For about two months I was in Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh campaigning for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Alok Agarwal. Irrespective of what the result in Khandwa will be it appears that almost everywhere Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will make substantial gains, Congress will suffer a lot, and AAP may not get the seats they expected. And irrespective of all these outcomes certain effects of BJP’s imminent success and AAP’s emergence are evident too. Some of these I could sense on the ground in these two months. While one set of effects are worrying, the other set gives us hope. Nevertheless, they give an idea of the things that might come.
Likely Effects of BJP and Modi: No Change in Corruption, Greater Dominance of Business Corporations, Communal Polarization
First, the effects of BJP and Modi’s rise. I will touch upon three main aspects, one on which BJP is by and large similar to Congress, and the other two on which there will be a distinct change from the Congress led government. The first is corruption and the other two are intrusions of business corporations and communal forces into India’s natural resources and socio-cultural fabric respectively.
Corruption: There is little to distinguish BJP from Congress on corruption. Whatever Modi and his colleagues might say, it remains a fact that BJP led state governments have been riddled with corruption as much as the Congress governments. The corruption in the last BJP government in Karnataka was well known. It was one of the reasons for its fall. Less advertised is the corruption in the state governments of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh as the BJP governments have been winning consecutively in these states. Both high level and low level corruptions in Gujarat have been well illustrated by Arvind Kejriwal with examples of Adani-Gujarat government nexus and routine corruption in recruitment of government employees and neglect of schools and hospitals. In Madhya Pradesh I found that most of the informed locals, including those who support BJP, talk about rampant corruption in almost all projects run by the state government. I will mention three typical examples to illustrate the general situation: It is a normal thing that government colleges are discouraged or delayed in favour of private colleges which are mostly owned by friends or relatives of BJP leaders; While budgets are cleared and payments released in the name of mid-day meals and nutrition for the full official strength of children in government schools and pregnant mothers in anganwadis, the actual numbers attending and eating are often a small fraction of on-paper strength, sometime less than twenty percent; amounting to a scam of thousands of crores; The state government is pushing for water privatization in Khandwa and simultaneously handing over a large existing and free source of Khandwa’s water supply – the Nagchun lake – to Reliance Foundation to develop as a tourist garden and resort. The reason BJP has still managed to dominate in Gujarat and MP is that there is little opposition as Congress is a weak and divided lot in both states.
Dominance of Business Corporations: Manmohan Singh’s government was business friendly and its stint was marred by instances of government selling off India’s natural and public resources like forests, coal mines, oil and gas wells and telecommunications infrastructure cheaply to large corporations. These sell offs occurred not just at the expense of public money but also the environment and ecology and, in several cases, displacement of local communities. Any attempt by BJP to replicate Modi’s Gujarat model at all-India scale will only step up these sell offs of public resources and control of big corporations over India’s natural resources like forests, agricultural lands, rivers, lakes and mines. These will take place to a greater detriment of the environment and of the basic right to life of indigenous and poor people. It is likely that environmental and social impact clearances will be more casually bypassed under a Modi and BJP led government. The business sector, especially larger firms and those obsessed with increasing profit and revenue, will of course benefit. It is not without reason that Modi’s campaign is heavily funded mega marketing and branding exercise in which several business groups have invested. As the race of large business investments accelerates with the new government, the democratic processes and the ordinary people could be undermined.
Communal Polarization: The atmosphere in the latter half of this election period has become communally charged. Several senior leaders of BJP and sister organizations like Modi, Amit Shah and Togadia have led the communally instigated campaign, though some leaders from other parties have matched them too. While some might dismiss all this as mere election time rhetoric, deteriorating communal harmony can be seen more clearly on the ground in India’s cities and towns. For instance I could see Hindutva supporters in Khandwa, emboldened by BJP upswing and looking to polarize Hindu votes, openly flaunt flags proclaiming ‘Jai Hindu Rashtra’. This kind of public sloganeering is as unconstitutional as shouting ‘Jai Islamic Rashtra’ anywhere in India. It is disturbing that such scenes have become routine in smaller cities. Once BJP comes to power the display of these religious-masculine overtures will increase and consequently the space for liberal and progressive expressions will shrink.
