Next month the voters in Delhi will get a chance to show the bullying and bumptious BJP leadership its place.
A BJP victory will be a clear and present danger to the health of the republic. The Congress in Delhi has reduced itself to just a collection of discredited and disreputable leaders, and the party has done nothing to inspire the voters in the capital to think of it as a viable alternative to the saffron outfit.
Arvind Kejriwal & Company is not without its flaws and failures but the Delhi electoral battle stands framed in a larger context in which an Aam Adami Party (AAP) victory can be thought of as a democratic imperative.
The foremost reason why the BJP should not be voted to power in Delhi has to do with the absolute need to preserve the democratic and open space in the very heart of the republic. There may be some vague but valid reason for the central government to have control over the Delhi police; but, it has become increasingly obvious that this instrument of law and order has degenerated into a repressive force.
The Delhi police, like any other force in India, is, ipso facto anti-poor; this proclivity becomes considerably pronounced in Delhi but because this organisation, especially its top brass, answers only to the lords and masters in the Union home ministry, and, it easily and effortlessly regresses into an anti-people force.
In recent weeks the Delhi police, as an organisation, has demonstrated an unsuspected capacity for brutality and bigotry. Its leadership has joyfully placed its professional competence in the service of the danda-sarkar. Its violent over-drive at the Jamia Millia Islamia and its colluding under-performance when the lumpens were roaming around in the JNU campus confirmed the Delhi police’s reputation as an anti-democratic force. This incongruity at the very heart of our nation’s capital is a republican eye-sore.
Therefore, Delhi needs a dispensation that will be at variance with the central government, for the simple reason that the Delhi police has to be brought back into the ambit of democratic accountability. The optics should be obvious. A non-BJP MLA, for example, will have no reason to rationalise Delhi police brutality. On the other hand, a BJP government in Delhi will automatically deprive the citizens any buffer between democratic dissent and a policeman’s truncheon.
A vote for the BJP in Delhi would inevitably be interpreted as a mandate for the Delhi police to carry on with its anti-people, anti-democratic impulses. And, it is no rocket science that a BJP government in Delhi would be a willing stooge of the home ministry bosses; it is inconceivable that a Manoj Tiwari or a Vijay Goel will be able to stand up to the home ministry’s repressive instincts.
And, to be fair to the BJP, the party is already telling the voters that it will be seeking votes in the name of Narendra Modi.
This in-your-face imposition of the prime minister’s leadership in Delhi’s local arrangements is deeply offensive to Delhi’s sensitivities and self-respect. Delhi cannot be reduced to a Modi-Shah franchise. Simple. The very idea of letting a bunch of Gujaratis lord over Delhi is offensive to any genuine Delhiwalla.
In the present context of the nation-wide ferment over the citizenship laws, it becomes an acute democratic necessity to deny the BJP a victory in Delhi. It needs to be recalled that the BJP in Delhi has been subjecting the AAP government to a very vigorous and aggressive opposition, a role its national leadership denies to other parties. A hostile central government and a relentlessly aggressive local BJP have, for five years, waged a war of attrition against the democratically elected AAP government. This attitude does gross injustice to the idea of federal space. A BJP government in Delhi will introduce a gross imbalance in the political landscape at the heart of the nation’s capital.
The Congress has ruled itself out of contention. Any vote for it will be taken as an endorsement of an unappetising Rahul Gandhi leadership; the Delhi Congressmen have proved particularly craven in their obeisance to the Sonia-Rahul-Priyanka trimurthi.
The AAP is a collection of inspired younger men and women, though not without its quota of local level operatives, well-versed in the old-fashioned politics of patronage and corruption. After initial hiccups, the party was able to sort out most of its bad eggs; and, then, it stumbled upon an internal working arrangement that could accommodate Kerjriwal’s over-sized ego.
It is difficult to assess objectively whether the AAP has been able to escape the contractors’ stranglehold over ‘vikas;’ and, it is to be reasonably assumed that there has been petty thieving by the AAP operatives but there is no doubt that grand larceny that comes naturally to a Congress or a BJP crowd has been beyond the AAP’s imagination. No mean achievement.
The AAP dispensation has subscribed to a different, wholesome approach to basic issues like primary education, sanitation, and public health. It seems to have proceeded on a healthy assumption that the city’s governing priorities need to be rigged in favour of the poor, who constitute the overwhelmingly large part of the local population. It has not bent over backward to appease the middle classes, despite their domination of the media sites and the narrative machine. AAP is certainly a welcome antidote to the suit-boot sarkar atop the Raisina Hill.
Arvind Kejriwal is no stranger to opportunism nor is he above temptation of expediency. Yet a bumbling, even a faltering AAP experience is any day preferable to Amit Shah’s unearned and undeserving over-lordship of Delhi. The capital simply needs a dispensation that is not amenable or answerable to Amit Shah’s commandments.
After Jharkhand, Delhi assembly polls will become yet another occasion to tell the new rulers that they have seriously misunderstood their 2019 mandate, and that the citizens will not provide any political comfort to top-down waywardness. Equilibrium must be asserted in the national polity.
Harish Khare is a journalist who lives and works in Delhi. He was editor-in-chief of The Tribune.