Tuesday, February 10, 2015
The Delhi Revolution
Sometimes, fairy tales are possible. One is unfolding right now in Delhi.
Just as I was contemplating writing a post on the decline of democracy, Indian voters demonstrated what is really possible. It is a return of hope with a vengeance.
This one is for the world, worthy of celebration more than Indian Mars Mission and stock markets. So, I must recount the details even of this famous event, lest someone has missed.
In Delhi, the Capital city of India which is also a State, an assembly election was held at the fag end of 2013. Despite everyone thinking that Indian politics is a two-horse game - and the choice is really between heir apparent Rahul Gandhi and business-backed Hindu supremacist Narendra Modi - a new party gets the most seats. Started by a former taxman, the diminutive Arvind Kejriwal, the Aam Admi Party ran on an anti-corruption manifesto, and almost won a majority.
Since the two big parties can not form a coalition among themselves, eventually Mr Kejriwal was asked to form the government, with outside support from Congress. True to his word, Mr Kejriwal runs an activist government, fulfilling his promises made without regard to the coalition politics. The Congress party, which was in power then, failed to bottle him - and eventually manoeuvred him to a position where he could not deliver what he promised. Mr Kejriwal did the honourable thing - he resigned - just as any honourable politician will do anywhere else in the world.
Two things happened then.
First, the Congress and the BJP colluded - and invoked the unlikely possibility that they may form a coalition - and kept the assembly in suspension. It was a legalistic triumph, but showed the anti-democratic nature of both the parties. They just denied the vote to the people of Delhi, despite the fact that no government could ever be formed and it would have been cheaper and easier to have this repeat election along with Indian parliamentary elections in May 2014. They treated the voters of Delhi with contempt, because they thought between them, they own the country.
Second, even more absurdly, they slapped the label of Quitter on Kejriwal. Perhaps justifiably, because in India, no one ever quits - Ministers stay in office even when they are in jail - and the concept of honour and responsibility do not exist in Indian politics. It is okay to make a promise and not keep it, but it is a sin to take the responsibility and quit when one could not deliver.
The usual politics of Congress-BJP seemed to have triumphed, when AAP failed to win a single seat in the parliamentary elections in May 2014. BJP swept Delhi, and the AAP and Mr Kejriwal were dismissed as an one-time wonder. The point was made that Delhi electorate would not forgive Mr Kejriwal for quitting, and the point that he quit because he could not keep his word was laughed at. The corporate friends of Mr Modi confidently celebrated the fact that they could buy any electorate at any time.
Eventually, AAP found its way through the Indian court system, which, lethargic and often inefficient, seemed to have become the last resort against the scheming politicians, who treat the voters with contempt and the country as their personal fief. The court forced the issue and the Congress and the BJP were called out for their coalition bluff - and the Delhi elections were called.
As the results unfolded - and I waited to celebrate till the point the results were in (exit polls have been wrong before, and were wrong this time) - it seems that the voters have seen through the Congress-BJP nexus. They have been swept out, and AAP is heading towards a famous win, with at least around 60 seats of the 70 seat assembly. This is a revolution - not in the sense of bringing a new party in (AAP was there before), but in the sense of voters seeing through the schemes of politicians and choosing independently.
The wise commentators immediately argued that the voters have forgiven Kejriwal for quitting because he said sorry, but it may equally be that voters did not mind an honourable politician. As for the Parliamentary election wins of the BJP last May, it was not the obituary of AAP - as has been proved now - but just a demonstration of maturity of Indian democracy that voters choose most appropriately. Congress failed, and was therefore swept out at the Centre. But the elections this time was fought on a different agenda.
So, concerned as I am for democratic future (as India has taken its democracy for granted), I shall postpone my gloom and celebrate today. I shall celebrate a different kind of revolution, of quiet will, peaceful resolve and of coming together of people, of the kind we have forgotten to talk about. I shall celebrate the triumph of democracy against political scheming, big money vote buying and showmanship. I shall celebrate resistance to the dreams of hegemony by a few and a return of the republic. I shall celebrate the man on the street, who seemed to have displayed wisdom and courage everytime they have been given the vote.
For all the countries, who seemed to believe that people with money and culture are best left in charge, this is one bit of evidence that democracy works. It is messy, slow and imperfect, but nothing better has been invented. This is its moment.
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How To Live
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T S Eliot
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