Pity the liberals of Delhi, so keen on scripting the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party, yet exasperatingly confused over whether the Aam Aadmi Party or the Congress is best placed to trounce the BJP in the National Capital’s seven Lok Sabha constituencies. Fearing that their confusion could split the anti-BJP votes, they are obsessed about gauging whether the AAP or the Congress has the wind in its sails.
The dilemma of Delhi’s liberals was once that of the Muslims of Uttar Pradesh. They voted strategically, choosing to support the non-BJP party they perceived was most likely to gather the maximum number of Hindu votes in a constituency. Their assumption was that their votes would enhance that party’s chances of trumping the BJP.
The phenomenon of strategic voting had Muslims alter their voting decisions the night before polling day, often leading to their votes getting scattered. This was because their assessment of which party was best placed to vanquish the BJP was based on gut feeling, not on a scientifically designed survey.
However, in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the dilemma of Muslims was resolved in most constituencies of Uttar Pradesh because of the alliance between the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, the principal repositories of the community’s votes.
The desperation of Uttar Pradesh’s Muslims is now that of the Delhi liberals largely because of the failure of the Congress to stitch an alliance with the AAP. Their desperation arises from their awareness that they are not numerous enough to provide a decisive edge to either the AAP or the Congress, and that their votes will acquire a salience only when they vote the way the teeming residents of the slums and jhuggi-jhopris will.
But this is an onerous task for Delhi’s liberals to undertake. This is because unlike Uttar Pradesh’s Muslims, they do not share their living space with the poor. They live in gated colonies. Their interaction with the subalterns is limited to their drivers, their neighbourhood’s chowkidars, the maids who come to clean their houses or to cook, the man in the colony who irons their clothes, the plumber who comes to fix a leaking faucet, the driver of the taxi or the three-wheeler they use occasionally, the owner of the grocery store they patronise and the kiosk from where they purchase their cigarettes.
To each of them, Delhi’s liberals have lately taken to asking: Do you think the AAP’s broom will sweep out the BJP’s lotus or the Congress’ panja (hand) will crush it? Which of the two parties do the people where you live support? In response, the service staff often bat their eyes in incomprehension, wondering why sahibs and memsahibs have chosen to bestow on them the honour of engaging them in a political discussion. They try to figure out an answer most likely to please the bleeding-heart liberal, their patron.
Call it the vanity of liberals, or their hubris, they are oblivious of the fact that their votes don’t really count. There hasn’t been a survey done to estimate the percentage of liberals in Delhi’s population. It is almost impossible that they are anywhere near 19 percent of Delhi’s population, as Muslims are of Uttar Pradesh’s. A survey to figure out the ideological orientation of Delhi’s population will necessarily run into the problem of definition: Who is a liberal?
The answer: That Delhiite is a liberal who will not vote for the BJP, but can’t also quite make up his or her mind about which party to support. It was this confusion that prompted them, unlike the poor, to vote for the Congress in the 2013 Assembly election, a factor why the AAP failed to muster a majority on its electoral debut.
Learning their lesson quick, a large chunk of liberals voted for the AAP in the 2015 Delhi Assembly election and rejoiced that they were on the winning side at the time the BJP seemed invincible. They loved the battle that the AAP fought vigorously and daringly, conveniently forgetting that they had been suspicious of AAP’s secular credentials, labeling it as right-wing.
Delhi’s liberals also secretly desire that India’s politics should be as calm, orderly and boringly staid as their neighbourhood. A degree of disenchantment with the AAP set in as its leaders continued to boisterously resist the Central government encroaching on its powers. It made the liberal ask: Do they have to fight all the time?
The liberal’s other secret desire is to be on the winning side, as long as that side isn’t the BJP. His or her mood began to change as the AAP lost the 2017 Punjab Assembly election, not least because the winner was not BJP-Akali Dal, but the Congress. Soon after, the BJP won Delhi’s municipal polls, bagging 37 percent of the votes; the AAP came in second with 26 percent of the votes, five percent ahead of the Congress, which was placed third. It was just the moment for the liberal to distance himself or herself from the AAP’s politics of brinkmanship. The liberals, therefore, began to hum: The Congress is on the path of revival; the AAP’s future is bleak.
The liberal’s prognosis of Delhi’s politics glossed over certain fundamental facts. The voter turnout in the municipal polls was 53.58 percent, or 13.55 percent less than the 67.13 percent turnout registered in the 2015 Assembly election. It is also possible that the AAP’s defeat in Punjab dampened the mood of its cadre in Delhi. More significantly, it is disingenuous to issue certificates of fitness to political parties on the basis of their performance in municipal polls, where the constituencies are small and the electoral dynamics very different from that of the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
As a test, ask the next-door liberal to name the councillor of his or her ward. Chances are he or she wouldn’t know the answer. Ask the same person the name of the contenders in his or her Lok Sabha constituency, he or she will rattle out the names. Liberals believe in high thinking and high living, snobbishly recoiling from politics that has the cleaning of drains as its centerpiece.
Nor was the liberal willing to rethink when, a few months after the municipal polls, the AAP won the Bawana Assembly bypoll in Delhi by 24,000 votes, bagging 59,886 votes against the BJP’s 35, 834 and the Congress’ 31, 919. Yet they will not ponder over the perils of strategic voting.
Indeed, strategic voting, by definition, is negative. The recipient of strategic votes does not have to strive to prove its mettle to voters. It has to merely fan their fears to garner their support. Strategic voters are perceived as unreliable because of their tendency to switch their loyalty overnight, which is why no political party bothers to award them for their votes. This is one reason why, historically, the participation of Uttar Pradesh’s Muslims in power has been disproportionately lower than their percentage in the state’s population.
Delhi’s liberals do not need a slice of power, networked as they are into the city’s elite structure. But what they hanker after is to shape India and Delhi’s politics according to their imagination. It is, therefore, surprising that Delhi’s liberals should not take into consideration AAP candidate Atishi Marlena’s contribution in restructuring the government schooling system, but obsess over whether her Congress rival, Arvinder Singh Lovely, is better placed to defeat the BJP. Likewise, for Delhi’s liberals, the choice between AAP’s Raghav Chadha and the Congress’s Vijender Singh should be a no-brainer. Yet this writer has been witness to intense discussions among liberals trying to figure out who between them has a better chance of vanquishing the BJP’s Ramesh Bidhuri.
Let alone these two candidates, the AAP has generally adhered to the liberal’s imagination of investing funds and energy into the city’s creaking social structure. He or she get power and water cheap, but it is well nigh impossible for them to feel grateful, for their list of demands is as inexhaustible as that of a pampered child. Then again, long before Congress president Rahul Gandhi thought of the Rafale deal, the AAP had thrown the gauntlet to the BJP’s supremacy.
In fact, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which is ideologically poles apart from the AAP, recently issued a statement that said: “The Congress cannot provide a credible challenge to the BJP in Delhi given substantial erosion in its mass base in the state. It has played a negative role vis-à-vis the AAP state government, and it appears to consider the AAP and not the BJP as its main enemy in Delhi. Besides, it has adopted soft Hindutva tactics…”
It is possible some of Delhi’s liberals will vehemently disagree with the CPM’s statement and genuinely think the Grand Old Party is good for Delhi and India. They should very well vote for it, instead of trying to figure whether the AAP or the Congress is best placed to defeat the BJP. It is good neither for the liberals nor for politics to vote negatively and non-ideologically on the erroneous assumption that their votes can vanquish the BJP. It only exposes the hypocrisy of Delhi’s liberals.
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Updated Date: May 06, 2019 13:39:36 IST