Thursday, 5 February 2015

It is time for real change in Delhi—vote for AAP!

A memorable election campaign has drawn to a close and now it us up to the voters of Delhi to make their decision. The no-holds-barred clash between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has held the attention of the entire nation in recent days. As AAP, led by an untiring and unshakeable Arvind Kejriwal, accomplished an almost inconceivable turnaround in the polls, a surprised BJP tried to throw every possible obstacle in its path from the surprise announcement of Kiran Bedi as its chief ministerial-candidate to employing negative campaign tactics at the fag end of the campaign that even shocked many of its own ardent supporters. 

The BJP seemed so intent on stopping AAP and Kejriwal that it chose a CM-candidate solely on her potential ability to neutralise Kejriwal’s appeal but in the process engendered fractious infighting within its Delhi unit. Also, BJP seemed so caught up in a negative diatribe targeting AAP that it could not find the time or inclination to decide on a proper manifesto, instead producing a wishy-washy vision statement that only made headlines for idiotically referring to Delhi’s residents from the Northeast as ‘immigrants’. A Freudian slip, perhaps? 

All is fair in politics, and BJP is free to choose whichever campaign strategy it sees fit, but the spectacle of a galaxy of union cabinet ministers supplanting BJP’s state leaders last week and launching into a daily litany of angry press conferences against AAP will leave a taint not easily removable after the election is over. The Prime Minister’s four rallies were a steady descent into mud-slinging and name-calling that was unbecoming and unworthy of his office. The speeches just added to a growing sense that the PM is getting more and more out of touch in his South Block bubble. Jibes about the 10-lakh pinstriped suit he is said to have worn during the Obama trip are here to stay and getting embedded into his public persona. 

Alongside the influx of BJP central leaders was the rapid diminishment of Kiran Bedi. By the end of this campaign she has been reduced to a forlorn and tragic figure, who melted under the microscopic scrutiny of the campaign trail. Her attempt to tame a rowdy crowd at the Modi rally in Dwarka and then refusal to continue her speech till they quietened down was truly bizarre and showcased her incomprehension of the new world she had chosen to enter with such hype. Her trials and tribulations proving once again that politics is not a spectator sport for amateur enthusiasts. There are no shortcuts to political proficiency. 

I have no idea who will win on February 10 and I don’t trust opinion polls, which are too easily manipulated by media moguls and their political overlords. But in my opinion, partisan though it is, on the ground in Delhi the AAP campaign has dominated this race by starting first, turning back the initial antipathy, then building a feel-good factor, and finally delivering multiple overflowing jansabhas every single day with a laser focus on local issues that affect the daily lives of common people. The BJP campaign did not even get going till the last two weeks of the campaign. Amit Shah’s emphasis on booth and panna pramukhs is all well and good, but they were the last step in his multi-step master plan during the Lok Sabha elections that included a formidable candidate leading the charge and an easy target in the form of a Congress Party weakened by a blizzard of anti-incumbency. The much vaunted organisational prowess of the RSS is also largely restricted to preaching to the converted and increasing turnout among the faithful. Here too they will find that AAP volunteers have covered the same ground before them and repeatedly so. By now Amit Shah must be nostalgic for the Congress as an electoral adversary. You definitely don’t hear him repeat his favourite campaign line about a Congress-mukt Bharat nowadays. He is caught in an electoral battle where his party’s natural advantages have been undone by the unique political typography of Delhi and an adversary who is perfectly adapted to local conditions. Simply put, Amit Shah has insisted on trying to fight a tank battle in an urban warfare setting. The result has been ugly and the BJP’s scorched-earth campaign strategy will have implications for the Modi Government, irrespective of the electoral outcome. 

To conclude, AAP has a leader who has proven his mettle, flanked by a solid and competent team, and they have a comprehensive agenda for Delhi’s future as can be seen in AAP’s manifesto. The BJP has a discombobulated CM-candidate, a fractious and dispirited state party which was shunted aside by central leaders during the campaign, and no governance plan other than more ill-defined promises in the form of a PR blitz costing unquantifiable crores. BJP is desperate to win this election so that the PM does not lose face this soon after the general election, local issues come a distant second on their list of priorities. The people of this great city deserve better. It is time for real change in Delhi—vote for AAP and let’s step into a better future together.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Five questions from an Aam Aadmi to our pinstriped Pradhan Mantri

Today the BJP continued its daily chore of flinging five questions at the Aam Aadmi Party for the fourth day in a row even if the Prime Minister’s weekend rallies rendered the entire exercise superfluous. The sight of BJP central leaders taking turns in the inquisitor’s seat makes one wonder if this is a mere state election or in fact a national election. The questions have ranged from the stale to the bizarre like Nirmala Sitharaman’s attempt to insinuate that NRI supporters of AAP in the Gulf countries were somehow anti-national elements was beneath contempt and ultimately a wasted opportunity as it was too ludicrous to take seriously or necessitate a reply. You see, the problem is that if the BJP knew what they were doing all they should need is five questions in total, not wasting a press conference a day on inanities. 

