Shibboleths Have Fallen Like Nine Pins
Power to the People: Calling the shots
Since the forenoon of 10 February, when the results of the Delhi elections started coming in and soon became a torrent, the vocal chords of the leaders and foot soldiers of all political parties except the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have dried up! The swagger; the din; the chest thumping; the shouting matches on what the news channels euphemistically call ‘panel discussions’, but are more akin to ‘fish markets'; and the singing of praises of their parties and candidates have become history. They have given way to shunning all media persons looking for comments or responses, instead of the earlier culture of eagerly seeking out the media.
Now that the AAP leaders have assumed office on 14 February, there is a need to ponder over their unprecedented win. The massive win of the AAP is not only a case of David vaunting Goliath, but the drubbing suffered by established political parties has brought in a massive change in how the present day voter exercises his franchise. All political parties need to note this phenomenal change.
Elections in our country, from Panchayats upwards, have till now been fought on the basis of ‘vote banks’, which in turn are based on caste, creed, ethnicity, religion, gender and deep societal aberrations. All political parties maintain complete details of such data for all constituencies. Based on this data, the groups are nurtured by the political parties for years and decades by propaganda and promises, as well as by material/monetary sops. This is to ensure that at election time, these groups, headed by selected ground-level leaders vote en masse for the person selected by the party. Thus, castes and classes, as well as religious denominations, figure prominently in the calculations made before elections. In the last three/four decades, another category based on gender was added, as women power became prominent and vocal.
Selection of candidates by political parties was done keeping these groupings and categories in mind. Thus, a Muslim candidate was fielded in a constituency where there was a substantial Muslim electorate. On the same analogy, a Dalit was chosen as the candidate, where Dalits had a major presence. This was the norm for practically all constituencies and by all parties and till now this thumb rule worked for most parties. Such group voting did pay dividends in most cases. The result was twofold. Firstly, the sops to the various groups kept increasing so as to ensure their allegiance to the group and to the party; resulting in the need to spend additional funds by all parties. Secondly, mediocre and poor candidates were selected, as their selection was not based on their merit or competence, but on the degree of acceptability by the targeted group of voters. Since such strategies did pay dividends, most political parties succumbed to such thinking. Resultantly, although we are touted as the biggest democracy in the world and our electoral system is hailed as ‘fair and free’, I do not think that the luminaries who had framed our constitution had this in mind!
This is the first systemic change that AAP has brought in. The 53 per cent of the electorate that voted for AAP were surely from all categories. Thus, the ‘Muslim vote’, nurtured by the Congress Party and the‘traders vote’ that was BJP’s long-standing vote bank deserted them. It has also been stated by many analysts that it was the economically poor people or the ‘chhota aadmi’ who voted for AAP, but a detailed look at the figures of many constituencies debunks this, as constituencies with a preponderance of the urban elite also voted for the AAP. This is a most welcome trend, as it indicates that another shibboleth of the past is being discarded and the electorate is becoming discerning. This is essential for us to transit to a truly democratic polity.
Let us go back a year and have a relook at the last General Elections, when the Modi Wave had swept the polls and he and his party had romped in with a record majority in the Lok Sabha. Maybe the Wave had some traction, but essentially the massive defeat of the previous government was due to the scams; arrogance; free-for-all corruption; side-lining the military; and permitting the bureaucrats to rule the roost. The disillusionment with the governance of the Congress Party was total, ensuring a near wipe-out of the party and its dynastic politics. That was the first shibboleth that fell by the way side. Its repercussions are continuing.
The third shibboleth was the act of omission by the ruling BJP and especially Prime Minister Modi of not reining in the Hindutva Brigade, lead by fundamentalists of the Togdia and Sakhshi Maharaj variety; the so-called ghar-wapsi policy; love-jihad; attacks on religious institutions of the minorities and so on . Modi realized too late that the rabidly communal utterances of these religious fanatics had undoubtedly dented the image of both Modi and his party. That the head of a foreign country mentioned it obliquely, no doubt in a highly misplaced manner, needs introspection. India’s strength is its historical tolerance and the perpetuation of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ that has been the strength of our culture; it must not only continue but also needs to be nurtured. In a highly diverse country like India, there is no place for such acts or even their articulation. The political leaders will do well to look at how the Indian Army has shunned communalism and promoted national integration.
The next shibboleth to fall is that the people of India are no longer willing to accept any and every utterance of its political leaders at face value, as in the past. Earlier, political leaders could get away with blandishments and promises but now they have to deliver. A current example is the case of OROP for the veterans’ which even after over a year of promises has yet to be implemented! While Indians continue to remain traditional fatalists, they do want to see the leaders ‘walking the talk’. Traditional political parties, both national and regional, need to factor this changed attitude of the electorate, otherwise they will continue to suffer.
The penultimate shibboleth is that the era of ‘committed’ media is hopefully coming to an end. It flourished during the sycophantic culture of the previous dispensation, when it was rewarded by both lucre and rewards like memberships of Rajya Sabha. It was quick to switch loyalties overnight to the new dispensation in New Delhi and in the process most of the English Media projected the AAP as upstarts, not to be taken seriously. Even when the Exit Polls predicted a victory for the AAP, these worthies clung to their love and affection for the ‘Page 3’ and the ‘Beautiful’ people, ignoring those who had a much more intimate relationship with the ‘hoi polloi’.
The last shibboleth in my list is that the much more aware voter is no longer willing to accept ‘turncoats’as leaders, which was a somewhat permanent feature of our past political ethos, when the ‘Aaya Rams Gaya Rams’ were flourishing and ‘horse- trading’ was not only accepted but encouraged.
In their highly ego-intensive thought process, most political leaders and bureaucrats even more so, tend to miss these points. It will be good if they return to mother earth and understand today’s reality.