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tr.v. blind·sid·ed, blind·sid·ing, blind·sides. 1. To hit or attack on or from the blind side. 2. To catch or take unawares, especially with harmful or detrimental results

Too much of a good thing, as the idiom goes, is bad. Excessively bright light can be more blinding than pitch darkness. The glare of the limelight, another popular adage, often hides smaller events in its daylight. Which is all to say by way of saying that democratic India has just (re)discovered the blinding effect of big numbers, even if in a relative sense. Take, for one example, 282 out of 545. Take, for another, 67 out of 70. Within the range of statistics thrown up by Indian politics, these are staggering numbers, even historic ones.

So what’s wrong with that? In one word: everything. Among the oft-touted clichés in India is that of the country being a plural democracy, of there being unity in diversity. But suddenly two elections have thrown up scarcely believable numbers. Admittedly, in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections there was hardly any credible opposition to the heavily PR-reliant campaign of Narendra Modi, but even the most clued in observer did not see such a massive mandate coming.

A virtual retake has just played out at the Delhi Assembly Elections, with the Aam Aadmi Party railroading all political opposition into virtual oblivion and winning a mandate that has left even their supporters bemused. Speculations of political hara-kiri by opponents abound now as well as they did during the Lok Sabha elections. Indeed there are some indicators of grave miscalculation, such as the drafting in of Kiran Bedi as the BJP’s potential CM candidate. Even so, the numbers are frightening.

The first question is, rather obviously, that of the health of our democracy. Does an absolute mandate truly imply that all voices speak as one? Or does it mean there are political manipulations beyond the comprehension of the average voter? The former cannot be seen as a good thing, even if it sounds cynical to see it as herd mentality than true consensus. The plurality and diversity of India have always ensured that one man’s Peter is another’s Paul, to mix metaphors. For everyone to see a messiah in one political choice is, at least for me, a hard fact to digest.

There are other voices that have addressed the latter question of political conspiracy, see, for instance, this piece by @Vidyut. I have already ranted on the existence of a “Bhangress” a seamless political unit manifesting partly as the Bharatiya Janata Party and partly as the Indian National Congress, which are in turn controlled by such capitalists as the Ambanis. A cartoon in The Hindu prior to last year’s Lok Sabha elections had shown Mukesh Ambani holding the strings of two puppets representing Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. The only question is whether the Aam Aadmi Party is/can become an extension to this amorphous political monster, allegations against the Ambanis by Arvind Kejriwal notwithstanding. This premise has gained fodder with the recent dismissal of Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan from the AAP’s Political Affairs Committee in a move that seemed to have the tacit approval of Kejriwal himself. The Party’s upcoming National Council meeting might be the last word on its future, and it remains to be seen whether the coterie around Kejriwal, which is being accused of conspiring to commandeer power within the AAP, will result in the de-democratization of the Party, the efforts of volunteers notwithstanding.

Even assuming this does not come to pass – that Kejriwal’s AAP does represent, and continues to be, a reasonably honest political alternative, the teetering of electoral figures from one extreme to another suggests a deeper and more devastating malaise: a total political vacuum. This swing from voting en masse for the BJP to literally handing the town keys to the AAP is only a real life running from pillar to post by a frustrated and impatient electorate that wants to see change happen and preferably happen yesterday.

When the AAP first seemed poised to become a political entity of some reckoning, I had mused whether its failure to do so would see a return to type by those that had supported and elected it, i.e. would they go back to their candle-light dharnas at India Gate? That question still stands, if more nakedly now - if the AAP fails to deliver on even a fraction of their promises, will “India’s teeming millions” finally confront the problem they’ve been hiding under the limelight for so long? Will they finally fess up to their lack of imagination in choosing to pass the buck rather than find solutions until there is no one to whom the buck may be passed?

It is interesting to note the insistence by Kejriwal, at least at one point, upon understanding the notion of Swaraj, which may be translated without loss of meaning as self-governance. There is, of course, a delicious irony in choosing a government to help you self-govern, especially if one comprehends self-governance in the literal, individual sense rather than the collective sense of a citizenry. Swaraj, for me, does not equate with the political right to self-determination as a citizenry. In the Gandhian sense (which I hope I have understood correctly), the term refers to adopting a lifestyle that imposes on another life in the least manner possible while working to create a greater whole cohesively.

Perhaps Kejriwal hopes that the citizens of India will eventually become harmoniously functioning individual cogs within the interlinked machinery of society. But is he prepared to acknowledge that living breathing cogs are more likely to be anarchic rather than continuously operate under the guidance of a greater will, for the supposed greater good? Without even debating the patent absurdity of society as a machine, it remains to be seen whether the victory in 67 out of 70 assembly seats is indicative of Delhi’s citizens choosing to be such cogs, in the hope of, so to speak, a better life in a better city.

New Biskit Baba cartoon after the stunning victory of Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi Assembly Elections.

