Elections, as events and even as narratives, have a tripartite structure. As dramas, they are like rites of passage which have a before, a during and an after. Once the election is complete and the results are announced, one sometimes senses the rebirth of a system. The municipal elections in Delhi echoed this logic.
Before the election speculation was rife. All the three leaders, Arvind Kejriwal, Manoj Tiwari and Ajay Maken, appeared like larger-than-life figures. In fact, there was almost a sense of mystique around AAP as a giant killer. Yet AAP seemed tentative as one was not even sure about the reach of the party.
Was AAP pretending to be a national party or was it only a sense of micro-histories, capable of rupture at the local level but a mere pretense as a national narrative? The AAP was moving accordion like pretending it was musical at every level.
If there was a pretense around AAP, there was a sense of make-believe around the Congress. The Congress, despite the best efforts of Maken, appears like a nostalgia. It appeared like a broken jigsaw puzzle, because its political pieces and its promise just did not add up. It remained a quilt patch party, no longer the preferred Linus blanket of the margins and the minority. There seemed no sense of strategy.
The Congress appeared tired and alien, like a character out of a different play who intrudes into the narrative. When excited, it exuded moments of slapstick through Maken, when dormant, it appeared like a tired dinosaur, more content in a museum than at the hustings.
The BJP exuded the narcissism of previous victories. Yet even then, it did not take its strengths for granted. It brought in an ensemble of new faces, creating new expectations and removing any sense of a jaded look from the party. In a crafty move, it invited Manoj Tiwari, the Bhojpuri icon, to head the election campaign.
As one watched the campaign, more exciting in media reports than on the ground, one sensed that what one was confronting were not three political narratives but three parallel narratives of the city. It is almost as if the parties had become representative of three forms of urbanism and their comparative dynamics.
The Congress represented an older narrative of the city which still smacked of Partition, Emergency and maybe even the noise of 1984. Its theory of urbanism sounded like an encapsulated past desperately forcing its way into the present. As a perceived piece of urbanism, it could only summon memory and nostalgia, obtain a few votes through sentiment.
As an urban narrative, it was AAP that seemed distressing. A few years ago this party was spouting a new theory of urban politics, of a proactive citizenship, a decentralised version of the city. AAP’s politics was as inspiring as street theatre and as temporary. It represented an inversion of its former self.
A party which once sounded like a hearing aid of the people, a party which was literally street-smart in its solutions positing new idea of participation, taxation and access to entitlements suddenly became tone deaf to the cries of the city. It was not just denial. It was a sense of bickering. It was a party which was narcissistic and hypochondriacal about itself. Symbolised by the broom, it literally swept itself out.
In fact, the BJP did not win this election. This election was a two-step process. Delhi wanted to force the AAP out before it chose the next best option. AAP had become a dreary reminder of a revolutionary politics gone wrong. Kejriwal, rather than being the analyst of urban renewal, had become a case study of urban dreariness. He was a classic and irritating case of a man who blamed everyone else for his own bungling.
This brings us to the third player in the urban show. The choice of Manoj Tiwari was tactically brilliant. Tiwari represented the excitement of Bhojpuri subculture, a dialect within the wider universe of Hindi. In fact, what the BJP under Amit Shah was doing was uniting and inventing new and creative dialects, new languages and narratives of urbanism. Tiwari was virtually saying that he was the new script for Delhi and the audience rose rapturously to the occasion.
There is a little irony to his career, a comic hiccup that one must state. Tiwari began his career on a Samajwadi Party ticket battling BJP’s Yogi Adityanath. He joined the BJP in 2014 and became one of the fresh faces the new generation of voters loves to dote on. His choice was I think the turning point of the election. In fact, it amplified the difference between BJP and AAP.
Kejriwal’s complaint of benign neglect had an element of comic because he was the CM rather than an aspiring Opposition candidate. But BJP focused on the drama of a different kind of neglect. They argued that the Purvanchali, migrants from Bihar and UP, could no longer be ignored. This was not just sentiment but electoral mathematics as they constituted 32 per cent of Delhi’s electorate.
Tiwari is a startling opposite of the BJP’s earlier candidate, Kiran Bedi, who almost represented an authoritarian politics. Tiwari represented the margins and by giving margins a voice, in fact a new dialect, he brought an excitement to Delhi’s politics. Performing in tandem, with Ravi Kishan, another formidable star, the Bhojpuri duo literally delivered hit after hit.
The election results now appear like a rocket science come true with the BJP winning 181 out of the 270 wards. There is almost a relief at Kejriwal’s defeat. His politics of the whine and whimper turned politics into a dismal art. Tiwari speaks a different body language and can hopefully create a different sense of the body politic.
The Delhi voter sees in his leader a figure with empathy, who articulates a similar biography. Sadly he sees in Kejriwal, the hero as the new alien, a period piece that needed an accelerated departure.