Likely Effects of AAP and Kejriwal: Growing Trends of Ordinary Citizens Experiencing Political Empowerment and Hope for a Just Society
Now let us look at the effects of emergence of AAP and Arvind Kejriwal. AAP is unlikely to win many seats in these elections. It may or may not even cross 10 Lok Sabha seats. However it has set off an important trend which is likely to roll forth irrespective of the electoral outcome. This is a new trend of ordinary people from diverse social and economic strata coming together, united by a desire to forge a new kind of politics – one based on honesty, compassion and equal opportunities for everyone.
For instance, people who came together to work for AAP in Khandwa and campaign for Alok Agarwal included as diverse individuals as Dr. B. P. Mishra – a respected senior doctor who runs his own small hospital in Khandwa and has patients coming from as far as neighbouring districts, Chittaroopa Palit – a senior leader of Narmada Bachao Andolan working for many years in the Narmada valley for rehabilitation of dam displaced families, Farukh Khan – a youth who has a small shop selling fruits outside Khandwa railway station, Ibadat Khan – a former school teacher who still commands respect of local people for his sincerity and meticulous approach, Deepika – a law student who is one of the few among all girls and boys from her village to make it to a college in Khandwa city, Maneesha – a handicapped girl from Khandwa who is instrumental in mobilizing several handicapped volunteers and including their issues in AAP’s manifesto, Bhagwan Bhai – a senior member of Narmada Bachao Andolan from a rural area, Daljeet Singh – a restaurant owner who is active on social media and interested in spiritual philosophy, Pankaj Sharma – a youth who provides software and web designing service, Manoj Malviya – a youth who is a street vendor with his own cart, Kaleem Khan – a documentary maker, Vijay Nagar – a photographer and an AAP member for more than a year, Abbas Ali – a theatre artist with a team that performs street plays, Manoj Damade – a Dalit youth studying humanities in a college in Khandwa, Dilawar Khan – a youth who sells bus tickets, Anil Artani – a former BJP member who has joined AAP as he has developed respect for honest politics of both Arvind Kejriwal and Alok Agarwal, Akil Ashraf – a former NCP leader from Khandwa who too has joined AAP to support Alok. These are only representative names and there are many more like them. For each of these persons being an active part of AAP’s campaigning process and working together in a new kind of politics has been a liberating experience, as much as it was for me.
Thanks largely to AAP, two phenomena are being witnessed in India at this scale for the first time in several decades, and both are very positive trends for her democracy – (i) It is actually becoming possible for ordinary persons living in cities, towns and villages to participate in the political process in an honest and active manner much beyond merely casting vote, and (ii) Individuals coming from different social and economic sections, attempting to work together in the political processes of campaigning, contacting voter communities, understanding people’s problems, drawing up common programs and manifestos, are learning to appreciate others’ problems and realize that while setting priorities the livelihood problems of the poor demand more critical attention. In the process they also experience the futility of communal and caste divisions and become conscious of the need for harmonious relations. These trends may not be this perfect everywhere but I experienced them in Khandwa and I believe many others experienced them as well. The first trend implies a rising sense of empowerment among ordinary citizens. The second one implies a hope for a democratic, just and humane society.
These dominant trends are besides the fact that AAP has also suffered from making certain mistakes and inviting negative publicity from the media. AAP may or may not sustain in its present form. But one thing is certain – these trends will continue and might even strengthen in the future. Enough people have been fired to make sure they do.
(The author is a former faculty member of IIT Bombay and IIM Lucknow, and writes for Citizen News Service (CNS). He has a B.Tech. from IIT Kanpur, a PhD from IIM Ahmedabad, and a Post-Doctorate from NIES Japan. At present he is an entrepreneur and an adjunct professor, with professional interests in operations strategy, supply chain management, mathematical modeling, energy, climate change and sustainable development)