DELHI ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS: WITH SUFFICIENT THRUST ,PIGS FLY JUST FINE !

A reigning Heavy Weight Champion against an unimpressive Middle Weight challenger – a match up likely to be savoured by blood crazed boxing fans. The challenger may have harboured hopes, but then if pigs could fly…. ! But in the recently concluded Delhi assembly elections the challenger not only knocked out the Champ but sent him reeling out of the ring too. It seems pigs can fly indeed !

The BJP had swept the Lok Sabha elections and riding high on the Modi wave the Party had gobbled up 4 more states as part of its resounding electoral victories. Now the juggernaut was about to overwhelm Dellhi in its blitzkrieg. And all that stood between Delhi and the decimation of the opposition was the Arvind Kejriwal led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

Kejriwal had been CM of Delhi previously in 2013 after the AAP had won an unprecedented 28 seats in its electoral debut, when hardly anyone gave it a chance. Amul had aptly covered the euphoria surrounding the victory of this unassuming and squeaky clean activist turned politician in 2013.

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But when Kejriwal quit controversially in a mere 49 days and tried to capitalize on its surprise victory in the Lok Sabha elections, he was labelled a “bhagoda” (deserter)He now had the onerous task of seeking to keep his and his Party’s political aspirations afloat.

Sensing trouble Kejriwal sought refuge in the comforting feel of his muffler, which he probably doesn’t remove while bathing too.The AAP party cadres were enthused by the sight of the muffler and they along with their star campaigner –“the mufflerman ” – jumped into the electoral fray.The party had in fact been at it since May 2014 and had been conducting door to door interaction and Delhi Dialogue to identify the problems facing each constituency.

The BJP on the other hand was busy setting its house in disorder. Unable to decide whether to usurp power by engineering a split in the AAP in the outgoing assembly or to go in for fresh elections it had made no strategy other than “ghar wapsi” (incidentally Azam Khan’s buffaloes too saw through the “ghar wapsi” charade and refused to oblige due to the VIP comforts available to them ) and at best seemed startled by the announcement.

Party President Amit Shah took the campaign under control and and foisted a complete “outsider”, Kiran Bedi on the Delhi BJP as the Party’s CM candidate. Actually it wasn’t Shah’s fault. To counter Kejriwal’s honest image the BJP only had blackened faces of its corruption mired local leaders, which were fit to be placed outside homes as “nazar battus” (evil eye). Bedi seemed like a good bet against Kejriwal due to her tough and honest cop image and this deft move found its way on a cheeky Amul topical as well.

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The Congress finally realized there were elections on. Prospective candidates rushed to drown away all news from reaching their lucky mascot Raahul Gandhi,lest he took off on the campaign trail ! But Ajay Maken wasn’t lucky enough. Nominated as the Party’s CM candidate, Ra Ga went all out to promote him and this effectively sealed his fate.

With the CM candidates announced the die was truly cast now. Another Amul ad/ topical on the Delhi elections covered this in an interesting topical.

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As the campaign progressed it became increasingly cacophonous, crass, vitriolic and negative.The marginalized Congress could not do much but the AAP and the BJP traded charges and went for each other’s throats (In this case Kejriwal was well protected because of his muffler).

AAP accused Kiran Bedi of opportunism in joining the BJP after once criticizing it bitterly.It also levelled charges about the BJP distributing cash and liquor to infuence the voters. And also complained about the possibility of the EVMs being doctored in favour of Sunny Leone-sorry, BJP. Charges were traded day in and day out in a no holds barred match between the two principal rivals. The BJP demanded that AAP come clean on its dubious funding. The AAP retaliated by challenging the Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley to prove the charges. And Jaitley, the champion of a million electoral battles (having won never) could only tremble indignation at Kejriwal but not much else.

