence illegitimate. Clearly, in its success in the city state of Delhi, the AAP has tapped into an urban phenomenon. This condition of acute diversity – regional, caste, religion – in a megapolis appears to have made the language of class politics acceptable as a universal language that can overdetermine and bring together the pulls of region, religion, and caste.

    Further, it’s a language of class that does not threaten the middle class. The latter seems comfortable with a politics that aids the poor without posing a danger to their status and interests. This is a new language of class politics. Its bedrock is a politics of delivery that can bring together different classes. On the other side, the BJP’s dismal showing is as astounding. The first important reason is the unabated anti minorities campaign by the RSS. This has the obvious impact of posing a security issue for the minorities and for committed secularists, but it has also exceeded the amount of negative religious mobilisation that even committed voters of the BJP may be prepared to tolerate. And across all sections, the statements and actions of the Hindutva parivar has been seen as a distraction from concrete issues of livelihood and living conditions. To this may be added the perceived non-performance of the BJP government especially Mr Modi who has projected himself as the face of the government. There may not be anger against the government but it is seen as working at advertising its governance than in performing governance. Worse, the BJP government is now firmly perceived to be a pro- big business party without providing corresponding benefits to the rest of the population which includes not just the poor but also the middle class trader and government servant. The benefits of liberalizing reforms for the people at large seem like what the revolution was for many skeptical leftists: it was always coming and never arriving. Finally it is the many mistakes of the BJP leadership that had left its workers unenthused. One saw more posters of the BJP than the workers in this election. It was bound to lose with this lack of inner conviction.

    It is difficult to forsee the impact of these elections. But one thing is clear and that is that a two party electoral contest is going to cripple the BJP especially if they keep on with their anti-minorities and anti-secular drive. The second is that all parties – especially the Congress that pioneered this path and the BJP that has followed with uncritical enthusiasm in its path – have to recalibrate the liberalization programme. It will mean more caring measures for the poor (and for the environment) – in addition to tightening up the delivery system. All major parties will have to think creatively and not follow the line that comes from neo-liberal think tanks in Washington. Thirdly, this will lead to confusion in the BJP organization and it will certainly shake the position of the BJP leadership under Amit Shah. It will be interesting to speculate what is going to happen if one of the legs of the Modi-Shah combine gets seriously weakened. Finally there is the possibility that the new class politics of delivery may spread elsewhere, especially to other parts of urban India. Finally a caveat. All of this will depend on how well the AAP government functions and is perceived to do so. It can no longer take a cut and thrust method like it did the last time round. It will have to manage many fronts over a period of time, dealing with a hostile central government, implementing (a good part) of their programme and last but by no means the least, tackle the growing communal polarisation that constantly threatens to break out into riots. This will not only impact on its core constituency of Delhi. It will also determine if AAP is to represent the new urban politics of the country and spread to other social constituencies.

  10. A Party That Didn’t Sweep the Streets for 10 Years Has Swept the MCD Polls Again. Here’s Why.

    I had my Ola wisdom on the eve of Delhi Municipal Council (MCD) elections. We had taken a taxi on our way back from the last informal meeting on the day before polling. As he dropped us, the driver asked us if I was from a political party as he vaguely recalled my face. It didn’t matter, I said, and asked him what he thought of the MCD election. It turned out that he was a traditional Congress voter who had for the first time shifted to the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. However, he switched to Arvind Kejriwal in February 2015. And this time? He did not recall the names of local candidates in his ward but he was sure he was going to vote for Modi.

    I asked him what he thought of the way MCD had functioned. “Kuchh kaam nahin kiya” (They didn’t do a thing), he said firmly. I reminded him that the BJP had been running the MCD for the last ten years. He feigned ignorance, but this information did not seem to make a difference to him. Why not stay with Jhhadu, I persisted. “Kejriwal ne to dhokha diya” (Kejriwal has betrayed us), he replied. He said now his hopes are pinned on Modiji: “He has given a good chief minister like Yogiji in Uttar Pradesh, he will ensure a good government in Delhi as well.” I was speechless and horrified. The Ola driver had taught me something about politics.

    The counting of votes for MCD elections began on Wednesday morning and the outcome is along predicted lines. The voting pattern followed by the Ola driver appears to have been replicated all over Delhi. A massive yet silent shift of votes in favour of BJP was quite evident towards the end of the campaign. I was fully involved in the campaign for my party, Swaraj India and missed no opportunity to draw attention to BJP’s misdeeds in Delhi’s three municipalities. Yet, it was clear that the voters were not focusing on the performance of the MCD. They were more attentive to my criticism of the AAP government in Delhi. Exit polls merely confirmed the subjective impression of many observers that the BJP had established a huge lead on the polling day. Exit polls estimated that BJP’s lead over its nearest rival to be a staggering 20% plus and the actual vote seems to mirror that finding. Such a lead has naturally translated into a complete and clean sweep in terms of seats.

