One phase is over in the life of modern India- that of elevating herself as a peer to other global players. Having seen it all, is it time to focus on substance now?
The Aam Aadmi Party has won the Delhi state elections. Winning would be an understatement. The party that was non-existent a couple of years ago has literally swept aside its opponents (its election symbol is a broom that’s used for sweeping). Here are my initial thoughts on the election results. Indian political events naturally have their repercussions in the neighboring Nepal, at the very least in perception and conversations. AAP’s good showing in the previous election created a loud buzz in Kathmandu, with politicians from the extreme left to the civil society cheering for a similar “new force” in Nepal. I have written about this previously (see the previous blog post in Nepali).
I admire AAP’s focus on transparency and accountability. This should challenge traditional political forces to reform. Accounts of expenses and donations are rarely made public in the subcontinent, neither are other deliberations on policy. AAP’s leader Arvind Kejriwal being a part of the RTI (Right To Information) movement in India has contributed to this focus on transparency. AAP’s emergence should send alarm bells inside other parties and the sooner they reform, the better.
I am not a fan of AAP’s economic programs and I think they are a bit naïve. Sure, I think their intentions are good, but intentions alone do not mean anything. They need to be guided by tact and a clear long-term political program. Maybe they know this already, and will learn the game as they move on. Of course it is easier said (especially from outside) than done.
I think this election result also says a lot about the way Indian voters, especially Delhi voters have evolved in this generation. Modern Indians, many of them having been lifted to the middle class, well educated, globe-trotting, and earning, are now used to India’s status as a global player and emerging power. Having a central government that can assert India’s power outside her borders is nice. But they don’t have to be obsessed about their national identity when it comes to internal, and especially local affairs. I think the voters are more confident now of their international stature and image. Obsessing over the great India (mahaan Bharat), over and above the local issues makes little sense to their daily lives. They want to be residents of a truly modern and developed city now, one with a government that’s more respectful and sensitive to their real needs like water, transport, security, energy, transparency, and environment. During the short time that BJP has been in power at the center, India has already seen a lot of assertive foreign policy starting from the neighborhood to Australia, Japan, and America. Indian economy is now the world’s fastest growing, and is predicted to be bigger than China’s in the next decades.
One phase is over in the life of modern India- that of elevating herself as a peer to other global players. It required a bit of showmanship, arrogance, grandiosity (international sporting events and space missions), global figures (billionaires and celebrities), and an inflated sense of national pride. Having seen it all, is it time to focus on substance now? The tasks of making it safer for women to travel, of having clean drinking water, less corrupt politicians, and of people feeling like they have a real say in power? The young and hip generation doesn’t just want to sign online petitions and post likes on Facebook. A proof to this is the manner in which Delhi-residents took to the streets a couple of years ago after the rape incidents. They want to feel like citizens with real political power and representation. Maybe the AAP tide is a response towards that need.
A good mayor can make a lot more impact in the daily lives of city dwellers, and a VDC chairman can prove his mettle in more tangible ways than by trying to make big changes to the life of a country as a whole.
I firmly believe that local elections are ideal to test politicians, policies and build leaders. My suggestion to political aspirants in Nepal (including Bibeksheel Nepali Party) has also been to focus on local elections- and try their hands at the level of wards, VDCs, and municipalities. A good mayor can make a lot more impact in the daily lives of city dwellers, and a VDC chairman can prove his mettle in more tangible ways than by trying to make big changes to the life of a country as a whole. In advanced democracies, it’s usually popular mayors who slowly mature into national leaders. Lack of local elections and accountability has introduced a very distorted way of practicing democracy in Nepal- we first see untested, unproven but very confident people trying to fix things in the national level. It has led us into a lot of disappointment.
We should not be distracted by the seduction of power, big words, and abstract polity we see at the national level and instead try to bring democracy directly to the lives of people. Starting out at the very bottom is the best way to do it.