The AAP campaign seemed to be getting derailed as it was almost coming to an end and no one had yet slapped Kejriwal. His victim’s image was taking a serious beating. The BJP then decided to help him out by taking out posters directed personally at him.Even his kids were sucked into the cess pool of politics.The personalized attacks were crass and crude to say the least and had an opposite effect on the electorate and they began to view Kejriwal as a victim.On the other hand Bedi was proving to be a disaster and she demonstrated her authoritarian side when her own campaign manager resigned in protest. She also embarrassed herself often and once in an attempt to reach out to the electorate in her constituency Krishna Nagar,she lashed out at its poor only to be told that the constituency had been represented by Dr Harshavardhan of the BJP uninterrupted for the past 15 years !

Somehow by the end of the of the campaign the BJP was losing ground rapidly to the AAP.

Soon Election Day dawned and the fate of the CM candidates and the parties hung in balance. The Congress was the least bothered but the BJP was fretting and the AAP was confident.

Delhi voted in huge numbers and recorded a massive 67.08 percent polling. Large poliing figures suggest land slides or electoral swings.And swing it did.

The AAP swung such a punch that the BJP won just 3 out of the 70 seats with its MLA’s coincidentally having their names starting with B,J,and P ! The Co ngress which had a 28 seat deficit with the BJP had managed to bring it down to 3 and won “0” seats. Ra Ga had done it again. And the winner was AAP with a whopping 67 seats – the biggest land slide win ever in the electoral history of the country.

This Amul ad/ topical on the clean sweep by the AAP Assembly Elections shows a caricature depicting Arvind Kejriwal holding his Party emblem,the broom, and riding on a mechanical super scrubber which has swept the opposition clean from the floor of the Delhi Assembly.He is being driven by the Amul Girl.Incidentally the topical missed out on the muffler on Kejriwal!

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The Tag Line… Clean Sweep… signifies the landslide victory of the AAP.

The Punch Line… Always AAParajit… is a play on the hindi word “aparjit” meaning undefeated and with the first three letters in capitals it shows the undefeated tag now worn by the AAP in the two elctions it has contested in Delhi.It is an endorsement of the Amul butter as well.

The win was spectacular but wasn’t surprising only the margin was. AAP had been in election mode for the last 9 months and its Delhi Dialogue had made it aware of the local problems far better than other parties. The volunteers also made the difference by carrying out door to door campaigning. Kejriwal addressed each constituency twice. By positioning itself as a neutral ideology and pro poor party the AAP benefited tremendously. Its vote share amongst Muslims and Dalits was 77 and 68 percent respectively ! The marginalized and the poor had felt the exploitative pressure ease up in the 49 day government and had loyally backed Kejriwal. He was also backed by the youth with 56 percent between the category of 18 – 22 voting for him. It was a remarkable turnaround for him as he was able to shed his :”bhagoda” tag by whole heartedly apologizing for the mistake and demonstrating humility. The electorate in Delhi had overwhelmingly voted for transformational , transparent and accessible politics. The concept of practicing grass roots democracy had yielded handsome dividends.AAP emphasised upon accountability and it’s clean micro donation based fund collection was in sharp contrast to the opaque methods of the BJP and the Congress.Eventually it emerged as the party with a difference.

For the BJP, it was a disaster to say the least.The Party applied some warped logic and even declined to take out a manifesto,instead relied on a vision document. For an average Delhiite his daily problems demand immediate attention and not some vague vision of “achche din”. And when this document erroneously referred to the people of the North East as immigrants it summarised the BJP campaign totally-sloppy and short on detail.The Modi government’s inability to demonstrate any substantial progress on corruption made its claims hollow in the face of the established anti-corruption credentials of the AAP. The BJP’s biggest mistake was to have focused entirely on demolishing the image of Kejriwal and this back fired totally as they had no one to counter the same. Kiran Bedi proved to be the wrong choice and demonstrated lack of confidence in the local leaders and also sowed the seeds of discontent in the Party. She enthused no one and herself suffered a humiliating defeat.The personal attacks on Kejriwal did not cut much ice and instead made the electorate rally around him. Modi should have known better after having benefited from exactly such a campaign against him in 2007 and 2014. Lastly, the divisive agenda followed by the Sangh and its affiliates sent a message to the electorate that the BJP had betrayed its development agenda and the minorities thus felt vulnerable and went en masse with the AAP.