    The outcome is intriguing as well as tragic. Delhi’s three municipal corporations are likely among the worst run municipalities in the country. A visit to the outer and eastern peripheries of Delhi – which now house nearly half of the city – reveals an urban infrastructure no better than that in the towns of UP and Bihar. Even a casual visitor to the city cannot help but notice the garbage dumps, dirty water and stench all over the city. In the last one year, Delhi has been through a chikungunya and dengue epidemic and its air pollution has crossed all danger marks.

    There is no doubt about who the culprit is: the municipal corporations in Delhi run by the BJP for the last ten years. In popular lexicon, these are known as the ‘most corrupt departments.’ The only time you notice the MCD is when its inspector arrives to demand a bribe to turn a blind eye to any building activity. These municipalities are a textbook example of how urban governments ought not to be. True, they have been starved of resources by the Delhi government, but they have done little to generate massive revenues that they could through parking, advertisements and toll tax. If the BJP looks set to come back to power in the MCDs, it is nothing short of a democratic scandal.

    Why did the people of Delhi vote for a non-performing ruling party? Clearly, the answer does not lie in EVM tampering. Instead of making such rash and irresponsible allegations, BJP’s political opponents like myself acknowledge the fact that BJP is winning because the people are voting for it.

    Clearly, those who voted for the BJP did not think they were rewarding the non-performing MCDs. The BJP managed to detach this election from the difficult municipal issues. Instead, it distracted the voters and the media into discussing nationalism, Kashmir, cow slaughter and national security – issues that have no bearing on the MCDs. It also managed to deflect popular anger against its sitting councillors by deciding not to re-nominate any of them. The Aam Aadmi Party also contributed to this decoupling of the elections from the real municipal issues by making it a personality contest. The AAP campaign was all about turning this election into a personal referendum for Kejriwal. Some of the hoardings did not even carry the name of his own party. Smaller players like Swaraj India, constrained by lack of resources and media attention, tried to bring the debate to municipal issues, but with very limited success.

    In the end, the MCD polls became a simple popularity contest between Arvind Kejriwal and Narendra Modi and the people of Delhi appear to have chosen the PM over the CM. This cannot be explained by the ‘magical Modi wave’ sweeping across the country. We just need to remember that the Modi wave was no less strong in 2015 when the BJP bit the dust in the Delhi assembly elections. If anything, the PM’s popularity was a shade higher at that point, having scored an unprecedented victory in Maharashtra and Haryana following his Lok Sabha success. Unlike now, his party did not face any local anti-incumbency either. The Congress and the AAP were the prior incumbents then. We cannot escape the difficult question: Why did the Modi wave fail to work in 2015 and appears to be working in 2017?

    The difference lies in Delhi’s experience with the AAP government since February 2015. Within a few months of coming to power, AAP lost its moral sheen. Its promise of good governance also turned hollow as the government had little to show for its track record except a partial reduction in electricity bills and additional funds for school education. Instead, the government has been busy playing blame games against the Central government and its representative, the lieutenant governor. No doubt some of these complaints are valid. But an over-reliance on this blame game has left the people of Delhi – like my Ola driver – sick and tired. The personality cult of Kejriwal is beginning to boomerang as he loses this personal referendum. The AAP’s meteoric rise now threatens to turn into a meteoric fall.

    One can only hope that the party has the capacity to learn some lessons. The MCD election in Delhi has completed one phase of BJP’s rise as the hegemon in Indian politics. If oppositional politics does not come to terms with reality even now, it might be too late.

