Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Verdict 2013 – Lessons for both the Congress and the BJP

Dr. A Surya Prakash, 
Distinguished Fellow, VIF

As the campaign ended in the Delhi State Assembly Election, leaders of both the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tended to be rather dismissive of the challenge posed by Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). When asked by media persons if she was worried about the growing popularity of AAP, the former Delhi Chief Minister, Ms.Sheila Dikshit reportedly countered by asking “Who is Arvind Kejriwal?”. This was on December 4, the day of polling. On December 8, the day the votes were counted, the people of Delhi had answered her query! The BJP too tended to under estimate AAP. A national leader of this party is said to have described this fledgling political outfit as a “Chillar Party”, meaning that its worth was equivalent to small change or that it was nothing more than a children’s outfit. He too has had to re-evaluate AAP after December 8.

However, now that AAP has spread itself on the electoral map of Delhi, both the national parties need to understand the reasons for the rise of this party, which is neither based on caste or religion or region, as most new political entities are in the country, nor is it an outfit with deep pockets. In fact, after many decades, AAP is the first party which has ensured hundred percent transparency in regard to party funds and openly solicited financial support for the Aam Aadmi (Common Man). The party has risen precisely because the two national parties were seen to be contemptuous of the need for a moral and ethical framework for politics.

The UPA’s image and that of the Congress Party took a beating beginning with the scandalous stories of corruption in the conduct of the Commonwealth Games. Thereafter, many more skeletons tumbled out of its cupboards including the 2G Scam and Coalgate. This led to a national anti-corruption movement headed by Gandhian Anna Hazare for a strong Lok Pal to check corruption. The Congress Party and many union ministers were initially derisive of Anna’s efforts and this only propelled more public anger. Eventually, the government came up with a draft that fell short of Anna’s expectations. When the movement was at its height, ministers like Mr.Kapil Sibal mocked at Anna and his lieutenant Arvind Kejriwal and said laws. are made by parliament, not by gatherings in Ramlila Maidan. He also said those who lacked the ability to enter electoral politics and win seats in democratic bodies should not lecture the government. Kejriwal decided to float AAP, much against Anna’s will, to put an end to these jibes, and going by the Delhi result it can be said that he has succeeded in silencing every Congress leader who laughed at the Anna movement two years ago.

Apart from corruption, non-governance became yet another malady afflicting the UPA government at the Centre. The prime example of this was the growing insecurity among women in the national capital and the brutal rape and killing of Nirbhaya in a bus in Delhi in December, 2012. The paralysis at the government level was most visible as the union government and the Delhi Government squabbled over who was responsible for women’s safety.

As the recent election results show, the Congress has got its just deserts. But if we are to apportion blame for the rise of AAP, the BJP must get its share of it. Although the Congress Party’s arrogance and corruption created the ground for AAP, much more was expected of the BJP, which was the main opposition party. However, the BJP failed to corner the government and take the initiative for a strong anti-corruption law. It allowed the advantage to slip away and fall into the hands of Anna Hazare and AAP. Similarly, the BJP failed to take the moral high ground on issues like criminalization of politics and self-aggrandisement of MPs and MLAs with endless perks including the demand for red beacons atop their cars. In short, the party failed to take the lead and AAP stepped in to fill the moral vacuum. Throughout the campaign, the AAP accused the BJP of being the B Team of the Congress and said that the Congress and the BJP were two faces of the same coin. Somewhere this accusation struck a chord with the electorate, depriving the BJP of the much-needed majority in the Delhi Assembly. That is why Mr.Kejriwal’s initial promises include a strong anti-corruption law and an assurance that no MLA of AAP would use the red beacon on his or her car. The people are disgusted with the behavior of MPs and MLAs, who have become arrogant and insensitive to peoples’ feelings. That is why the red beacon has become a symbol of hatred of the elected representative.

There are several other factors which have hurt the image of the BJP. For example, many MPs of this party have been caught in scandals like Cash-for-Questions and corruption in MPLADS. In both these instances, many MPs of this party were caught on camera indulging in corrupt practices during sting operations. The cumulative effect of all this and the unwillingness of the party leadership to breakaway from political practices that created disgust among the people hurt the party and weakened its fight against the Congress. It is sad that the BJP, which once claimed that it was a party with a difference, has become as insensitive to these issues as the Congress. If the BJP does not make a quick course correction, it will cede the moral space to the Aam Aadmi Party in several more regions of the country.

The voters have given a massive rebuff to the Congress Party and it will take that party a lot of time to recover lost ground. Meanwhile, the BJP will have to guard against complacency and take immediate steps to counter the influence of the Aam Aadmi Party if it wishes to replace the Congress at the national level. Till September 13 this year when Mr.Narendra Modi was anointed the party’s prime ministerial candidate, the BJP’s cadres were dispirited and had gone into hibernation. The recent results show that Modi’s leadership has electrified the cadres and got them to work for the party with renewed vigour. Mr.Modi will now have to take the next big step to once again make the BJP the party with a difference and enable it to recapture the moral high ground. This can be done by taking a firm stand against corruption and self-aggrandisement of peoples’ representatives. Mr.Modi has the moral aura to assert himself on these issues and he must do so quickly. If he fails to do so, the Aam Aadmi Party will continue to be an attraction for citizens in Delhi and beyond and this will certainly hurt the BJP’s final tally in the Lok Sabha poll of 2014, just as it hurt the BJP’s dream of recapturing Delhi in 2013. Will Mr.Modi act?

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