For the time being the impact of these elections may not be far reaching in electoral terms as the AAP has learnt its lessons well from its Lok Sabha debacle and will rather consolidate before fledgling out.The BJP has been sounded a wakeup call as it was being seen to be closely affiliated with big money and business and exuded arrogance and was bereft of reality. Modi’s penchant for advertising governance rather than delivering it,had back fired terribly. Within 9 months the BJP had suffered a wipe out in a State where it had won all 7 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. This was the oppositions “Stalingrad” moment and the AAP has shown that the BJP is beatable and vulnerable when pitched in a two corner fight. The saffron agenda will always polarize the minority vote against the BJP and with the poor also transferring their vote from the Congress to the AAP,it’s definitely introspection time for the Party.It may yet recover but no doubt it has been bruised badly and suffered because of the narcissistic and delusional traits of its leaders.

Kejriwal will have to deliver this time and shed his high handed and controversial overarching ways. He will need to stop being an activist and instead perform as the CM, something he did not do the last time round. He has made a lot of populist promises but in time he will need to backtrack on them at the altar of financial prudence and that will be his biggest test. He will require to develop cordial relations with the Central government and the two will together need to preside over the development of Delhi.

The second coming of the AAP is in line with the global phenomenon against globalization and crony capitalism and resulting inequalities. If the BJP wants to remain relevant it needs to acknowledge this reality and needs to resolve these in the right earnest and not merely focus on foreign policy and hyped up mega schemes which do not alleviate the crushing inequalities in the society but are seen panning to the interests of “big business”. Otherwise it should be prepared to surrender space to AAP in the long term.

AAP has proven,for now,that with sufficient thrust, pigs fly just fine !But do they perform til? 

POST SCRIPT

4th March 15; AAP has plunged into a crisis regarding a personality centric “cult” developing around Arvind Kejriwal. Founder member Prashant Bhushan alleging that a “high command structure” is developing within the party,which is against the principles they stood for, and has given rise to a rebellion of sorts.He has also alleged that inner party transparency is being compromised especially when it came to the issues of making public the election expenses and fund raising.

Party ideologue Yogendra Yadav has also been at logger heads with Kejriwal.There is growing unease within the party regarding Kejriwal donning the twin roles of CM and party convener and is being increasingly seen as imposing his will over the objections of the other members.

AAP is going through an internal churning and what will emerge will be it’s organisational character in the coming  years.But the allegations against Kejriwal are instructive in nature and a sign of the times to come.

11th March 15;The rebellion in the AAP has resulted in Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav being removed from the AAP Political Affairs Committee (PAC) and are most likely to be expelled from the Party. Kejriwal has established total control and like all most parties the AAP is likely to get into a “supremo” mode.This will affect the Party cadre and some will quit in the name of the founding principles being flouted.But today Kejriwal is bigger than AAP and thus eventually he will reign supreme.

This Amul ad/ topical on AAP covers the widening rift between Kejriwal, Yadav and Bhushan.It depicts caricatures depicting the trio and sitting on a split bench.It amply showcases the disruptive nature of the ongoing dispute in the AAP.The Amul girl is seen standing in the background and is demonstrating dismay over the ensuing fracas in the party which had promised to be different.

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The Tag Line …Aam Aadmi Parting?… is a play on the name as well as the initials of the party and is asking the question whether a split is imminent in the ranks of the AAP?

The Punch Line …Easy to agree on… is an apt hint on the disagreements in the AAP and also endorses the Amul butter and its consumer acceptability.