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    আত্মঘাতী রাজনীতির বলি কেজরি
    দীপ্তেন্দ্র রায়চৌধুরী

    দিল্লি পুরসভাগুলোর ভোটের ফল যখন বেশ স্পষ্ট হয়ে উঠেছে, একটা টিভি চ্যানেলে যোগেন্দ্র যাদব বলে বসলেন, এই ফলাফল গণতন্ত্রের ট্র্যাজেডি। আমরা সবাই জানি, যাদব এই ফলাফলে খুবই খুশি। তিনি এবং প্রশান্ত ভূষণ হলেন সেই দুই ব্যক্তি, যাঁরা অনেক আগে অরবিন্দ কেজরিওয়ালের বিরুদ্ধে বিদ্রোহ ঘোষণা করে দল ছেড়ে গেছেন। একসময় কিন্তু এঁরা সবাই ছিলেন দুর্নীতিবিরোধী আন্দোলনে সহযোদ্ধা, লোকপালের দাবিতে আন্না হাজারের লেফটেন্যান্ট। এখন তাঁকে যাতে খুব উল্লসিত না–দেখায়, এবং যেহেতু তাঁদের নতুন দলের কেউ জেতেননি, সেই জন্যই সম্ভবত যাদব বিষয়টাকে খুব বড় একটা আঙ্গিকে নিয়ে যেতে চাইলেন। তাঁর কথায়, আংশিক সহমত হয়ে বলা যেতে পারে, ট্র্যাজেডি তো বটেই। তবে গণতন্ত্রের নয়, দুর্নীতিবিরোধী আন্দোলনের। যাঁদের ওপর অতীতে মানু্ষ ভরসা করেছিলেন, তাঁদের ওপর থেকে ভরসা উঠে যাচ্ছে মানুষের। কেন, সেটা এক কথায় বুঝিয়েছেন আন্না হাজারে। বলেছেন, কেজরিওয়ালের ‘‌কথনি অওর করনি মে অন্তর পড় গ্যয়া হ্যায়’‌। কথায় আর কাজে বিস্তর ফারাক। তাই শোচনীয় হার।
    ভোটে হারজিৎ থাকেই। কিন্তু আপ শুধুই একটা রাজনৈতিক দল ছিল না। ছিল একটা আন্দোলনের ফসল। আন্না হাজারে চাননি তাঁর আন্দোলনের থেকে একটা দলের জন্ম হোক। এই আন্দোলনের অন্য কিছু শরিক বিজেপি–‌তে চলে গিয়েছেন। কেজরিওয়াল প্রথমবার বিধানসভায় জিতে হঠাৎ পদত্যাগ করেছিলেন। ২০১৪ লোকসভা ভোটে নরেন্দ্র মোদির ঝড়ে দিল্লির সাতটা লোকসভা আসনের একটাও জিততে পারেনি আপ। কিন্তু ২০১৫ বিধানসভা ভোটে কেজরিওয়াল প্রমাণ করেছিলেন, তিনি ফিনিক্সের মতো ফিরে আসতে পারেন। অবশ্য এবার যা ঘটল, সেই ধাক্কা কেজরিওয়াল সামলাতে পারবেন কি না, জানা নেই। সামলানো কঠিন হবে। সংশয় নেই, তাঁর দিল্লি সরকারকে যেন–তেন–প্রকারেণ হেনস্থা করেছে কেন্দ্রীয় সরকার। কিন্তু সরকারের হাতে কতটা ক্ষমতা আছে, জেনেই তো তিনি ভোটে লড়েছিলেন। খেলা চলার সময় তো গোলপোস্ট সরানোর বায়না করা যায় না। ঝানু রাজনীতিকেরা সীমাবদ্ধতার মধ্যেও উজ্জ্বল হয়ে ওঠেন। উদাহরণ জ্যোতি বসু। এমন একটা সময় তিনি মুখ্যমন্ত্রী হয়েছিলেন, যখন কবে রাজ্যের সরকার কেন্দ্র ভেঙে দেবে সেই আশঙ্কায় দিন কাটাতে হোত। তা সত্ত্বেও বসু কিন্তু বসু হয়ে উঠেছিলেন। বলা যায়, প্রতিকূলতা ছিল বলেই তিনি জ্যোতি বসু হয়ে উঠতে পেরেছিলেন।
