Monday, December 9, 2013

A re-election in Delhi will improve Congress’s tally….

The BJP and AAP are behaving irresponsibly. The AAP is doing what people have by now come to expect of it – be extremely inflexible. We first saw this during Anna’s movement in which the outfit’s stand on the Jan Lokpal Bill was simply “my way or the highway”. The BJP, for reasons that are not difficult to understand, is acting coy about forming the government. If it wants to, it has enough arsenal (dirty tricks, cash, inducements) to do so. Both parties are publicly claiming that a re-election will give them a clear mandate. In my opinion, anything but this is what the re-elections will give.

Both parties – and almost all political pundits – were hugely surprised by the drubbing the Congress got in the last elections. Forget their macho stance now, but none was willing to bet his money on such an outcome. The results have been “too good” for the AAP and a “face saver” for the BJP after its very visible internal scuffles. Their surprise victory has made both a little smug.

Will the Congress get more seats in a re-election? Without doubt. The people of Delhi were obviously very angry and hence cast their votes the way they did. Now that they’ve vented their anger, their more balanced and thoughtful mind will come into play. Already they are reading comments in media, even from known Congress baiters, that Sheila Dixit transformed Delhi in the last 15 years. They are also seeing that just a few days into power, and an AAP MLA has already been charged with molestation charges. As far as the BJP is concerned, it must be really worried about a re-election. For whatever he is worth, Modi cannot enact another rescue act. He’s exhausted his entire arsenal of hollow rhetoric. How can he repeat the same rubbish again? And now the BJP knows – the big rallies do not translate into votes! The last time around, it ended up becoming a BJP-AAP fight; this time, it will be a more regular three-cornered fight.

If reelections were to happen, the Congress would probably field a new leader. People are now saying that Ajay Maken would have made a better choice. He’s suave and competent, and well connected to the grassroots. A change of leader will also help assuage the feelings of the voters. Also, a few bold announcements by the Congress – like concrete steps to stem the price rise, and an honest admission of it’s past mistakes, will help douse the people’s anger further. In their own hearts, the people of Delhi know their city has seen the maximum growth under Congress – be it in terms of GDP, jobs, real estate, infrastructure, whatever – and they realize their anger was overdone.

The Congress lost some 15% or more votes from 2008 levels. If it regains just a third of these, it will be in the reckoning for power all over again. This is not just the fantasy of a Congress supporter, but cold poll logic. After punishing Indira Gandhi in 1977 for the emergency, they elected her back with a thumping majority in 1980. Would they have done it earlier if they had had the chance? No doubt they would have, for in their hearts, they always liked her. But the Janata Party was practical enough – unlike AAP and the BJP in Delhi – and it formed the government under Morarji Desai and later, Charan Singh. That government survived under three years, but it denied Indira Gandhi a continuity of term. If AAP and BJP don’t remember this lesson, the Congress is going to be very happy!

Now that the anger is off, people are also realizing that neither the AAP nor BJP can deliver on the bizarre promises they have made. How will they bring down electricity rates by 30% (BJP) and 50% (AAP)? A report in ET shows that Delhi electricity tariffs are already lower than Mumbai’s or Kolkata’s or Bangalore’s ( Of course, the two parties can fulfil their promise for a while, like the BJP government did in Goa by bringing down petrol costs to some bizarre levels, but that will ruin the state’s economy, like happened in Goa. People expect politicians to make tall promises, but they also know that those promises are pretty much forgotten after every election. It’s not for such promises that people vote for them. It is not that they expect the next party to be better. It is only to teach the ruling party a lesson. It is only to smother its smugness. It is only to reassert their own authority over the parties. Once that’s happened, they repeat this process, in most cases, reinstating the old party back in power. We’ve seen this happen repeatedly in Rajasthan, Punjab, UP, TN and so many more states. There is no reason to believe that Delhiites won’t behave the same way.

One thing that the hung assembly has brought out painfully (again) for the BJP is that no one wants to align with it. Neither the Congress (because they find the BJP communal), nor the AAP (because they find the BJP corrupt)…..and not even the JD(U) which has one MLA in Delhi (because they find the BJP unreliable as a friend)! If this same thing plays out nationally in 2014, the BJP has had it.

The BJP and the AAP think they will ruin their reputation by taking over just a few months before the general elections. The BJP is particularly worried about this, knowing from experience that the honeymoon periods are getting shorter. One misstep and that could cost them enormously in the general elections. So its best to stay out. But the BJP hasn’t calculated that the pendulum (the public mood) could swing the other way, now that the anger is off.

The real truth is that the people of Delhi have vented, and if they are called to vote again, chances are the fight will be three-cornered, instead of a straight BJP-AAP one. BJP/AAP should keep that in mind. Not taking over just a few months before the general elections may appear to be good strategy, but it could badly misfire….

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