20th April 15; Amidst much mud slinging and “stinging”, Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan who had earlier been evicted from the National Executive were finally expelled from the AAP for anti party activities.This was preceded by a sting operation being revealed wherein conversation between AAP member Bibhav Kumar and journalist Chandra Sutra Dogra was taped (without the knowledge of the journo) and used to implicate Yogendra Yadav for providing anti AAP facts for a piece done by Dogra in the daily The Hindu.Kumar taped the conversation in the guise of clarifying factual inaccuracies and when the journo revealed Yogendra Yadav as the source, the tape was then used as evidence against Yadav. And he and Bhushan were eventually given a show cause notice and finally expelled from the party.

The expelled duo have since formed a non political organisation “Swaraj Abhiyaan” to promote clean and issues based politics.

AAP’s resorting to stings on its own members has damaged its image and credibility just as much the public spat between the senior leaders.Kejriwal emerges as a devious and opportunistic politician who is willing to, in private, dump the party’s ideology while in public maintains a totally different posture.His dictatorial streak along with his reliance on a coterie will do the party harm in the long run.And the melodramatic and immature public image of AAP is not going to go down well either.It seems they haven’t learnt a lesson since their earlier tryst with fiascoes.So here they are dishing out more such fare !

Welcome to Indian Politics.Nothing remains untouched by the muck. 

R.I.P AAP !

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THE ADVENTURES OF JITAN RAM MANJHI: WHERE GOOFY AND GAFFES GO HAND IN HAND !

In politics neither are there permanent foes nor permanent friends. Those who follow this to the “t” form a league of extraordinary gentlemen excelling in the art of survival. Lalu Prasad Yadav was an icon of this league and Jitan Ram Manjhi, a seemingly daft and ridiculous politician, who shares the ex CM tag with Lalu is now carrying his legacy forward. And that too in style.

The advent of “Modi Sarkar” spelt doom for the Nitish Kumar dispensation in Bihar and Janata Dal (United) – JD (U)- faced rapid erosion of its support base. To assuage the disenchanted electorate, Nitish then played a “mastercard” and stepped down as CM and instead anointed Jitan Ram Manjhi , from the Mahadalit community, as his successor. The decision assured Nitish of the “sacrifice” tag and also underscored his credentials as a champion of the downtrodden.

The unremarkable and unassuming Manjhi, a party hopper from the Cong (I), to the RJD and then the JD (U) had helped draw the backward class votes for the JD (U). Nitish obviously considered Manjhi trustworthy enough otherwise a politician can only trust his wife to keep his “seat” safe as Rabri Devi did for Lalu (else a Chandra Babu Naidu is always lurking around the corner). It was also assumed that Manhji would be fed instructions by Nitish Kumar to do his bidding and be suitable “remote controlled”.

The new CM started his innings so slow, that the only thing slower than that was an Akash Chopra innings. He was the quintessential “ever-so-grateful-I-am-so-indebted” type of second rung leader who made the right noises about his political mentor. But he had a strange penchant for the foot in mouth syndrome.

Manjhi once, controversially, quoted a minister travelling with him to a Temple that the idol and the temple were washed clean after his visit, hinting at untouchability being inflicted upon him.He was later contradicted by the minister himself. Manjhi angered his own colleagues when he likened the upper castes to foreigners, implying they were essentially exploitative ! Coming close on the heels of this was the warning to the doctors in the state that if they denied or delayed help to the poor, Manjhi would “chop their hands off”! When informed of people in flood hit areas eating rats he retorted that in his childhood he had eaten rats many a times and they were very nutritious!! He then went on to admit that he had paid bribe to get his electricity bills reduced and that he had accepted commissions from engineers/ contractors and to underscore this he even suggested that small time traders can go about black marketing and it won’t be considered a crime !He controversially exhorted Dalit youth to marry out of their castes to perpetuate greater power.Eventually his family too contributed, his son was involved in a sex scandal which was defended by Manjhi and his son-in-law came in for undue attention when Manjhi appointed him his personal assistant, flouting government regulations.

