City Sunday

People still vote for development

In the just-concluded Delhi Assembly elections, the people voted for development and survival. The mandate is a reflection of their daily struggles and hardships. The welfare measures undertaken by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Government have touched the middle class and the poor, particularly the unorganised working class, who cannot afford a ride on the Delhi Metro or the expensive power and hospital bills. The AAP convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal touched a chord and presented a soft, people-friendly accessible face. “The poor and the middle class voted for him,” aver many BJP campaigners, though the party did see a vote surge as it largely cashed in on the Congress votes that split between it and the AAP.  The Delhi BJP’s hope that a stronger Congress would help split AAP votes was belied as the grand old party preferred an AAP victory even at the cost of its own annihilation. Many see it as a strategy of the Congress for a future Opposition alliance. As per the Delhi BJP’s assessment, a small percentage of elite Congress voters opted for it and the poor and minorities went to the AAP.

It has the BJP poll managers in West Bengal worried as the State is scheduled to go to the polls in early 2021. While State party chief Dilip Ghosh wants to play hard on identity politics, the more moderate voices in the party want “ideological issues supplemented by a solid governance agenda and also a chief ministerial face.” The moderates have perhaps read the people’s minds as the common man in the country still votes for core issues of livelihood, health and education. This is what has given Kejriwal his victory. The Shaheen Bagh-type anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests also need to be read as an expression against the discomforting identity politics that has unnerved the people. Then there is the larger issue of the economy. The hike of Rs 145 in LPG prices possibly confirms their fears. Many BJP workers echo that sentiment. The BJP was voted to power with great expectations and was expected to chart out new economics. Somehow, along the way, it compromised its basic pro-people manifesto.

Interestingly, despite that, the BJP’s key leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, still rules the hearts and minds of the people. This was evident even during the campaigning ahead of Delhi elections. The people want him but as many Delhi poor say, he needs to care more for them and ease taxes, rail fares, bank charges, toll rates, increase interest rates on deposits and give them a people-friendly Budget. For Delhiites, Kejriwal signifies that much-needed relief. Even though these issues were not verbalised during the poll but if one moved around the city — whether in the posh Connaught Place area, the nondescript Madangiri or vocal Shaheen Bagh — the people were not as afraid of the CAA as they were of the rising cost of living, food and shelter.

Yes, Delhiites discussed more about the Consumer Price Index inflation, which spiked to 7.59 per cent in January against 7.35 per cent in December. The latest LPG price rise has also led many within the BJP to rue the subsidies they willingly gave up to a national call. In times of a wobbling economy, even a few hundred rupees saved — like Kejriwal’s subsidies on electricity, water and education — matter. It has led to another discussion on whether the Government should have the right to raise commodity prices and rail fares or should it even control the public sector. Even shadow BJP organisations, not just the Left, discuss whether, like the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, there should be a law binding all Governments to keep off public sector organisations, including the RBI, the LIC, Air India, BPCL and so on. There are even questions on why a private player like Reliance Petroleum should sell its stake to Saudi Arabia’s Aramco. It is a national issue and the private sector is also considered a national asset by the people who are discussing economic nationalism.

Political parties need to understand what shapes Indian politics. They praised the BJP for punishing Pakistan after the Pulwama terrorist attack but now they are more concerned about their own economic safety. Political parties need to articulate that. Kejriwal is tactfully smart. He skillfully avoided an identity trap and made the voter choose performance over animosity. The future of Indian politics does not make the BJP weaker. Its core ground remains intact and polarisation is sharp. It has to deliberate whether to ride that horse alone or also have core people-friendly economic decoratives. The Opposition, howsoever united, needs to worry more. It has not given any ideological or economic narrative. The future would belong to anyone who can chart out welfare economics with lower taxes/fares, a strong balance sheet and improved living standards, in short, happiness for all. Politicians need to understand that India is waiting for that beautiful day. (MR, Inputs: Agencies).

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