    যাঁরা একাধিকবার ভোটে জিতে ক্ষমতায় আসেন, তাঁদের মধ্যে কিছু গুণ থাকে। সবচেয়ে বড় গুণ হল, মানুষকে বুঝতে পারা। সে জন্যই তাঁদের বিশ্বাসযোগ্যতা তৈরি হয়। যতদূর বোঝা যাচ্ছে, এই বিষয়টা কেজরিওয়ালের মাথায় নেই। তাঁর অতিরিক্ত উচ্চাকাঙ্ক্ষা, দূরদৃষ্টির অভাব আর অতিরিক্ত আত্মবিশ্বাস তাঁকে প্রায় নিঃস্ব করে দিল। দিল্লির মানুষ কী ভাবছেন, তার খবর তিনি রাখতে পারেননি। বুঁদ হয়েছিলেন পাঞ্জাব জয়ের স্বপ্নে। জিতলে ওই রাজ্যে গিয়ে মুখ্যমন্ত্রী হবেন, এটাই ছিল স্বপ্ন। পাঞ্জাবের, গোয়ার মানুষের মনের খবরও তিনি পাননি। অথচ, তিনি নাকি নিজেকে ভবিষ্যতের প্রধানমন্ত্রী বলে মনে করেন। উচ্চাকাঙ্ক্ষা খারাপ নয়। উচ্চাকাঙ্ক্ষা না–থাকলে ব্যক্তি বা সমষ্টি এগোতে পারে না। কেজরিওয়ালের সমস্যা হল, অন্যদের দেখেও তিনি বোঝেননি যে উচ্চাকাঙ্ক্ষা চরিতার্থ করতে হলে প্রথমে নিজের জমি মজবুত করতে হয়। মমতা ব্যানার্জির কাছাকাছি তো এসেছেন তিনি। তাঁকেও তো রোল মডেল করতে পারতেন। করেননি।
    মনে হয় সেই শ্লোকটাও কেজরিওয়াল জানেন না। অতি দর্পে হতা লঙ্কা, অতি মানে চ কৌরবাঃ.‌.‌.‌
    অতীতে দিল্লির তিনবারের মুখ্যমন্ত্রী শীলা দীক্ষিত থেকে যোগেন্দ্র যাদব— সবাই ভোটের ফল বেরনোর পর বলেছেন, মোদি লহরের সামনে পড়ে হেরে গিয়েছেন কেজরিওয়াল। পরে–পাওয়া পরিসংখ্যান কিন্তু তা বলছে না। আপ ২০১৫ বিধানসভায় পেয়েছিল ৫৪ শতাংশ ভোট। এবার পেয়েছে তার অর্ধেকের সামান্য কম। এই হারিয়ে–যাওয়া ভোটের বড়জোর ৪ শতাংশ গেছে বিজেপি–‌র ঘরে, যাদের ভোট ৩২ থেকে বেড়ে ৩৬ শতাংশ হয়েছে। কংগ্রেসের ভোট কিন্তু সাড়ে ৯ থেকে বেড়ে হয়েছে ২১ শতাংশ। কংগ্রেসের এই বাড়তি সাড়ে ১১ শতাংশ নিঃসংশয়ে সেই ভোট যা গত বিধানসভায় চলে গিয়েছিল আপের অতিথিশালায়। এবার ঘরে ফিরেছে। আপের বাকি ভোট ছড়িয়ে গেছে ছোট দল বা নির্দলদের মধ্যে। কেজরিওয়াল ভেবেছিলেন, তিনি দুর্নীতিগ্রস্ত ব্যবস্থার পরিবর্তনের আন্দোলন করেছেন বলে মানুষের মনে, বিশেষত গরিব মানুষের মনে, স্থায়ী নায়ক হয়ে গেছেন। দিল্লির যে পুরসভায় মধ্যবিত্ত ও গরিবরা শতাংশের হারে সব থেকে বেশি, সেই পূর্ব দিল্লিতে বিজেপি জিতেছে সব থেকে বেশি করে। বোঝা গেল, মুম্বই থেকে দিল্লি, সততা বা গরিবদরদির ভাবমূর্তি এখন নরেন্দ্র মোদির একচেটিয়া। তা হলে আর কেজরিওয়ালের প্রয়োজন কী!‌ অথচ যখন গুজরাটের মুখ্যমন্ত্রী ছিলেন, তখন অসৎ ব্যক্তিদের বিরুদ্ধে খুব কড়া ব্যবস্থা নিচ্ছেন, এমন কোনও ট্র্যাক রেকর্ডও মোদির নেই। তাহলে কেজরিওয়াল আজ রাজনৈতিক ভাবে প্রায় নিঃস্ব, আর মোদি ধনী কেন?‌