By now Manjhi had developed a reputation for being a buffoon, bumbling along in the corridors of power. When a week passed without a controversy, JD (U) leaders probably felt underemployed as they weren’t defending Manjhi’s utterances ! The controversies created a negative image for the JD (U) and threatened to reduce the CM’s office to a caricature. He was fast becoming a liability for the party as well as Nitish. Rumblings for Manjhi’s removal grew stronger but it wasn’t easy to replace him as it would have sent negative political signals to the disparate but 30 percent strong backward class electorate.And also cause severe embarrassment to Nitish for the comical turn of events.

But the wheels of fortune were turning and for Nitish they turned for the worst.

Manjhi started coming into his own. He cited his bribe giving as an example of how corruption was rampant in the State in spite of the efforts of Nitish Kumar. He also blamed “powerful” politicians and “well connected”bureaucrats of stifling him when he tried to chart an independent course. The hint was strong and not-so-subtle and eventually he and Nitish drifted apart. The alarm bells sounded when Manjhi started taking action against bureaucrats and officials (known to be close to Nitish) for a stampede in Patna. Not only was this in complete contrast to Nitish’s way of functioning as he had seemingly shielded officials in spite of previous stampedes (chhath puja, Nov 12) and bomb blasts (Narendra Modi’s “Hunkar” rally, Gaya) but also signaled Manjhi’s inclination to dump the “remote control”.

Hereon, Manjhi took off.

He declared his ambitions to be PM one day and pushed aggressively for Dalit, Mahadalit, EBC unity to be powerful stakeholders in the State. He also claimed to have done more in an year for the poor,sociaaly backward amd against corruption than Nitish had done in his 10 years as CM. Manjhi was now eroding Nitish’s credibility and standing faster and more effectively than the BJP ever could. Manjhi had now gained political traction by posturing himself close to Nitish’s bete noire, Narendra Modi , and foe turned friend, Lalu Yadav.

Finally after months of dithering Nitish belled the cat and Manjhi was asked to resign ad CM. He refused. The JD (U) then became the first party to expel its own CM!Nitish was made the leader of the legislature party but Manjhi managed a stay order on Nitish’s election and both of them approached the Governor to be allowed to prove their majority.

The political narrative gradually transcended from the ridiculous to the sublime. The JD (U) now demanded the status of the Leader of the Opposition (?) to demonstrate its distance from Manjhi while it was still the ruling party its members would also sit on the treasury benches!!! JD(U) –united- stood disunited and Nitish who had once borne Prime Ministerial ambitions was now struggling to even be CM and the undisputed leader within his own Party!

Bihar plunged into political turmoil with the status of the CM and his administration being reduced to mockery. When Manjhi recommended dissolution of the Assembly and fresh elections an unprecedented two thirds of his Cabinet colleagues resigned in protest! Manjhi then pushed for a secret ballot during the no-confidence vote banking on the BJP’s support plus a substantial chunk of MLAs breaking away from Nitish. 

This Amul ad/ topical on Jitan Ram Manjhi came out at the height of his exploits and shows two caricatures depicting Nitish Kumar and Manjhi involved in a tussel. Nitish is shown trying to wrest the CM’s seat while Manjhi is shown desperately holding on while the Amul Girl watches in bewilderment. The strip shows Manjhi and Nitish in their trademark attires and also captures the disgusting spectacle of power hungry politicians squabbling in public.

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The Tag Line…O, Manjhi re,Kaun Hoga Paar?…. describes the uncertain political situation and literally translates into asking the boatman who would manage to cross over to the bank from a rocking boat in the midst of the river.Manjhi is also hindi for a boatman.

The Punch Line… Utterly-Biharterrly Delicious… is a play on the famous Amul ad line as well as indicating the state of affiars in Bihar politics.