Biskit Baba - Rishte mein to hum tumhare AAP lagte hain
Biskit Baba - Rishte mein to hum tumhare AAP lagte hain

Image: Biskit Baba

I think the Aam Aadmi Party is an interesting experiment in democracy and self-rule. Last time the Aam Aadmi Party formed its minority government, I had tracked the concrete changes it brought about. This time, with a full government, the anticipation is that they will be able to do a lot more. I plan to record these, so that they serve as an interesting snapshot of what was done, and if impressive, a reference for what is possible.

Some actions trickling in already, so beginning recording from the 11th of February 2015 itself - the day after the elections.

11th February 2015 with AAP

Kejriwal handovers AAP’s manifesto to Chief Secretary Delhi govt, DM Spolia and asks for ppt presentations from various departments by 19th

 

There are no MLAs with serious criminal cases in Delhi

A report by the Association of Democratic reforms says that there are no MLAs with serious criminal cases in Delhi. Association for Democratic Reforms tracks and analyzes the information provided by candidates in their election affidavits and provides analysis to enable more informed voting. Read the full report - Analysis of Criminal and Financial background details of winners in Delhi Assembly Elections 2015

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Last night, it emerged that after several shows that may have showed content embarrassing to the BJP, NDTV had gone off air in many places. Several "insider accounts" seem to allude to a picture of NDTV being perceived as showing footage embarrassing to the BJP (watch after 30 minutes).

NDTV coverage of Modi speech different from BJP official feed
NDTV coverage of Modi speech different from BJP official feed

The indication is that cable operators have been asked to block NDTV till the 7th of February - the day when Delhi Assembly Elections happen.

While this information cannot be confirmed, multiple reports of NDTV going off-air have been shared on social media, and a post compiling them was put up on this blog and is being regularly updated.

Another viewer has pointed to a link on the Times Now website where the video of the confrontation between AAP and AVAM last night during Arnab Goswami's News Hour that was extremely embarrassing to AVAM and BJP appears to have been removed.

Yesterday, All India Bakchod took down the videos of their Roast. For those who don't know, a roast is a comedy format based on humorous insults. It is intentionally offensive and insulting and all the participants participate knowing this, and the audience participates expecting this. In other words, consensual. In an ideal world, this should not have required any more attention than the kids under the window going "behen ke *****" as they play cricket. Profanity is common on our streets. It appears to be the idea of being open about it offended people who threatened to file cases. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena threatened to block films of actors participating in the roast - surely a matter of criminal intimidation, given that they have no constitutional authority to do any such thing. In the end, the roast was taken down. The government will now be probing All India Bakchod. Almost seems like the roast continues. AIB is so unsexy that they had to do a roast before anyone would probe them.

On a more serious note, Shireen Dalvi, the editor of Avadhnama's Mumbai edition is being hounded by Muslim organizations with multiple FIRs filed against her. She has been forced to wear the burkha for the first time in her life to protect her identity and has not been able to return to her home for weeks for fear of retaliation for her "crime" of publishing a Charlie Hebdo cartoon on the newspaper. And before we scream and faint about obscenity and racism, it was a cartoon most law abiding Muslims would unhesitatingly appreciate. It showed Prophet Mohammed holding a sign saying "Je Suis Charlie" in solidarity with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. In effect, the cartoon said that the massacre was by criminals and what the Prophet Mohammed stood for. Larger Muslim organizations in Mumbai had no problem with this. Stray organizations persecuting her found no resistance from the state.

In a world where Muslims are criticized for not doing enough to combat religious extremists, here was one who stood up tall and spoke up. And the state failed her. She should have got a bravery award. Instead, she is on  the run, her newspaper shut down, 15 employees out of a job and her children living with relatives with this stress hounding their exam preparations. All for doing a job and doing what a newspaper editor should do - stretch the scope of thought for readers.

One would think that we cannot blame the state for this. Oh but we can, because something even more stupid has happened. Two newspaper sellers,Tariq Ahmed Sheikh and Salman Kalam Sheikh were arrested for selling Avadhnama - why? - because they understood Urdu, and "could have refrained from selling it". This is Mumbai Police, JJ Marg police station. Proactive. Acting without even a complaint to act on. Without even a crime being done. What right does anyone have to harp on about the intolerance of Muslims when the establishment itself appears to be complicit in keeping them that way by hounding voices of sanity instead of empowering them?

And oh. The DEN Network block of NDTV has gone unreported by all - including NDTV. A media that can keep quiet while it gets strangled, perhaps deserves to be dead.

These are dark days for Indian media. I hope more independent voices emerge from fearless masses to take up the torch, because slaves of money fear poverty more than imprisonment.

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Dear friends,

I had supported Aam Aadmi Party before the Delhi Elections, and now again before the Lok Sabha Elections, and as this stint of support comes to a close, there are a few hard truths (at least truths according to me) that need to be said.

Firstly and most importantly, this is a categoric defeat for Aam Aadmi Party at the polls. We can use platitudes like saying even one or two AAP politicians in the Parliament will make a difference. We can point to BJP's meager two seats the first time it contested elections, this does not change the fact that Aam Aadmi Party has lost horrendously.

