Today, Delhi is awash in Narendra Modi hoardings. This is by itself is not surprising, for the new government shares the fondness that the old one had for pictorial self-promotion. The fact that Modi is the BJP's star proposition for the upcoming state elections, or for that matter any election in the near future, is also quite clear. What is new in these hoardings is the message- the familiar evocations of achche din and development have been supplanted by specific promises that are aimed at wooing the urban poor. Ditto for the few billboards that the Congress feels justified in spending its depleting war chest on. Bijli, paani, pucca housing have replaced loftier concerns. And of course, no one is fighting jihad in the name of love nor are too many returning home.
Just a few months ago, they thought they had buried Arvind Kejriwal, but as it turns out, they got careless about nailing the coffin shut. After winning 60 assembly segments in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP decision to keep putting off the Delhi elections has been widely regarded as a blunder, and it is difficult to argue the point. At that time, most felt that the AAP experiment was effectively over. The Modi effect was just too strong, and in spite of the fact the BJP in Delhi was a party led by bonsai sized leaders, the party was expected to romp home. But the party kept delaying the elections and Kejriwal kept burrowing his way through the entrails of the city, and today, regardless of what the outcome of the election might be, the BJP is in a state of high panic. Modi has blinked, and the BJP is gulping hard.
If Modi managed to create a constituency out of middle class aspiration, Kejriwal is attempting to do so out of underclass frustration. The urban poor has always been represented electorally, but what the AAP has managed to do is to create a sense that are not only representing this class but that they are championing them. The sense of identification that has been created is quite significant, and is of a different quality than what was managed hitherto by the Congress. The AAP's brand of messy fractiousness, their ability to sustain air of perpetual confrontation, of fighting a grinding everyday battle against circumstances that are always overwhelming, seems to strike a resonant chord with the life of the urban poor. In this battle, the niceties of behavior are not what is most important, it is the belief that someone is on their side that is what is key.
Which is why gone is the grand ambition of reforming politics itself, and even the battle against corruption has taken a back seat. The middle class has defected to Modi, for most part, and the sense of deep anger against the political system as a whole has just got buried a little bit deeper. There is hope, and Kejriwal evokes a sense of anarchy that is too unsettling. The middle class wants to be comforted, inspired even, and all that the AAP can offer is eternal strife. Winning the AAP way, does not feel like winning, and the middle class seeks above all to feels like winners.
As cities prosper, it would seem that they grow unhappier. The city, at a gross level becomes more attractive, while at the net level, it becomes less livable. This dichotomy between having better lives while living miserably lies at the heart of a new urban political vocabulary that the AAP has carved out for itself. Tangible frustration trumps abstract hope, or so the AAP believes. This is a new kind of secularism, the universality of urban dislocation, and one that overrides more local considerations.
All political parties seem to believe that the way to win this election is to beat the AAP at its game, rather than play their own. This is a win for Kejriwal, regardless of what happens in a week's time. For the first time Modi is being bracketed with another leader, and for the first time since the Lok Sabha elections, he is not setting the agenda. The BJP is the follower here, whether it is in the desperate gambit to project Kiran Bedi as their CM candidate or in the deployment of the Cabinet to try and win this election or indeed in the nature of questions it is asking Kejriwal, most of them vapid and petty, essentially contending that Kejriwal is not special- he is just another politician, pretty much like those asking the questions.
But this is a two-way mirror- if other parties are mirroring the AAP, so is the AAP mirroring them. The aura of righteousness around the party has dimmed substantially, and too much mud has been flung at it from those who were once part of it for it to be credible as a moral force anymore. It is now a force in a more classic political sense, in that it represents the interests of a particular constituency and is willing to do what it takes to get them a greater share of rewards. It still has some points of difference, but nothing an election or two might not dissolve. For now, what it appears to promise is a counterpoint, and that by itself has some advantages. What it has also underlined is that there is place for the politics of hope and mythmaking and there is place for the politics of passionate strife. The AAP had always promised to change politics and this they might just do, regardless of the outcome of this election, but this is not the revolution that their Lokpal movement had promised. But structurally it has shown that a counterpoint to the aspiration-led politics of the BJP does exist. Converting it into votes is hard, grinding work, but it can be done.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.