By Aniket Baksy - Economics III,
Divya Murugesan - Economics III,
Prashant Kumar - Economics III
and Usman Zafar - B.A. Programme I
Months of vigorous campaigning, blame-game, mud-slinging and obnoxious advertisements have, finally, ended. The battle for Delhi was fought on 7th February 2015 with the largest voter turnout (of 67%) since the past few years. With most exit polls projecting an outright win for the AAP and with the Congress almost written-off, will the final verdict end up surprising us?
Here’s presenting a contrast in the shades of BJP, AAP and Congress as they participate in the dance of democracy in Delhi.
The journey of AAP started from the Lokpal agitation which shook the nation but sadly, with the agitation bearing no substantial fruit, Arvind Kejriwal decided to plunge to ground-zero level to clean up the ‘bhrashtachaar’ from our political system and hence, the Aam Aadmi Party came into existence.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) deserves a solid round of applause – from fleeing a position of power granted to them by referendum to the ignominy of a near washout in the Lok Sabha Elections, the party has managed not only to bounce back, but is stronger than ever before. If the pre-election polls predicting a significant victory for the AAP, capturing as many as 40 seats out of the 70 are borne out on the 10th of January, it will be historic – a party with barely any history, a shoestring budget and a volunteer base composed largely of first-timers who’ve barely seen politics before this, will have garnered a stunning mandate to govern, and will have won it largely without appeals to religion or caste.
Against the backdrop of this incredible achievement, the BJP’s own campaign appears to have lost whatever steam it ever had. The forceful vision of sweeping development appears to have been lost. The party has campaigned with intensity nowhere close to the AAP’s tireless and heartfelt pleas for support. Whereas afflicted early on by internal conflicts over chief ministerial candidacy, the introduction of Kiran Bedi as the candidate was clearly ill-conceived – while it’s possible that the choice of Kiran Bedi was motivated by her visibility, her perceived integrity and the possibility of embodying female empowerment through her, the fact remains that she was not up to the task of leading a campaign against a resurgent AAP, with “Paanch Saal Kejriwal” beginning to overtake the shadow of its infamous 49 day exit. While Kiran Bedi was always going to face difficult questions owing to her past statements about the BJP and its internal corruption, these questions would need to be tackled in much the same way ex-AAP members like Shazia Ilmi, who made the switch to the BJP as well did.
Notwithstanding the BJP’s inherent contradictions, its one-man army structure, its instability and its excessive reliance on anti-social elements of society, a BJP government at the state Vidhan Sabha cannot be ruled out.
There are several reasons why a BJP win might benefit Delhi. Firstly, a BJP government at the Delhi state level would be in tandem with the centre, allowing for minimal state-centre conflict when it comes to Delhi’s governance, an issue of importance, given Delhi’s relatively low revenue productivity and skewed distribution of responsibilities of governance. Second, all facts considered, the BJP’s vision document represents a more comprehensive plan for urban renewal than the AAP’s manifesto, which represents the short-run measures the party proposes, most of which essentially view subsidies to be the solution to scarcity induced by supply constraints and hoarding. Third, the practicability of the BJP’s policy plank – that of responsible governance – actually squares well with the reality of governing the NCT – the local government here has very limited power in actually setting the agenda forth, with policies largely being carried over more or less automatically from the centre. In this environment, some level of continuity and uniformity is necessary which the AAP seems to lack. The AAP’s reactionary brand of policymaking, evident in its urgent need to provide subsidies as to reduce prices as quickly as possible, regardless of long term inefficiencies involved, is evidence of this – and yet, the ability to understand these long term costs is probably beyond voters, who’d be swayed by falling prices today.