There are four AAP MPs now, and that is always a good thing, but let us not fool ourselves or anyone that BJP's two seat show the first time it contested was anything but defeat either. We are talking about an increased vote share in Delhi, a good showing in Punjab. What no one is talking about is that AAP had put up candidates NATIONWIDE. From winning slightly less than half the seats contested in Delhi, AAP has dropped to winning 1% of seats it contested - none of whom had a role in National leadership or even campaigned outside their areas. Not a single AAP public figure won. This has a lot of feedback, if you are not busy not looking at it.

Naturally, the fight was tougher. There were more parties in the fray, the stakes were higher, the media was more biased....  we can list out the difficulties. Perhaps some candidates will get disqualified and some more AAP people may get in. Still, for every 100 seats contested, AAP won 1. This, by no means is a reflection of the voice of the people. This already fails at the "bhrasht raajneeti ukhad ke phek denge" campaign talk.

Still worse was to talk down the nationwide efforts and throw down the gauntlet at Varanasi and Amethi to make what was till then a contest of values into a clash between personalities. I am not talking of the decision to field strong candidates against strong leaders - that was important, but the decision to make the whole fight boil down to the two seats - Varanasi and Amethi.

The strategy of covering as many seats as possible failed too. It spread resources too thin, perhaps. Money, volunteers, candidates.

Those seats are lost. The damage that did to party prospects nationwide cannot be replaced in another five years. AAP didn't make it as a National Party. The loudest AAP voices did not get into the Parliament - which both Kumar Vishwas and Arvind Kejriwal would have, if they had contested from where their strength was, instead of chasing targets to take down. There would be more seats won, if the focus was spread nationwide. This is, by no means a small price to pay in terms of morale for a party that operates on a shoestring budget and whose volunteers often braved physical assault, injury and death to hold it high.

To me, this signifies a comprehensive leadership failure, even as the volunteers worked their hearts out.

The focus on vote banks - particularly by communities instead of livelihoods alone, as in the Delhi elections allowed room for far more skilled established parties to play completely on their home turf. This undoubtedly contributed to BJP's landslide victory as well. People lost touch with what they thought AAP was in the prime time leading to the elections.

This will have an impact on the upcoming Delhi Assembly Elections as well, because BJP WILL capitalize on this win with an immediate call for elections. That vacuum that no one wanted to touch after the AAP govt quit is gone. Far more work will be needed to capture that space back.

It was a gamble. A gamble that failed with far reaching consequences for the party. In my view, the party leadership including Arvind Kejriwal should step down, and new role holders elected with consent from core AAP leaders. Candidates, state convenors, key workers should be consulted. Perhaps Arvind Kejriwal may still get elected as National convenor, but he should step down and be considered on the basis of merit.

When I suggested this on Twitter, many were of the opinion that there are no other suitable leaders. This, incidentally is the argument both BJP and Congress had for never looking beyond Modi and Rahul Gandhi. If AAP is a people's movement without people's leaders, then it probably should forget about being a National Party. But I don't think that is the case, just like it isn't with the Congress party. There are leaders, if the party is willing to look beyond the usual suspects. There is also nothing preventing existing leaders to come back in their roles with the agreement of the party, but that democracy must be enacted before it is claimed for the country.

This opportunity should also be used to step back from the Nationwide hurry to expand (since it is a lot of time before another national election now) and a more robust organization should be built, with more leaders and role holders nominated so that mistakes of this election are not repeated in the Assembly elections to follow.

Role holders cannot be selected for inspiration alone. You need better strategists, better students of policy, thinkers, workers, leaders, organizers..... Arvind Kejriwal cannot be everything. Part of his failure also was he was doing too much to sustain. It simply was not possible for one person to do with any efficiency, and there appeared to be no one else. It is time the party grew to decentralize responsibility that converges on the goals rather than people and the goals need to be revisited as well. Does the journey so far indicate need to drop anything, add anything, refine something?

This defeat should be a lesson, if Aam Aadmi Party is to live up to its name. The people need to know exactly what they will get, and accusations of corruptions against parties and business houses ain't it. AAP needs to see where their talk of Swaraj moved to Ambani and Adani. When their talk of distance from communal politics became about kudrat ka karishma and eeshwar, allah, wahe guru. AAP needs to find itself.

I used to say this often, before stopping making suggestions when they stopped being taken. AAP cannot afford to get derailed. AAP has an agenda to represent people and take up their fundamental needs as a political agenda. That cannot be deviated from, for God, religion, community, scam, political targets or anything, if AAP has to survive.

But then that is a decision for you to take as a party. As an observer who has often stood shoulder to shoulder with your volunteers, I can only say what it looks like from where I am standing.

If the tall claims and nationwide reach and big talk hadn't happened, I do think 4 MPs is a good start. In any case, it always beats not having any MPs in Parliament.

But if Aam Aadmi Party is not to be a one night wonder, brutal as it sounds, it needs to go back to the basics and build up from there again.

Good luck, and I hope we walk together again, if I see Aam Aadmi Party, a worthy party being discriminated against by media and feel compelled to raise my voice to resist the imbalance.

Vidyut