Eventually, the secret ballot wasn’t allowed and even more fortuitously for Nitish, the BJP lost the Delhi elections.To prevent further damage to its imageBJP drew its hand from openly supporting a split in the JD (U) and did not want to be seen as the ones rocking the boat. Devoid of his backers,Manjhi resigned without taking a floor test and in his own inimitable style announced thay he did so under rhreat to his and the lives of his supporters. Nitish Kumar was once again sworn in as the CM after 8 months of chaos.

Nitish had read Manjhi wrong just like Nawaz Sharif had read Musharraf wrong. Born in 1944 to homestead workers, Manjhi had learnt his political lessons way back in the 70s.While securing votes for others he realized he could do it for himself and did just that when he won his first elections in 1980.He simply applied the same theory when made the CM.A six time MLA and having always been with the party in power Manjhi wasn’t as pliant as he seemed. After all Clark Kent is seemingly harmless too!

Manjhi proved a deft judge of the political scenario.He correctly identified that to defeat the BJP the RJD, Cong (I) and the JD (U) will need the backward class votes.He being from the Mahadalit community (Musahar) could become the rallying point of this grand alliance in case he was able to posture himself as the undisputed leader of the downtrodden. This made his removal difficult as both Lalu and Nitish did not want to be seen as anti-backward classes. And his dalliances with the BJP should surprise none as Manjhi’s son is already a BJP member and way back in 1991 Manjhi had garnered the BJP workers support in his bid to win in the Gaya Parliamentary by elections. The BJP saw in him an opportunity to engineer elections in Bihar and to capitalize on the chaos in the JD (U). Manjhi too saw a great chance to be the CM in case the BJP backed him outrightly.

But for Arvind Kejriwal, Manjhi was almost home !

Manjhi in his brief tenure emerged stronger and his actions to increase quota for SC/ST in government contracts, appointing 45000 safai karamcharis, increasing land allocation for the landless from 3 to 5 decimals and hiking of government subsidies upto 80 percent for SC/ST farmers clearly presented himself as the last, best and only hope for the reinvigorated backward classes. His seemingly gibberish utterances were after all well thought out and had a subtle and telling effect.It is he who is the victim now and has survived his mentor. Clever indeed. After all, survivors are thinkers too.

In the end, Nitish Kumar emerged weaker and lost political capital. Lalu as lost as ever. Rahul Gandhi and the Congress totally marginalized (they may well consider joining Manjhi’s newly floated Hindustani Awami Morcha). BJP emerged devious but stands to benefit by this split in the backward class votes.

Whatever happened in Bihar shows us the ugly side of India’s caste based politics which trivializes development and governance at the altar of caste based politics. It’s always about vote bank. After all that’s why Manjhi could shout down protestors by saying that it’s not their votes that make him win. Simply means, if you matter you get benefitted otherwise languish right where you are and suffer goofy and gaffe prone clowns. Kashmiri Pandits and the victims of the Bhopal Gas tragedy are a case in point.

For those who want to be remote controls let me share an updated list compiled by a columnist, of those who defied the gadget,dumped their “controlling hands” and successfully charted their own political course – Pervez Musharraf, Suresh Prabhu, John Major and now Jitan Ram Manjhi.

Feom the chaos in Bihar what I have learnt is that politicians and diapers need to be changed frequently.

They stink.

POST SCRIPT  

11 March 15; Nitish Kumar expectedly and comfortably won the Confidence/Trust Vote in the Bihar Assembly when he garnered 140 votes.There was slight but predictable drama with the BJP staging a walkout and Jitan Ram Manjhi stay in away from the proceedings.

Manjhi had earlier sat on a dharna at the Gandhi Maidan in Patna to protest the revocation of 39 of his administrative orders by the present Bihar CM. Manjhi claimed that had Nitish persisted with the policy decisions they had the potential to rid Bihar of all its ills.

Mr Manjhi, pardon my ignorance but does this include politicians too ?