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Has Delhi joined a global pink tide?

Debraj Bhattacharya

Updated: February 12, 2015, 4:42 PM IST
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Since the victory of AAP in the Delhi Assembly election on February 11 there has been a series of analyses of why they have won both in the print and electronic media. The key debate that seems to have dominated both television and print has been whether this is a local Delhi centric verdict or whether this result has a national significance. Needless to say BJP has tried to portray this as an aberration, a small election in a small state, while the opposition has tried to say that there is a national significance and this shows popular anger against the Modi Government. Let me try to pose another question - is this election result part of a global trend, where a new kind of left is emerging around the world? Is the New Delhi result part of a global pink tide?

Consider recent election results around the world.

- In February 2013 in the election held in Italy the centre-left Democratic Party won against the centre-right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi.

- In November 2013 Leftist leader Michelle Bachelet of Chile became the President as part of a larger trend in Latin America where a democratic Left is popular is most countries.

- In September 2014 a left of centre coalition defeated the right of centre alliance in Sweden and came to power.

- In Brazil the Workers Party won in November 2014. The contest was a keenly fought one with the right of centre Aécio Neves losing narrowly to Dilma Rousseff.

- In the election in Japan held in December 2014, the Communist Party of Japan raised in tally of seats from 8 to 21 although the right of centre Liberal Democrats under Shinzo Abe came out as winner.

- In January 2015 in the election held in Greece, the left of centre Syriza Party won convincingly.

- In May 2014 at the European Election a new Spanish left of centre party named Podemos did surprisingly well and won 5 of the 54 seats. This made them the fourth most voted party in the election. Their popularity in Spain has only increased since then. This was remarkable as Podemos was formed only in 2014.

While each of these countries have their own specific contexts there is also a common element. They are representing a growing disenchantment with market fundamentalist policies of neo-liberal capitalism. Simply put, it is the belief, state interventions, welfare etc are all bad words and the only thing the government should do is to promote "business" which will in turn lift people out of poverty. Unfortunately the parts of the world which have seen market fundamentalism at work have realised that it results in more and more wealth for the rich and leaves a vast majority of the society poor and vulnerable. Since the financial crisis of 2007-08 more and more countries are beginning to see that there is a merit in what the Left has been saying all along - that neoliberalism only means more wealth for the rich. A French economist named Thomas Piketty acquired rock-star status when he demonstrated in his book Capital in the Twentieth Century how capitalism leads to greater and greater inequality.

While on the one hand there has been a growing disenchantment with parties proposing neo-liberalism there has been also a re-invention of the Left in the twenty first century. While the 20th century type Leninist or Maoist Communist parties are still around, there is a new tide of pragmatic Left parties which believe in democratic elections, which fights for the rights of the poor, advocates a strong welfare state and does not live in the utopia of immediate abolition of capitalism. They are also characterised by a popular youth base, innovative social media campaigns and slogans and leaders who often have a smiling face unlike the old Soviet leaders who took particular pride in looking grim and authoritarian.

The victory of AAP in Delhi is superficially of course a victory for a particular party and a particular political leader named Arvind Kejriwal. However at a deeper level it also perhaps represents a global trend of disenchantment with market fundamentalism. The ordinary people of Delhi who voted for Kejriwal may not know much about the countries mentioned above. But they have joined a global trend when they have started to ask for a strong welfare state that will give water and electricity. They have joined a global trend when they have shown their desire against crony capitalism. They have clearly not bought the argument that more "reforms" will lead to greater prosperity and more people will be lifted out of poverty as a result. They may not have read Thomas Piketty but they can see the shopping malls and the price of one cup of coffee in these malls.

An obvious question would be how come the people of Delhi have suddenly turned towards the global pink tide when only a few months ago they voted for BJP and Narendra Modi. Before the Lok Sabha election also they showed their faith in Modi as they believed that Modi, being a man of humble origins, would think of the poor first. It is clear that they now think otherwise. Let me end with an anecdote. A month after Modi's victory I was riding on an auto-rickshaw in Delhi. I asked the autowallah where he is from. He said Rajasthan. Then I asked him why did vote Congress out? He mentioned corruption and inflation? Then I asked him so what is going to happen now? He said "chay mahiney mein pata chal jayga" (in six months we will come to know). In other words, he was speaking like an evaluator rather than like a worshipper.
First Published: February 12, 2015, 4:42 PM IST