Friday, February 14, 2014

Delhi must vote Congress back to power....

Arvind Kejriwal is gone. And my impression is that he's gone for good. If elections were to be held again in Delhi, it is unlikely the people of Delhi will vote for him. Why would they? Their proud city, which boasts the best infrastructure in the country and the fastest growing economy, has suddenly been put on a steep downslide; a slippery slope from which recovery will be difficult if it continues for even a little longer.

If Delhiites were to introspect, they would realize that they really had nothing to complain about from their state government. Sure, they may have had complaints with the Central government, but their own local government had done fabulous work. After 15 years of continous and rapid progress, Delhi had finally overtaken Mumbai as the place where the most corporate action happened. It sported the best airport, the best metro, smooth-as-Hema-Malini's-cheeks-roads (!), the best education system, and importantly, the biggest jobs market. Delhi's economy grew at an average of 10% per annum - a China-like rate, and higher even than the much tomtommed Gujarat rate of growth - and brought enormous prosperity to its people. Not surprisingly, Delhi's per-capita income was the highest in the country, crossing the Rs 2 lacs/annum mark.

Sure, Delhi had its problems, many of them monumental. As happens in all developing countries, the economic growth created a huge influx of migrants from the relatively backward parts of the country. Sharing borders with UP meant that that influx was particularly easy from that state. The migrants created a block of 60 lac slum dwellers, and a whole lot of illegal JJ (jhuggi jhopri) clusters. It also led to an increase in crime, especially against women. Delhi picked up the reputation of being the rape capital of the country, making its people seethe with anger. What do angry people do? Lose their sanity, and attack the first object that comes in front of them - usually the government of the day.

That's when Kejriwal got into the act. The timing was perfect. When he railed against Sheila Dixit, he looked like a messiah, a contrast much like the one people are seeing betwen an uncouth, dictatorial Modi and a too-decent, democratic Manmohan Singh. Kejriwal used the language of the gutters, and attracted that lot to his fold. But surprisingly, he also attracted the educated, the well-off, the same ones who had benefited the most in the previous 15 years, perhaps as a result of anger against the Central government. Kejriwal's success was thus one of timing; his exit from the scene will also be one of the same. 49 days of Kejriwal must surely have made Delhiites bitter. A yearning for the "good old days" must surely have returned.

Does the BJP offer a progressive alternative to Sheila Dixit? No it doesn't. For remember, that much as the BJP today abuses Kejriwal for his 50% cuts in power prices, it too had promised an almost-similar 30% cut in tariffs. And much as it abuses Kejriwal that he doesn't know that the regulator sets the tariffs, not the government, it too made exactly the same promise. How can people demand that power tariffs come down on the one hand, and at the same time, also demand that every resource (coal, land, water) be auctioned to the highest bidder? People may not understand economics, but the BJP should. Yet, it made the same offer that AAP did.

Again, like AAP, the regressive BJP also opposed FDI in retail. Imagine a day when a Delhiite would have to go to Gurgaon to shop at Walmart or Tesco, while a Mumbai resident would just hop across to one close by. The BJP's opposition is purely opportunistic. For I cannot imagine Gujarat not allowing Walmart, when lacs of Gujjus in the US do most of their value-shopping there. If BJP has its way, then young Delhiites with a dream to move up the social ladder should not work in smart  retail outlets, but in "baniya" kirana shops. This is the vision of this party. It protects the baniyas....the same guys who have caused much of the price inflation in food and vegetables. If Delhiites want relief from inflation, they must throw out the baniya-supporting BJP.

Apart from all this, Delhi has always enjoyed a certain liberal culture. People from all parts of the country live here. All cultures find acceptance. There are the ultra-chic fashion shows, as well as the ultra-ethnic Dilli-hart option. The republic-day parade, with its pan-India look and feel is one thing; the everyday parade of culturally diverse people is another. How can such a throbbing and vibrant population vote for a party that believes in 17th century bigotry (Section 377, remember) and the monopoly of one-religion (Hindutva is nothing but Hindu domination) and caste (brahmins)?

The BJP is wrong for Delhi. It is wrong for India. But in a moment of heat, Delhiites made a big mistake in November last year. It's time to undo that mistake. For Delhi to remain modern and liberal, it needs a modern and liberal government, and the only one that fits the bill is a Congress government. The Congress has its own problems, but it's the still the best of the lot.

The real truth is that Delhiites got taken in by the political rhetoric of Kejriwal and made the blunder of voting for him. I hope they don't now swing towards the other evil - the BJP - and make another blunder. Delhiites must push the "pause" button, even rewind if necessary, and think of what brought their city glory in the last 15 years. It's still not to late to make amends....

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