Aam Aadmi Kejriwal has dented what seemed impregnable, tripped the arrogant gait of the BJP and shown a new world to the hungry. Modi will need all his adroitness to emerge from the ashes of this astonishing defeat
By Bhavdeep Kang
Three days before Delhi delivered its historic mandate in the assembly elections, a group of RSS and BJP stalwarts met sarsanghchalak Mohan Rao Bhagwat and expressed fears of a rout. Some 3,000 mohalla and booth-level meetings had been held at the last minute, they said, but even this would not be enough. The sangh supremo observed he could understand why the BJP was in panic, but what were the RSS chaps crying about?
Bhagwat’s casual remark would have resonated with the RSS cadre, who were deeply demoralized by the induction of a parachute chief ministerial candidate and flotsam and jetsam from other parties, ignoring the claims of established party workers. Post-election, BJP office-bearers in Delhi received a flurry of text messages from Nagpur (the RSS headquarters), crowing about the party’s unprecedented humiliation.
ROCKY RSS TIES
Will the loss of Delhi alter the equation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the RSS, given that they have not been seeing eye-to-eye on a number of economic and political issues? That is only one of the many, many questions the Delhi poll has thrown up. Like the future of Modi’s right and left arms (Amit Shah and Arun Jaitley), who scripted the Delhi disaster!
Will the Aam Aadmi Party now displace the Congress to occupy the centrist space in Indian politics? Will it, with the support of the Left and regional and caste-based parties, emerge as the core of a big tent combine? “Or it could end up being merely a safety valve, an expression of public energies released in popular movements from time to time, like those led by VP Singh and Jaya-prakash Narayan, only to dissipate as quickly as they appeared,” observes AAP activist and lawyer Santosh Kumar.
Will the Congress recover from its death throes and reclaim the space it has yielded to AAP? Will it accept the new reality that it is no longer big brother and must reach out to like-minded allies with all humility, as equals? Most of all, will party president Sonia Gandhi get the message and relegate Rahul Gandhi to a less challenging role?
Or will the Congress be subsumed by the vigorous new force as its cadres shift en masse to AAP?The fortunes of the BJP in large measure depend on the future shenanigans of Congress and AAP. In Bihar later this year, it will face a united opposition. But in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, there are multiple players. Flexible and state-specific strategies are called for. Not to mention the whole-hearted support of the RSS.
The immediate concern, however, is whether the Delhi poll will impact the party set-up. The covert blame game at the BJP headquarters is between party president Amit Shah and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Each describes the other as the sutradhaar of the disastrous Kiran Bedi project.
Jaitley’s judgment of people, it is pointed out, has always been flawed. Witness Amrit-sar, where he put his fortunes in the hands of tainted Akali Dal minister Bikram Singh Majithia—now being probed by the Enfor-cement Department in a drug scam. The result was a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Congress. Similarly, in Delhi, he displaced the popular BJP stalwart and former Union health minister Harsh Vardhan and brought in an outsider who has been critical of the BJP in the past.
Shah’s detractors, on the other hand, say his style of functioning has alienated workers. He is not an affable, accessible president like his predecessors. His corporate style doesn’t leave room for schmoozing or listening to their problems. They say Bedi was his idea, albeit executed by Jaitley, to insulate Modi from the Delhi campaign. If so, he appears to have changed his mind towards the end of the campaign, exposing the PM to a flurry of last minute public meetings.
Shah’s votaries point out that the Delhi BJP unit was in terrible shape for the last one year, headed by a Jaitley man, Satish Upadhyaye. “Amit-bhai took even booth-level meetings after realizing the Delhi unit was badly disorganized due to infighting, but there was very little he could do at the last moment,” observed an office-bearer.
What is clear is that there was strong opposition to the induction of Bedi by senior and influential Sangh leaders. What’s more, she was given the ticket from Krishna Nagar, the traditional assembly seat of Dr Vardhan (who became an MP in 2014), thereby adding insult to injury. The Delhi stalwart was not only overlooked as CM candidate but completely marginalized to the extent that he was not consulted regarding his own seat. The people of Krishna Nagar, who have always elected for Harsh Vardhan, avenged the insult to their leader by defeating Bedi!
Kiran Bedi trying to woo the Delhi voters
The RSS, sources say, has been unhappy with Modi on several counts. US President Barack Obama’s visit did not yield the dividends Modi expected—in fact, the famous personalized suit and joint Mann ki Baat radio program proved an embarrassment for the BJP. More serious are the differences between the central government and the RSS frontal organizations, namely the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS).
BKS leader Prabhkar Kelkar said: “We want to ask, why are you standing with industry? Why the Land Ordinance? We are going to write to all the Lok Sabha MPs, across all parties, against it.” Apart from lobbying against the Land Ordinance, they are upset about the government’s food procurement scheme, the proposed reforms of the public distribution system and the green signal to trials of genetically engineered (GE) seeds for food crops. The SJM has joined the BKS to oppose GM crops and the BMS is protesting against labor policy reform.
