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Arvind Kejriwal bursts into Delhi politics with a serious claim on votes

Vinay Tewari |

Updated: October 30, 2013, 9:07 PM IST
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Arvind Kejriwal bursts into Delhi politics with a serious claim on votes
Kejriwal has turned the game in Delhi by attempting to encash the 'thought appeal' of his party's style of politics.

He is a rebel without a pause. A man who defies every stereotype of an archetypal politician. An untucked shirt, over-sized by two, floppy sandals and an out-of-fashion cap which sits incongruously over on a face adorned with thin steel-rimmed glasses, Arvind Kejriwal is rewriting the political grammar so rapidly that the discourse of this year's assembly elections in the National Capital isn't about the much-touted Modi versus Rahul battle. Or even about Sheila Dikshit - Delhi's affable, grandmotherly, and the most politically successful ever chief minister. It's about an audacious experiment, a tryst which even the most adept probability theorem scientist would have dismissed less than a couple of years ago.

A pre-poll study conducted by CNN IBN-The Week across four of the five poll-bound states has turned up data which makes the Delhi assembly polls - otherwise a politically lightweight contest compared to states like MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan - a blockbuster event. And the unlikely star on the centrestage - the Aam Aadmi Party leader and mascot, Arvind Kejriwal. A man who has stirred up the predictable political pot of Delhi so much that it's turning two national parties - used to 20 years of a straight contest in the Capital - into a bunch of nervous wrecks. The data, released by us today, confirms why the furrows on both Sheila Dikshit's and Harsh Vardhan's foreheads may have deepened.

Political bravado apart, the fact is the best laid plans of mice and men in Delhi, from both leading parties, have gone horribly awry because of the man who has made perpetually rebelling against all authority his calling card. The "Delhi-is-the-most-prosperous-and-developed-state-of-India" pitch of Sheila Dikshit and their self-touted governance card hasn't quite gathered steam to the extent Congress wants - and the BJP has been forced to change their captain just before the game in a desperate bid to find the safe shores of a wildly meandering river of Delhi's politics, struggling to occupy the space created by anti-incumbency and mood of negativity. So what has changed in the National Capital?

Delhi is one of India's most politically misunderstood states. Here, it isn't about parties gathering support borne out of block formations. Voters in Delhi don't vote by caste or religion. They vote by class. Caste and religion do not unify or create any block to be exploited through politics of victimhood, or fear. Delhi is also the only state in India which has three distinct socio-economic categories in virtually equally large and politically influential numbers. A very large affluent and upper middle class segment, a large middle class and a numerically big poor and impoverished class - all living a coterminous existence.

Ironically, all three economic classes in Delhi are united by one common fact and one common sentiment. The Delhi is a city of migrants and majority of all classes have their actual roots somewhere else. And the sentiment borne out of this: a sense of united, subliminal feeling they all came here searching for a better life, a life which had hope of improvement over what they had back home. For 70per cent of Delhi, this is their "karmabhoomi", not "janmabhoomi" - and that plays a role in how selfish one will be in approaching issues of the state. It's this rapidly changing reality of Delhi which has created an alternate political discourse. It was this realization which triggered the Congress strategy of creating some sort of notional "unifying support blocks" by playing the game of regularization of illegal colonies. There was no caste or religion here, just a reinforcement of a "you're-illegal-and-I-have-made-you-legal" strategy that had some success.

There is another conundrum - the relatively poor class in Delhi is largely engaged in servicing the middle and upper classes. From factory workers, plumbers, electricians, drivers, housemaids, vegetable vendors, shop assistants, and vendors to many others, they make the lives of the affluent easier. Their prosperity and ability to send some cash back home is linked to their employers' wealth and paying capacity. This limits the efficacy of dole politics - a fact borne out by the findings of our survey, which record a very poor awareness of social security schemes. It also creates an intensely aspirational class of people, an electorate of "I-need-to-make-a-buck-faster-than-the-next-guy" across economic classes. In a bipolar polity, Delhi used to be easier to judge. The Congress could keep milking its notionally created resettlement "block" as a buffer, even as you could see the BJP still trapped in their inability to get out of the 90s' trader party mindset. With the AAP, a triangular contest now makes it a far more difficult state to predict. For a large segment of the Delhi's electorate, the voting decision is linked to his or her last-mile issue - an issue which selfishly impacts or aids his or her life alone. Who taps this better is a vexed issue.

