Individuals, Not Ideologies, Dictating Poll Verdicts Show Changing Contours of DemocracyThere are punctuations in history that signal shifts in political idiom. Democracies are expected to vote for or against an ideology. By definition, the democratic process involves confrontation between distinctive ideologies represented by different parties. Today, individuals have replaced ideologies. Even in mature democracies like the US and UK, individuals such as Barack Obama, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher et al turbo-charged electoral energy rather than
(From left) Kejriwal, Chamling, NTR and Mahanta)
In Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi has seen the kinetic rise of an individual instead of an alternative political philosophy to the BJP and Congress. For the political pundits, Kejriwal’s triumph has been an exceptional electoral enigma. Since it is for the first time that a newborn party has secured over 50 per cent of votes in Delhi, AAP’s victory has been projected as an unprecedented mandate. This is not entirely true. The Kejriwal Charisma is just yet another endorsement of the changing contours of political verdicts. Fed up with established parties and lethargic leaders, voters have been desperately looking for individuals who not only seem different but also behave differently. Kejriwal didn’t defeat the BJP or the Congress. He trounced the expired or confused ideologies of the national parties. The massive turnout at his second swearing-in was an indication of his personal popularity and not that of his party. Self-appointed political stargazers and opinionated intellectuals are busy predicting the impact of Kejriwal’s victory in other parts of the country. Besides bringing a broad smile to the face of Modi-wounded rivals, the Delhi declaration may not cause serious upheavals unless more Kejriwals emerge in the poll-bound states. If this happens, it may turn out to be a major headache for Modi bhakts and the BJP. But none of the local leaders have the capacity to neutralise the Modi Mantra as Kejriwal could in Delhi.
Kejriwal’s rise is as spectacular as that of Modi. People from all over the country chose Modi not because he was leading the BJP but because he looked different from the usual caricature of the political campaigner. His delivery of rhetoric was more convincing than the discipline and devotional colours of his saffron party. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani could not retain their following. Gandhi Parivar members have also lost their charismatic copyright. In the past decade, many individuals have risen at the cost of their own parties or have floated smaller organisations to take on the national or local parties. Earlier, when the Congress, led by Indira Gandhi, marginalised local leaders and ran the states like personal fiefdoms, the backlash resulted in the birth of regional satraps who ejected the Congress from their states. Some examples:
• During the early 1980s, the Congress in Andhra Pradesh became a symbol of arrogance and corrupt governance. It was run from Delhi. The local leadership had to take instructions from the private secretaries in the PMO for even appointing senior officers. As the Congress became ineffective in Andhra, it was left to film icon NT Rama Rao to take on the ruling party. NTR was the first homegrown leader who stormed to power within months of floating his party. In 1983, the TDP won 201 of 294 seats and polled 54 per cent votes. The Congress couldn’t digest its humiliating defeat. The High Command tried to break the TDP and imposed a dummy CM after dismissing NTR. But the Union Government had to yield to public pressure and order fresh elections in 1985. Once again the TDP polled 54 per cent votes and won 202 seats. But it wasn’t a vote for the TDP. It was a verdict in favour of an individual who lacked ideology but was seen as a person who would provide a clean and responsive government. Andhra became the first large state to hand over its destiny to a political novice. NTR wielded so much clout that the subsequent coalition government at the Centre couldn’t choose its PM without his approval.
• In the Northeast, another rising star demolished the might of the national party by floating his own outfit to become India’s youngest CM at 33. In 1983, student leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, along with half a dozen other student leaders, launched an agitation against illegal immigrations to Assam. Over 400 people died in the agitation and Mahanta became the saviour of the Assamese identity. Since the All Assam Students’ Union became a rallying point for all Assamese people, PM Rajiv Gandhi was forced to sign the Assam Accord following which the Congress government headed by Hiteshwar Saikia was dismissed. Fresh elections were ordered. Mahanta floated the Asom Gana Parishad in 1985 and won an absolute majority the same year and became the CM.
• In the tiny state of Sikkim, Pawan Kumar Chamling, 44, created history in 1993 when he floated his own party, the Socialist Democratic Front (SDF). He announced on his official website that “serving the people of Sikkim is our duty and religion”. In 1994, his party won an absolute majority. Since then he has been winning all the elections in Sikkim. In 1999, his party polled 52 per cent votes, which rose to 71 per cent in 2004. In 2009, the SDF won all the 32 seats in the Assembly.
Kejriwal’s victory is just a rekindling of the people’s desire to support those with fire in their belly. Even leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik and KCR have defeated the national parties not because their parties were seen as better alternatives but because they are perceived as better administrators. Constitutionally, India may still be a parliamentary democracy. But on the ground, the monumental triumphs of individuals like Modi and Kejriwal have transformed the country’s political ethos into a presidential form of democracy. From now on, individuals with an agenda and attitude, who do not necessarily have a defined ideology, will decide the fate of their own parties and the populace.
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