Thus far, the RSS has held the opposition in check. But with Modi on the back foot post-Delhi, more give and take between the two centers of power in the sanghiverse may be necessary. Nagpur will definitely also have a say in whether or not Shah gets a second term as the BJP president at the end of the year or cedes the post to a former party chief, Rajnath Singh being the frontrunner. The future of the BJP’s three most prominent chief ministers—Vasundhararaje Scindia, Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Raman Singh—is likely to be another bone of contention.
Modi has a good personal equation with the Sangh leadership. According to sources, he ensures that fresh vegetables are sent from the gardens at Race Course Road to the Sangh HQ in Delhi every day. Building of a new HQ to house the RSS is also on the agenda. This relationship is likely to stand him in a good stead. But changes within the RSS setup are expected in March and may well impact the RSS-party dynamic.
Questionable acts… [/h2]
No one saw it coming, least of all the cock-sure prime minister. After Obama’s high-flying visit, the drubbing at the Delhi polls was something Modi least expected. But then, a disillusioned electorate has a strange way of bringing down puffed-up leaders. This, together with slow governance, wrong priorities and communal strains can leave them by the wayside. So what are the factors that did Modi in?
Arrogance: Just nine months after securing a resounding victory, Modi did a UPA. Like the Congress which failed to gauge the changing mood of the nation, Modi’s sarkar committed the same folly and remained out of touch with the nation. Rather than doing something concrete to fulfil the bijli-pani-sadak mandate, we had Modi sipping tea with “friend” Barack, addressing NRIs and being in the august company of industry captains. What about the common man? Can he wait?
Communal colors: Modi’s silence over his cadres making inflammatory communal remarks gave out a clear signal that they had his support. It did not help that seven churches in Delhi were desecrated, that riots engulfed Trilokpuri, that the venom on Love Jehad and ghar wapsi spread and attempts were made to tamper with the Preamble to exclude the words “secular” and “socialist”. Some of the “toxic” sound bytes include:
Voters should elect sons of Lord Ram (Ramzade) and not “illegitimate sons (haraamzaade).A Hindu woman must produce at least four children in order to protect Hindu religion.Our target is to make India a Hindu Rashtra by 2021. Muslims and Christians don’t have any right to stay here. So they would either be converted to Hinduism or forced to run away from here. As per law, all these mischief-makers should be behind bars, as Section 153 A and 295A provide for imprisonment of any person who indulges in wanton vilification or attacks on people of other faiths and spreads disharmony and hatred.
Gripe over education: The HRD Ministry cited the New Education Policy of 1986 to reintroduce Sanskrit as a compulsory third subject in Kendriya Vidyalayas, and thereby did away with the option of learning German. A retrograde step jeopardizing the future of kids. After all, why not let them take an intelligent decision about this? Worse, right-wing scholars are now working to establish that Aryans were native to India, and to push backwards the date for Indian scriptures by many centuries. And guess who will guide the NDA government is this? Dinanath Batra, who was instrumental in the ban of many books which took an objective view of Hinduism.
Forest clearance and land ordinance: : The hurry to make resources, especially land, available to corporates worried environmentalists, tribals and the poor. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar acted more like an industries minister, clearing 650 projects by January. More worrying, the government cleared a land ordinance, which would give the state unbridled power to acquire land for large projects. As for the spate of farmer suicides, why, that can take care of itself.
Sadly, the NDA also restricted UPA’s pet NREGA scheme to just 200 districts in the country in order to supply cheap labor to industry. The scheme had provided for 100 days’ compulsory work to one member of each poor rural family and had arrested migration to cities. So much for Modi’s heart beating for the poor.
Ire over institutions: Modi made deliberate efforts to demolish the institutions that Nehru and successive leaders had painstakingly erected. The demolition spree first hit the Planning Commission, which was replaced by Niti Aayog. The Censor Board saw pro-BJP members taking over. The new chief, Pahlaj Nihalani, even went to the extent of saying of Modi: “He is my action hero.” Forget The Color Purple; looks like Color Saffron is seeping into films.
Gunning for governors: Governance got a shake-out with the removal of UPA-appointed governors, but the sheer highhandedness aliena-ted many. While the Modi government brought in an ordinance to appoint Nripendra Mishra as principal secretary, it also removed Sujatha Singh as foreign secretary soon after Obama’s visit. It also removed senior DRDO scientist, Rajesh Kumar Gupta as Agni-V project director immediately after the launch of the 5,000-km range intercontinental ballistic missile on January 31.
ignoring workers: The short shrift given to grass-roots workers in Delhi when implanted leaders such as Kiran Bedi were given tickets showed total disregard for the party organization and the people who toiled for it. Modi and Amit Shah are the face of the BJP and the Railways even contemplated introducing tea cups with their photos on Shatabdi. Not everybody’s cup of tea!
Crass quotient: While Modi had called Kejriwal a Maoist, an anarchist, other BJP leaders soon joined in. If Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman called him a thief, Nupur Sharma, Kejriwal’s BJP rival, said: “Kejriwal ek daal se doosri daal par khod rahein hain. Maaf kijeyega, Bandar bhi aisey hi koodtey hain (Kejriwal’s been leaping from one branch to another. Sorry to say monkeys too jump like this.)
And an advertisement in national dailies, which tried to demean Kejriwal, was in a very poor taste, and repulsed the voters.