Modi, Kejriwal and victory for outliers

They have responded to popular impulse for different and innovative paradigm by junking traditional way of doing politics


Ajay Singh | December 9, 2013

In politics, like in mathematics, if a complex problem is oversimplified, its comprehension becomes all the more difficult. The attempt to find out a universal truth that can unravel the mystery of the state assembly outcomes is fraught with a similar risk. There are simply many truths and not one that holds the key to this political conundrum.

Apparently, the success of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is clearly an index of social acceptability of outliers in traditional politics. Arvind Kejriwal was not an NT Rama Rao endowed with cinematic charm or a Kanshi Ram who built his political base over the years by mobilising a social group. He appeared to be a next-door neighbour grappling with day-to-day ordeals of life like any of us. Yet he challenged the system.

In fact, Kejriwal personified the travails of an ordinary citizen who is ridiculed and lampooned at every stage of his life. Can you recall the smug tweet of Robert Wadra about "mango man" or the supercilious reference of ordinary air passengers as "cattle class" by Shashi Tharoor? Similarly, Vijay Goel of the BJP tried to wrest the initiative by fighting it out with Kejriwal like a street bully. All this contributed in the making of a myth around Kejriwal as an ordinary citizen hemmed in by an intriguing class of practitioners of traditional politics.

Kejriwal appears to be an exception if you are reluctant to give a similar credit to Gujarat chief minister and BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Unlike Kejariwal, Modi is a charismatic leader who appears to be hemmed in by wily politicians cutting across the political spectrum. The manner in which those within the BJP who opposed Modi's coronation as the party's prime ministerial candidate were silenced was reflective of popular sentiment that goes with him.
Modi is also an outlier within the saffron fold in his own right. His political vocabulary and idioms are distinctly different from the traditional rhetoric and mannerism. The fact that he is unpopular among leaders of the Hindutva brigade has only enhanced his reputation among people. If anything, Modi is an outlier like Kejriwal, albeit at the national level.

This is not to suggest that state leaders of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh were not significant. There is little doubt that Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is known to be a people's leader. His mannerism and conduct does not reflect the superciliousness and arrogance that political class tends to acquire. His round the clock politics and his ability to keep his ear to the ground enabled him to travel this far.

But to say that Modi played no significant role in the landslide victory in the election is to deny the existence of an elephant in a room. If you jog the memory a bit you would recall the premonition of Chouhan who suspected that nearly three dozen assembly segments precariously balanced by the minority votes would swing against the BJP in the event of Modi's declaration as the PM candidate prior to the assembly polls. But a glance at results not only belied Chouhan's apprehension but also raised questions about the predictability of the minority's political conduct based on certain traditional presumptions.

Similarly, in Chhattisgarh, chief minister Raman Singh was facing an uphill task following the killing of top Congress leaders by Maoists in Bastar. Though Singh was not unpopular, some his ministers had a not-so-clean track record. And Singh's inability to contain them had proven to be his major handicap till Modi launched a sustained campaign, mobilised party workers and offered a ray of hope. What appears to have helped the BJP is the presence of an abysmally discredited face of Ajit Jogi as an alternative to Raman Singh.

In Rajasthan also, Vasundhara Raje Scindia is certainly a charismatic scion of the royal family. But she is certainly not Bhairon Singh Shekhawat whose stature matched with the tallest leaders of the saffron fold. Given the revolving door political history of Rajasthan, Scindia was a natural beneficiary of the anti-incumbency trend. But what she got was an exceptional political reward quite disproportionate to her capacity. And it does not require any wisdom to attribute it to the Modi phenomenon.

Perhaps it would be naive to ignore that the assembly results were the outcome of a strong wave of people's anger and distaste for conventional politics. This is why even a sponsored sting operation against the AAP cemented people's resolve to vote overwhelmingly for Kejriwal.

Curiously enough, those traditionally occupying the ‘third force’ space – for example, BSP and JD (U) – stood marginalised. This is indeed a warning signal for leaders like Sharad Yadav, Prakash Karat and Mulayam Singh Yadav who are steeped into traditional politics and not responding to the popular impulse for a different and innovative paradigm. Significantly, Navin Patnaik and Mamta Bannerjee do not fall into this category. Nitish Kumar is precariously perched in Bihar where his efforts to resurrect the state has been politically yielding diminishing return on account of inefficient bureaucracy and viciously casteist social order. He is indeed fighting the toughest battle in the emerging scenario.

By all account, it would be patently an ostrich-like approach to deny Modi what is due to him. Given the kind of cynicism that pervades the political scenario, he has emerged as a symbol of people's hope and urge for a change. And he has been capturing the space vacated by conventional politicians who in their smug arrogance refused to see the writing on the wall. His juggernaut can only be stopped by innovative political arguments which can resonate with people. In the absence of this, the assembly election may well be a precursor to his steamrolling across those states where the BJP had registered its footprints in the past.



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