Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Sweeping changes in Delhi?

A few months ago I had my finger 'inked' for the first time.  No - it wasn't a tattoo - rather I had my left index finger daubed with permanent ink, with half of it on the sensitive skin at the base of the nail, and the other half painted up my index nail.  

That was the 15th of October last year.  A day when I voted for the first time.  The elections were for the Maharashtra state and the ruling national party easily overran everyone else.  My little 'beep' in the electronic voting machine was one of the many that supported a losing candidate - certainly not one who celebrated with saffron flags and fire-crackers a few days later.

I have been watching how that 'permanent' mark has gradually been making its way up my finger nail as the nail grew.  No amount of soap could get it off.  The only way out was to let it grow and clip. But over the weeks and months since, it was a small reminder of participating in the choosing of our rulers.

And deep inside there was a small question.  Given what seemed such an avalanche of wins that the Lotus guys have been having over the past year, given the almost ubiquitous popping up of the Prime Minister in almost every space imaginable, given the way that folks who had previously been on a platform denouncing corruption were happy to jump into the band-wagon when a CM-ship is dangled in front of her... was it even worth voting?  Does it make any sense to vote when folks are so steeped in corruption and the whole setup comes down to money?

Last week I clipped off the final bit of black - and now I have an unstained index finger again.

And over the past two weeks some of the faint rays of hope started showing up.

And then today happened.

Counting time for the votes in Delhi.  The nation's capital.  The heart of power.  The place which rules the land.

In 2013 a quixotic chap and his merry men (and women) managed to upset the odds and get 28 of the 70 seats on offer.  Not quite the majority, and not even the largest number of seats (the BJP wallahs got that with 32 seats), but enough to be the spoiler - and then surprisingly - enough to form the government.

They lasted 54 days.  Arvind Kejriwal resigned when his anti-corruption bill was blocked by others - and after the national elections were called he and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) rolled out a plan to take the nation by storm.  Contest 434 seats across the nation.  Have Kejriwal fight against Modi himself in Varanasi.  The results were a wipe-out.  They only won 4 seats.  All in the Punjab.  Kejriwal lost heavily to Modi.  They got over 30% of the vote in Delhi - but that didn't translate into a single seat as the saffron boys (and a few girls) wiped up the spoils.

So when the Delhi elections were notified for Feb 7th this year, few gave the apparently rag-tag folks from AAP a chance.

I was talking to a local pastor yesterday.  He told me that one of his church members is a new follower of Christ - and also connected politically.  He has been given Rs. 5 lakhs by a local political leader.  Cash.  The brief: get him votes.  How he uses it is up to him.  He can keep it all, he can give it out in crisp Rs. 500 notes.  He can buy booze.  Whatever.  As a person who has just started following Christ his question to the pastor is - what should I do now?  What do I do with this cash?

For the past decades this is the story of our democracy.  Vast amounts of cash flow out before every election.  The locals love it as free liquor and notes flow around.  Who will not accept something for nothing?

Well, the Aam Aadmi chaps had something up their sleeves in Delhi.  In the run-up to the Delhi polls they blanketed the areas where the main handouts are given (read:slums) with volunteers who walked around at night, smart phones held out in front of them at arms length, and loudly telling people that these were 'spy phones' which would take pictures of people giving cash or booze...

A different world.

And then the results were announced today.  The media was saying that AAP would win.  The boys in orange had changed their tune.  The exit polls are distorted! Wait and see - the lotus will bloom after all!  Don't be swayed by people who try to buy you went the refrain - all the way up to our respected Prime Minister himself...

But what a result.

Who would have thought the BJP would not only be humbled, but humiliated.  Aam Aadmi getting 67 out of the 70 seats on offer.  Well over half the votes cast.  

Appropriately enough, since the Aam Aadmi Party's symbol is a broom (to sweep out corruption) they literally swept everybody else off the board.  Including the Congress who had been ruling in Delhi for years and years before them.

 Lessons to be learned:

1) We actually do live in a democracy.  People do vote. Governments can be humbled.  Every vote counts.

2) We live in a time when there is a tremendous hunger for change.  People want to see a government that cares.  That will make a difference.  That is why they voted Modi in.  Not because they wanted to see churches burned.  Or Surya Namaskar mandated in schools.  They were told that Modi will bring about progress - and so they turned out for him.  Note to the victorious Aam Aadmi chappies and to Muffler-man Kejriwal: you and your folks have to deliver now.

3) Kejriwal, with all his contradictions, is a man who has tremendous courage.  He can come across as almost comical at times, but what chutzpah to actually believe that they could do what seemed impossible.  His willingness to apologise for 'resigning' seems to have been accepted lock-stock-and-barrel.  Instead of running away from defeat, he and the AAP folk have shown that they are the real deal - working harder than before.  Mobilising, mobilising, mobilising.  Showing that they mean business but actually getting out on the streets.

4) Defeat can be a great blessing.  By resigning and bearing disgrace Kejriwal got two huge benefits. People could see that he is afraid of nothing.  And many of the fellow-travellers who were just there for the power jumped ship.  Good riddance to Kiran Bedi.  Tata to many others who decided to become lotus-eaters - and got eaten in the process.  The folks who remained are the real deal.

5) It is possible to do something about corruption.  Yes, it's not going to just evaporate.  But the man on the street talks about how during the 54 days when Kejriwal was CM the first time, the policeman stopped taking the Rs. 500 bribe to 'allow' a truck to enter a street.  Every politician worth his (or her) salt always says that they are 'anti-corruption' - but who has actually acted on it?  We live in interesting times - get ready for a lot of public washing of dirty linen!  But more than getting the big boys (and girls) it is letting our nation know that we will not accept the constant demand for bribes that will pay off in the long run.  Can one change of government in Delhi do it?  Probably not alone -but what a welcome step in the right direction.

So here's to the folks who are wielding the brooms!  Our dear Prime Minister has asked us all to clean up our country - and I for one am so glad that this was done effectively by our Delhi voters on the 7th of February this year.  Here is to a lot of other dirt being swept away!

Mera Bharat mahan!

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