But it's here that Arvind Kejriwal's AAP becomes the most fascinating political laboratory of the year. And much like in corporate business, where new entrants trying to grab some market share look at a two-point winning formula - by either expanding the genre size of their product or redefining the definition of the genre - Kejriwal has simply rewritten the us-versus-them script. His aspirations have found a neat fit with the positional play-dough-like-malleability of the Delhi voter. He has turned the game by attempting to encash the "thought appeal" of his party's style of politics.

It's tough to counter the development and better infrastructure card in Delhi - remember, the Metro, the roads, flyovers and many other services are virtually the same for all classes unlike other states. So he has turned 2013 into a corruption game - aided partially by the prevailing mood across India. Delhi is a city of the privileged, and the poor class which services the upper middle and rich class have an underlying sense of lack of power in a power-, privilege- and influence-crazed state. That's why he has converted this into an "us-versus-them" debate. The AAP is the "us", the other powerful political parties are "them". It's a victim card by another name. It's not victimhood rooted in caste or religion. Instead, it's victimhood rooted in lack of access, participation and privilege. His genre expansion trick: go hammer and tongs at the young, the first time voters who are more prone to influence and romanticism - a constituency which seems to be getting most influenced by AAP's style of operation, going by our study.

And that's why Kejriwal talks about constituency-wise manifestoes, of holding his first assembly session in Ram Lila grounds, of doing nukkad sabhas and shuns large, distant, stage rallies, talks of volunteers and not party workers. He uses auto-rickshaw and cab drivers, hawkers and paan shop-wallahs as his campaigners and ordinary unknowns as candidates. He is a man who has so far played the David card far more beautifully than the Goliath's in Delhi politics.

The CNN IBN-The Week pre-poll, like many others, has captured a trend and the discourse in Delhi. But as any political student knows well, there is a significant slip between the cup and lip. Discourse and buzz don't always translate into as many seats as projected in our first-past the post election system. Because there are no cross-state blocs, a large number of voters vote for candidates and their own selfish gain, not ideology.

Observers and the media often misunderstand and consequently misjudge Delhi because we don't notice a huge segment of the state. Because Delhi isn't just Connaught Place, Jor Bagh, South Extension, Chanakyapuri, Defence Colony, Greater Kailash or Hauz Khas. There is a huge underbelly, a rather large poor and impoverished class, that remains a completely undocumented reality. Mumbai's Dharavi gets extensively chronicled, romanticized, featured and seen. But large swathes of Delhi -- Kondli-Gharoli, Kapashera, Burari, Nand Nagri, Ambedkar Nagar, Karawal Nagar, Jaffrabad, Seelampur, Badli, Deoli, Rithala and Madipur -- are unheard of places for many. They find no exposure in any discourse. They are the blind spots in our commentary, areas we either don't wish to see, or pretend don't exist. The minds of these areas may be unmapped by commentators, but these are areas which command huge political influence in the state. How extensively and actively they participate and get shaped by the new political discourse of Delhi will hold the key. Established parties, with much greater access to resource, money and influence, have the capability of blunting the buzz and discourse.

The first hint of results that voters hand out to politicians is by the numbers that turn up at booths. And if more than 57.5per cent per cent - which turned out in 2008 - do so on December 4, Sheila Dikshit should have many more furrows on her forehead.

But whatever the result on December 8, the Aam Aadmi party would have not only ended up stirring Delhi's politics, it would have shaken it up as well.

First Published: October 30, 2013, 9:07 PM IST
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