    কারণ, মোদি ধুরন্ধর রাজনীতিক। তিনি জানেন কখন কীভাবে নিজেকে বদলাতে হবে। কখনও হিন্দুত্ব, কখনও সুশাসন ও উন্নয়ন, কখনও গরিবপ্রেম, কখনও সততার মুখ হয়ে ওঠেন তিনি। সততার ভাবমূর্তি গড়ে তোলার জন্য তিনি এমন একটা সিদ্ধান্ত নিয়েছিলেন, যা মানুষকে কিছুদিনের জন্য বেশ অসুবিধার মধ্যে ফেলল। নোট বাতিল। মানুষ কিন্তু তাঁর প্রতি বিরূপ হলেন না। মনে করলেন সৎ চেষ্টা। পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মানুষ যতটা মনে করলেন, তার থেকে অনেক, অনেক বেশি করে মনে করলেন দিল্লি–মুম্বইয়ের মানুষ। নোট বাতিলের বিরোধিতা মমতা ব্যানার্জিও করেছিলেন, কেজরিওয়ালও করেছেন। কিন্তু নির্বাচকদের মনে তার প্রতিক্রিয়ায় আকাশপাতাল তফাত আছে। এই বাংলায় নোট বাতিল বা তার বিরোধিতা— কোনওটাই রাজনৈতিক ইস্যু হয়নি। কারণ, এখানকার মানুষ দেখেননি কমনওয়েলথ গেমসের নামে, আরও হাজারো অছিলায়, অসততার উৎসব। দেখেননি হাজার হাজার কোটি টাকা হাওয়ায় উড়তে। এখানে সাততারা হোটেলে বসে নিয়মিত রাজনীতিক, আমলা, সাংবাদিক, লবিস্ট ও দালালেরা কীভাবে কোন প্রকল্প থেকে কত হাজার কোটি টাকা তোলা যায়, তা নিয়ে আলোচনা করতেন না। এখানে ব্যাঙ্কের ঋণ পাবেন এমন মধ্যবিত্ত বাড়ি কিনতে গিয়ে শোনেননি কমপক্ষে ৫০ শতাংশ টাকা দিতে হবে নগদে, যার কোনও প্রমাণ থাকবে না, যার জন্য ঋণও পাওয়া যাবে না। এখানে এমন কোনও গেমস হয়নি, যার দৌলতে কারও মারুতি ৮০০ গাড়ি ভোজবাজির মতো বদলে গিয়ে হয়ে গেছে বিএমডব্লু। তাই বাংলায় নোট বাতিলের বিরোধিতার কারণে তৃণমূল কংগ্রেস বা সিপিএম বা কংগ্রেস, কেউই মানুষের বিরাগভাজন হল না। কিন্তু এই সব ঘটনার ভুক্তভোগীরা যেখানে থাকেন, সেই দিল্লি বা মুম্বইয়ের মানুষের প্রতিক্রিয়া তো ভিন্ন হবেই।
    অনেক সময় ঠিক প্রশ্ন তুলেও মানুষের সাড়া পাওয়া যায় না। নোট বাতিলের মূল উদ্দেশ্যগুলো মোটেই সেভাবে সফল হয়নি। কিন্তু দিল্লি বা মুম্বইয়ের মানুষ তা নিয়ে মাথা ঘামাতে রাজি নন। কেজরিওয়ালের সমস্যা হল, তিনি বিন্দুবিসর্গ বোঝেননি, তাঁর নির্বাচকদের মনোভাব কী। বিজেপি–‌র বিরুদ্ধে লড়ার জন্য তাঁর হাতে লোকপাল ইস্যু ছিল। যে লোকপাল নিয়ে আন্না অনশন করেছিলেন, কেজরিওয়ালরা সকলে আন্দোলন করেছিলেন, সেই দুর্নীতি রোখার সংগঠন আজও তৈরি করেনি মোদি সরকার। গত তিন বছরে তার জন্য মোদিকে কাঠগড়ায় তোলার কোনও চেষ্টা কেজরিওয়াল করেননি। তিনি করদাতাদের টাকায় মামলা লড়তে চেয়েছেন নিজের রাজনীতি পুষ্ট করতে!‌‌ করদাতাদের টাকায় সরকারের ও নিজের বিজ্ঞাপন করেছেন দিল্লির বাইরে!‌ বিধায়কদের জন্য এমন সব সুযোগ–সুবিধার ব্যবস্থা করেছেন, যার জন্য তাঁদের বিধায়ক পদই খারিজ হয়ে যেতে পারে। সত্যিই, তাঁর কথা ও কাজে সঙ্গতি নেই। তিনি বুঝতেই পারলেন না কীভাবে তাঁর বিশ্বাসযোগ্যতা শেষ হয়ে যাচ্ছে।
    কেজরিওয়াল মোটেই মোদির কাছে হারেননি। হেরেছেন তাঁর অতীতের কাছে। এখন তিনি যদি মোদি–বিরোধিতার রাজনীতিই করতে চান, তাঁকে হাত মেলাতে হবে কংগ্রেসের সঙ্গে। এর বাইরে তাঁর কোনও ভবিষ্যৎ আপাতত চোখে পড়ছে না।‌‌‌‌‌

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