Thus I thought I’d take as shot at showing the BJP how it is really supposed to be done by posting five questions of my own for them to answer. But then I was left in a quandary as to which entity I should address the questions. The BJP’s CM candidate only speaks when permitted by her minders, the Delhi state BJP leaders have been sidelined by the national leadership from election management duties and are mere spectators at this point. Arun Jaitley has commandeered the office of the state president at Delhi BJP headquarters but he too is taking his marching orders from the BJP’s very own prince of darkness, Amit Shah. However, in truth Amit Shah is nothing but the creation and stooge of our great Prime Minister. So when it comes down to it the BJP’s campaign in Delhi began with Narendra Modi as its mascot and after a misjudged detour or three has ended exactly in the same place. The buck always stops at the top and particularly so in the current iteration of the BJP.

So, Mr Prime Minister, the colossus bestride our polity, lover of fine fashion and selfies, sirjee, forgive my natural-born impudence, but here are my five questions for you, which naturally I don’t expect you to ever answer but it is imperative that I ask them all the same. I shall try to keep them brief. Here they are:

1) To start with basic issues first, sirjee, before the 2013 assembly elections your party promised the Delhi electorate that their electricity bills would be reduced by 30% if BJP ever entered office, but after eight months of direct rule in Delhi by your government far from any reduction in rates they have in fact gone up with Discoms doing as they merry please. This has not stopped you from making another hollow promise of a 50% cut in this election. The aam aadmi wants to know why, Modiji?

2) Another manifesto commitment of your party from 2013 is a solemn pledge to grant full statehood to Delhi. Now, though, we hear that your party has decided to do without a manifesto altogether because you do not wish to reveal your repudiation of early commitment to state hood now that you are comfortably in the saddle at the Centre. The aam aadmi would like an explanation for this betrayal, Modiji. 

3) Forgive me a touch of parochialism, sirjee, but I am Punjabi and I remember well your assurance during the general election campaign that Punjabi farmers in Kutch, who were being harassed regarding ownership of their land due to the actions of your state government. Eight months later many those farmers have been chased out of Kutch. Your word stands broken. Is this the anti-farmer philosophy at the heart of your Gujarat Model of governance that we now see applied in the Land Ordinance your government passed without consultation or consideration. Rural Delhi is up in arms at amendments made in the ordinance. Why should they trust your government’s assurance about safeguarding their interests when you did not keep your word in protecting the Punjabi farmers of Kutch in your home state? 

4) Modiji, your allies in this election the Akali Dal is campaigning in full force with you shoulder to shoulder, apparently unmindful and uncaring of the events in Kutch. Nevertheless, it is amusing that up till very recently members of your party were referring to the Badal family-led party as a den of drug lords who had to be vanquished at all cost for the good of Punjab. Your chief sidekick Amit Shah had even planned a massive rally in Amritsar to underline just this issue. The Badal family in turn accused the Sangh Parivar of trying to sow seeds of communal disharmony in Punjab. All that seems forgotten now at the altar of political expediency in an attempt to garner Sikh votes in Delhi. Is this not the height of hypocrisy and political opportunism, sirjee? What kind of government will you offer Delhi with this unholy alliance at its heart? 

5) Personally, I did not believe President Obama’s recent visit should have been dragged into the Delhi election campaign, but clearly that ship has sailed. I found it interesting that you opined in your campaign speech on Saturday about how much prestige and glory the US President’s trip brought to India but completely forgot to take notice of his Siri Fort speech, in which for perhaps the first time in living memory a visiting dignitary of such stature admonished India’s ruling dispensation in a public forum about the importance of respecting freedom of religion and underlined the significance of Article 25 in our Constitution. Do you not think that this was a great blow to your government’s international reputation and reason for introspection for your party, sir? 

In conclusion, Prime Minister, if I may offer some gratuitous fashion advice. I strongly recommend you find a new tailor who has a more sober and Make-in-India approach to men’s wear. When your extravagant clothing choices grab world headlines instead of anything you have had to say, and you don’t happen to be a supermodel, it is time for a change.