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What Modi asked for, what Kejriwal got

Updated February 16, 2015


Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief and its chief ministerial candidate for Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal (C) waves to his supporters in New Delhi February 10, 2015. —Reuters
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief and its chief ministerial candidate for Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal (C) waves to his supporters in New Delhi February 10, 2015. —Reuters

India continues to be in transition, and politics is the cornerstone of this evolution.

Narendra Modi's victory of May 2014 made every political bigwig a nonentity and traditional political systems oblivious. It forced academics to reassess their theories and columnists to rewrite eulogies.

An indestructible Modi-Shah pair, with every armour in its kitty – from money to a strong cadre – was defeated by a new party with a little percentage of this money and a volunteer base of 30,000.

Maybe it is poetic justice or a circle of interpretation that the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) performance in Delhi would deny it the Leader of Opposition's post, something they very egoistically denied to the Congress in Parliament last year.

Sushma Swaraj, while replying to a debate in Parliament after BJP's loss in 2009 had said:

"Loktantra mein chunaav jeetein aur harein jaatein hai, yeh loktantra ka buniyaadi niyam hai, lekin yahaan kisi ke itishri nahin hoti, na party star par na vyaktigat star par."

(Victory and defeat in an election are the fundamental outcomes of a democracy, but it is not the end of either a party or an individual.)

In about two lines, Swaraj summed up the supremacy of a process that is democracy, to events that is the party or the individual. That, essentially is, how any election, including this one, should be read.

Also read: AAP’s stunning victory: The good in India have spoken

It certainly was not a referendum on Modi, even his fiercest critics would accept that he has brought a definite vibrancy to a paralytic system confounded by the previous government.

If this election pointed to anything, it is the well-oiled democratic machinery with its inbuilt system of check and balance; that our institutions, particularly those of conducting elections, ensure free and fair elections and that our polity upholds the people’s verdict irrespective of its outcome.

What this election did show was the promise of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) solving an issue that every political party in India has failed to grasp:

The challenge of the cities and towns of India.

As India urbanises, its cities are becoming ungovernable, chaotic, creating tense relationship between the state and the citizens. Indeed, the governance of our cities is not and should not be seen from the traditional development paradigm.

For historically, cities are the sites of strong political expression (an example of which we saw in Delhi); cities are the sites for social liberation, for questioning existing beliefs and traditions; they are the sites of economic boom but also the space for what the American urban theorist Richard Florida called the "creative class".

At the same time, cities – particularly Indian cities – are sites of deep inequality, squalor and lack of opportunity.

It is this microcosm of urban India that Delhi so beautifully embodies, warning the AAP to think about Delhi beyond the eclectic mudras in the international airport and the manicured grass of Lutyen's Delhi; about a Delhi which is made up of three corporations – one cantonment, one council and a state government bereft of powers like law and order or land control.

It is the Delhi beyond Rajpath that President Obama walked on.

It has about 68 urban and 257 rural villages; a Delhi with 70 per cent of its population (figures range from 50-75 per cent) living in unplanned settlements with little access to social or physical infrastructure – cramped entries and by-lanes, long queues before a water tanker, areas marked for open defecation and passing faeces into the open storm water drains.

Read on: Modi orders bureaucrats to clean toilets on national holiday

These images do not reverberate with the promised idea of "smart" or the "world class city", but this is the city which voted for Kejriwal in hope that things will change.

His arms stretched, eyes directly looking at the stupefied crowd, Modi in Ramlila Maidan just before Delhi elections of 2013 had said:

"Friends, I want to ask you: do you want to force your children to lead the same life which you have lead in this governance of 60 years? Do you want a good future for your coming generations? Do you want your children to get education? Do you want them to get employed when they grow up? Do you want your old parents to get proper medication? Do you want your kids to have proper meals?"

About a year later, Kejriwal from the same Ramlila Maidan, gave more hope to the crowd:

"Rich and poor, Hindu or Muslim, man or woman, young or old have voted for us. I promise you that corruption will end... It is not me who has become Delhi's CM. Every citizen of Delhi has become the state's CM. From today, you can breathe in freedom. Bribery will stop today.

"Slowly, in five years we will attain our objective of a corruption-free Delhi."

Also see: Lessons from Delhi

It is this hope of change that made Modi the darling of the crowd in 2014, which now stands bestowed on Kejriwal.

Modi asked for 272 seats, India gave him 282. Kejriwal asked for 36 seats, Delhi gave him 67.

They all voted for change and hope. In five years' time, they will vote again.