Though the AAP has been accused of resorting to populist measures and is termed ‘inexperienced’ by many, its manifesto has some vital points, important for the development of the capital. Their manifesto touches upon most of the problems that continue to ail the Delhi-ites. These policies were on ground earlier also. But what the AAP asserts is their intent of implementing these policies efficiently and transparently, an intent which was exhibited in their short tenure of 49 days in 2013. Some promises that stand out in their manifesto and give Delhi-ites a ray of hope are as follows: firstly, enacting a Jan Lokpal bill which is stronger, stricter than and not as toothless as the one passed by the UPA. Secondly, the Swaraj Bill which will enable people through Gram Sabha in villages and Mohalla Sabha in urban areas to carry out their development priorities by allocating funds and helping people’s grievances reach the government. Thirdly, to ensure women’s safety, installation of 15 lakhs CCTV camera for women’s. The AAP also promises universal education and coverage of health services which should be the prime responsibility of the government given exorbitantly high Out of pocket cost in the private health care units. The party also aims to promote social security for the elderly, promote honest business, and most importantly, control corruption and curb black money transactions.
The AAP’s fight against corruption has become highly relevant against the background of the Congress government’s scams in Delhi as well at the national level like the CWG scam, Spectrum allocation scam etc.
This feeling of frustration with the Congress party’s corruption and nepotism is clearly reflected as none of the exit polls predict more than 5 seats for the Congress this time. But still, in the 15 years of Congress rule in the past, Delhi has seen quite some progress. The party is accredited with the development of the largest network of metro railway in the country (of over 186 km with almost 28 lakh people travelling by it every day). The Congress also brings in an element of stability which the AAP has seen to be lacking in the past. Moreover, against the backdrop of numerous churches being vandalised in Delhi, instances such as ‘accidently’ terming north-eastern people as immigrants and the RSS and VHP carrying out their Hindutva agendas like ‘Ghar Vapsi’, the religious and other minorities in Delhi view the Congress party as lesser of the two evil. BJP’s slashing of funds for health and education even when these are areas of utter importance provides a platform for Congress party to take a lead with its socialist policies like regularization of unauthorized colonies, providing shelters to slum-dwellers, more disabled-friendly measures for handicapped people and increased compensation for the soldiers of the armed forces who die on duty. Also, with increasing instances of safety of women in the being compromised, installation of CCTV cameras in all public transport vehicles comes as a reassuring promise from the Congress party.
Even with some sound policies and 15 years of development of Delhi to its credit, the mood of the voters is certainly swayed away from the Congress party. Though the socialist hand is nowhere to be seen in the picture, it is never wise to write-off any party in politics. The Congress may rise again in the future like a phoenix from its ashes!
Amidst this battle between the Kamal ka button, the Jhaaroo and the socialist hand, there still remain a few others who see no hope in any of the above. “If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.” they feel. Many in the capital believe in the Elitist theory of democracy which propagates that political power remains in the hands of a selected few who form the elite. It isn’t too far-fetched to claim that even though change is happening, it isn’t happening because of our votes, but in spite our votes! With such feeling, slowly spreading, specially, among of the youth of the capital, it is important to bring in the relevance of the NOTA option. This option was introduced in the electronic voting machines in India after the landmark judgment delivered by the Supreme Court in PUCL vs. UOI. The right to vote in India is a statutory right. The converse of this, i.e. the right not to vote, while maintaining secrecy was claimed vide a petition to the Supreme Court by PUCL. The NOTA is an added privilege to the Right to Vote as it gives a greater mark to express our discernment about the politicians; that none of them deserve to lead us ahead.
But, though such an option gives the voters the right to express their disapproval with the candidates being put forth by the political parties, it is quite toothless at the moment as the candidate securing the highest number of votes would be declared elected even if the number of electors going for the NOTA option surpasses the votes polled by the electoral contestants. The NOTA option can be useful to a certain extent in conflict-hit zones, such as Jammu and Kashmir, where if more than half the voters go for the NOTA option button, the international bodies will claim that the people have no faith in the Indian democracy. It is indeed sad to see that many in the capital don’t have any leader to look up to and have to settle in for the lesser of the evil, since the NOTA option, too, is isn’t particularly useful!
With varying sentiments across the population of the capital, the battle for Delhi has never been so interesting before. This election season in the capital has been one of U-turns and eating ones’ previously uttered words, of cleverly crafted man-of-the-masses image countered by the projection of a Chai-wallah who rose to be the supreme leader and of promises and pointing fingers. In the end, all we can hope for is that the demands of safety, development, transparency and stability are fulfilled, irrespective of whichever party comes to power.