Delhi, reckoned as a microcosm of aspirational and upwardly mobile India, from the daily wage worker from West Bengal sleeping on the streets to the temporary and propertied residents of the Lutyens’ zone, has delivered a complex verdict in this election. The faceoff between the Aam Aadmi Party and the BJP, between Arvind Kejriwal and the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah-goli maaro-deshdrohi-gaddar gang, was not about performance versus propaganda.
It was a deeper and primal contest between two sets of people, with opposing feelings, both afflicted by perceptions of persecution; the difference — and it was this that delivered the win and made the BJP a loser — was the additional paranoid obsession over roots, origins and identities. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act challenged the identity of Indians and divided the people on the basis of religion. Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains were entitled as the sons/daughters of the soil; the Muslims were not. The Muslim was not a persecuted person in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh; individuals and families, and therefore the community, were not entitled to be recognised as legitimate refugees and so legitimate applicants for citizenship in India. The subtext of the amendment is that the Muslim is not rooted; she is not a legitimate daughter of “Bharat Mata”.
The BJP’s transformation of Shaheen Bagh into a location of the occupied and held by persons (actually women) without legitimacy —“deshdrohi” or terrorists or anti-nationals — who should be picked off with bullets, who are anarchists, and want to break India into pieces, supported and protected by the “tukde-tukde gang” (disintegration of India gang) was so bizarre and paranoid that not only the 45 per cent of Muslim voters, but over 20 per cent of voters from other communities, necessarily including Hindus of Okhla constituency, of which it is a part, rejected the conspiracy theory and the paranoia feeding it.
The contest between persecuted and persecuted was so sharply drawn that any other verdict in Okhla would have been interpreted by the BJP as a signal to criminalise the protesters and the Muslim community as traitors, funded by foreign agents who promote “Jinnah wali azaadi” (Jinnah-style freedom), implying a breakup of the country. The focus on Shaheen Bagh as a metaphor by the BJP for its paranoid narrative of who can legitimately claim to be a child of Bharat Mata, on the one hand, and its fear inducing-hate mongering persecution complex has been overturned by the verdict in the National Capital Territory.
The BJP’s massive loss in Delhi was not only because of its ugly, divisive and destructive persecution-paranoid obsessions; it is a clear and unambiguous choice against its failure to deliver the barest economic relief and economic initiative to deal with the disastrous performance of the economy. The failure to do something by remaining in denial that unemployment has touched a 45-year high, inflation is going up and demand is falling because people have no money to buy, that access to credit has dried up and the daily woes of aspirational Indians are rising, is reflected in the verdict too.
The Aam Aadmi Party did not win only on the strength of its performance in governance and exceptional success in delivering public goods without obstructive corruption; it won because the depoliticised generation of selfie narcissists, the young, independently and spontaneously uncovered a particular kind of political consciousness that made them choose to reject the BJP’s politics. For at least six weeks, a minimum of 42 days, young Indians have been participating in protests across the country — joining women, including Muslim women — in pushing back against the politics of division, classification and demonisation.
The BJP should have recognised and been seriously wary of this spontaneous mobilisation by young Indians. The party should have recognised that there was a moment in its history in 1991 when thousands and thousands of young Indians had responded to its call to demolish the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, and had sustained the movement till the demolition on December 6, 1992.
It should have recognised that the young Indians who flooded the protests and continue to give time to sustaining them were not mobilised by political parties or organised to join. These young people did not need to be harangued with specific appeals of grudge, identity and pride; these young people were different. And these young and their parents have been put off by the BJP’s politics of deploying State violence through the police on campuses. The demonisation of students and the violence that has been unleashed against them has been fused with the politics of religious divisions and communal antagonism.
Any political party with less hubris would have been afraid. Any political party that succeeded without the least effort in galvanising women to participate in protests would have been overjoyed at the incredible nature of support it had received. Conversely, any party that was the object of women’s resistance should have been cowering in the deepest, darkest hole it could find.
Women’s spontaneous and sustained participation in implacable opposition to State policy and government politics is an entirely new phenomenon in Indian politics. By declaring their choices against a policy and politics, women have turned a patriarchal democracy commandeered and manipulated by various political parties into a wider and inclusive democratic polity. After the Delhi elections, Indian politics will not be the same. It is not because of what Arvind Kejriwal did or has promised to do that women have now claimed a space for themselves and their needs and demands; it is because the BJP attempted to capture and subvert the foundations of the Indian State where unity, diversity, fraternity are alive and real values.
Women, citizenship, liberalism, secularism, freedom, equality and demolition of an immense socio-cultural barrier that excluded some from participation in decision-making in a democracy are the new ingredients that are emerging as a force — both against the mullah and the Sangh-RSS Parivar and its brand of reconstituted religion via Hindutva. The unleashing of Mother India on the one hand and Young India on the other are signs of a tectonic shift in Indian politics. Arvind Kejriwal’s third term is the entirely intended consequence of this new democratic politics.