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Bursting BJP bubble: How Narendra Modi lost his 'development' groove

If the pollsters get their predictions on Delhi right on Tuesday, AAP would have spectacularly bursted the year-long BJP bubble that drew strength from its three-pronged strategy - Modi, the leader; his development and anti-populism rhetoric; and polarisation of people.

Delhi’s electorate, if all goes well, will have convincingly told Modi on Tuesday that he is not good enough for Kejriwal; his top-down development-spiel sounds too staid in front of Kejriwal’s bottom up pro-people strategy and people cannot be polarised when they are unified by socio-political empowerment.

Till a few days back, Modi looked invincible and even insolent, when he took on his political opponents with his trademark disdain. He brought the same attitude to Delhi while taking on Kejriwal and the AAP. And his development agenda, that the BJP ranks swore by as the panacea for India’s ills, appeared to be immune to failure. But in Delhi, right from day one, both the leader and the agenda appeared to be on a weak wicket because what was on offer on the other side was better politics, which unfortunately was missing in other parts of the country where the BJP juggernaut had its successful run.

 Bursting BJP bubble: How Narendra Modi lost his development groove

Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal.

The most damaging aspect of the Delhi elections to BJP will be how Kejriwal busted the Modi myth. While Modi spoke down from podiums, he was on the streets moving with people and energising them. When Modi called him an anarchist and asked him to join the naxals, Kejriwal ignored him even as international media gave a positive spin to the former’s jibes. When the leader in Kejriwal looked tall or even taller, came dubious allegations that exploded on BJP’s face. Worse still were the empty seats and yawning leaders that greeted Modi in his rally.

Interestingly, Modi’s well-coiffed looks, which were part of his leadership package, appeared too elitist and completely out of place in Delhi where Kejriwal inspired people as a common man with his muffler and sandals. He took Twitter by storm as a #MufflerMan while the national and global media went to town about his triumph as a leader of the masses. Perhaps, for the first time in months, Modi was ignored. He looked inadequate and lacklustre.

It was not just Modi, the leader, that failed in Delhi. His development-rhetoric that sought to make India an economic super power and inspired the middle class across the country also sounded empty in contrast to Kejriwal’s development agenda that relied on the real needs of people - water, power, housing, security and a dignified life. Modi’s promises came right out of the policy notes of right wing economists, who have a habitual dislike for feeding the poor, while Kejriwal’s development agenda came from the idea of people’s empowerment. As Institute of Development Studies (IDS) noted, “empowerment happens when individuals and organised groups are able to imagine their world differently and to realise that vision by changing the relations of power that have been keeping them in poverty.”

“Empowerment is (also) a process by which people learn to think critically about their own circumstances and possibilities, unlearn prior social conditioning and see things differently.” Evidently, Kejriwal has been able to inspire the common people in Delhi to think about a new world, where they reimagined their own economic and political spaces, that neither the BJP nor the Congress had been able to offer. It’s welfare politics alright, but it didn’t arise not out of electoral expediencies than from people’s needs.

Thirdly, what also worked in AAP’s favour is that the party has been able to keep different sections of people together irrespective of their caste and religion. While the upper class still appeared to favour Modi, who was basking in the glory of Obama’s visit and the nuclear deal, the poor and the marginalised - as the higher voter turn out in lower middle class and poor areas showed - stood with Kejriwal. In their quest for empowerment and better lives, nothing seemed to have polarised them. Kejriwal and his politics didn’t divide people for votes, but united them, which would in turn help him. Reverse polarisation worked for both the people and the AAP.

Kejriwal and the AAP have been able to stop the BJP in its tracks on all the three fronts because of a new political alternative. Unfortunately, the AAP alone could have done it because other political parties are the two sides of the same coin. Congress or any of the regional parties don’t have anything else to offer, but the same development agenda, compromises on corruption, and divisive politics. In such a scenario, the AAP is a great glimmer of hope for Indian politics. That despite its awful initial failures, people still stood by the party and its leaders is remarkable.

The party has been able to empower people, who have been marginalised and excluded from decision-making, to think about addressing themselves the inequalities they are facing. Delhi has shown that this bottom-up politics can certainly work in India and is perhaps the only solution to take on the well entrenched political parties that have all coalesced into an arrogant big block.

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Updated Date: Feb 09, 2015 15:06:53 IST