Should one conduct an autopsy before the patient is declared dead? Well, I am about to try! It is still several hours before the Election Commission begins to count the votes in the four states that went to the polls on December 1, but there is general agreement on a couple of matters. Everyone seems to think that the Bharatiya Janata Party shall romp home in Madhya Pradesh, while the Congress (I) shall retain power in Delhi. If this is true, I suspect that rejoicing over the results in the larger state shall mean a loss of introspection in the Bharatiya Janata Party over the loss in Delhi. And this could be a mistake...
Delhi is certainly the smallest by far of the four provinces which elected assemblies on December 1. (Mizoram is far smaller of course.) It sends only seven members to the Lok Sabha. But Delhi could also be giving some pointers to the trends in the future.
Back when I was in school, we were taught that India lives in her villages, with a 80:20 ratio in favour of rural areas over towns and cities. By the time my children were of schoolgoing age that ratio had shifted to 70:30. Today, I think it is closer to 60:40. If this trend continues and history assures us that it is a common feature seen in every country as it moves from 'developing' to 'developed' status, urban India shall outweigh the countryside halfway through this century. (If not sooner!)
On the face of it, this should please the Bharatiya Janata Party as it is widely supposed to be a party with stronger roots in urban areas. Delhi, particularly, is supposed to be a stronghold of the organisation, its roots running back to the old Jan Sangh days. It should, therefore, be a matter of special concern if the party loses two successive contests for the Delhi Vidhan Sabha. And that too not by any small margins!
Of course, it is true that Delhi has also voted by equally overwhelming margins in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Lok Sabha polls. But that, I fear, is a tribute to the central leadership of the party, and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee above all. If the party is serious about winning back Delhi it should try and examine just what went wrong.
In my opinion, the Bharatiya Janata Party lost power in 1998 because it chose to commit suicide. The squabbling between senior leaders of the Delhi unit had made the party the butt of jokes, and the eleventh hour entry of Sushma Swaraj was a classic case of 'too little, too late.' But lack of unity was not a problem in 2003. (If anything, it was the Congress (I) that was riven by various factions!) Why then was everyone so confident that the Congress (I) would do well?
Personally, I think the Bharatiya Janata Party lost the plot not in 2003, but two years ago when the then Union Urban Development Minister Jagmohan was moved to another portfolio because of pressure from the Bharatiya Janata Party's Delhi unit. What was his crime? It was that he had tried to implement the Supreme Court's order to remove polluting industrial units from the city. The Bharatiya Janata Party's local leaders gave in to pleas from the owners of these units that this would lead to a massive loss in jobs. Possibly, but it would also have done much more for the health of millions of other Delhiites. Jagmohan's removal sent out the message that the Bharatiya Janata Party is hostage to special interests.
At the same time, Shiela Dikshit was clever enough to wrap herself -- and the Congress by extension -- in the colours of 'development.' She won credit for, among other things, the measures taken against pollution, the Metro Railway system, and the privatisation of electricity transmission. Most of the praise was completely undeserved.
It was the Supreme Court, not the government of Delhi, which forced buses and taxis to turn to LPG rather than the conventional, more polluting fuels. I recall Dikshit's administration trying its best to get their Lordships to put back the deadline, while her transport minister came dangerously close to contempt of court. Privatisation in the power sector has led to inflated bills in many areas without too much improvement in the actual service. And the Metro was more the Union government's doing than Dikshit's. But by poor luck or bad management, the Bharatiya Janata Party always seemed to be putting special interests above the interests of Delhi as a whole.
Delhi, I think, is a vision of the India of tomorrow, a nation that will be dominated by giant cities. The Bharatiya Janata Party of tomorrow must focus on those issues that will be important to those citizens. Either that, or there may not be much of a tomorrow for the party!