Dear Mr. Sagar,

In my column in Mail Today of Friday 23 January titled “Betting on Bedi” I highlight various issues related to Ms. Bedi’s nomination as BJP’s chief ministerial candidate. The two central point’s being i) that this represents a victory for India’s democratic institutions and ii) that we may now see a decisive shift in Indian electoral campaign from competitive populism to competitive democracy.

Your feedback and response will be truly appreciated.

Warm Regards
Rajiv Kumar

BETTING ON BEDI
BJP leadership’s decision to induct and then formally nominate Ms. KiranBedi as its chief ministerial candidate for the Delhi elections has generated diverse feedback that ranges from charges of rank opportunism and parachuting of leaders to beinng a stroke of genius and infusing new life in the Indian political process. I am personally delighted at the decision as it has several positive implications for the Indian political economy.
Development
In this column on 31st Dec I had listed ten key measures for the consideration of Prime Minister Modi. The first of these said “There is a clear danger that the Parivar’s social agenda could run counter to the Prime Minister’s goal of sabka vikas sabke saath. The winter session of the Parliament must bring home the lesson that social agenda could derail economic priorities… One immediate implication would be to fight the coming Delhi elections only on a development plank and rein in the Sadhvis and Santsfrom fomenting communal tensions.” Ms. Bedi’sannointment should hopefully convince the diehard cynics about Mr. Modi’s genuine commitment to development and good governance.
Ms. Bedi’s nomination therefore represents a decisive victory for India’s democratic institutions over the divisive and sectarian tendencies. In the run up to the parliamentary elections, some of us had argued that India’s democratic institutions, despite being young and having been eroded in recent times, are sufficiently resilient to ensure that any political formation desirous of holding office will have to reject extreme positions and adopt the centrist path, with possible tilt either to the left or in current dispensation to the right. Ms. Bedi’s emergence as BJP’s campaign leader in Delhi validates this position and ensures that India will not succumb to any extremist ideology; howsoever seductively it is packaged and marketed.
The Indian middle class, of which more than 80% happen to belong to the rainbow Hindu traditions combined with our constitutionally established institutions will make it impossible for any extreme positions to become dominant. Pluralism, diversity and respect for all religious sentiments and practices will remain the norm. The middle class, as defined to include all those with upwardly mobile aspirations, dominates the Delhi electorate, even those who live in JJ colonies and Jhuggies.
Democracy
Rahul Gandhi made the cardinal mistake of assuming that slum dwellers preferred doles to dignity that comes from employment.
Kiran Bedi’s nomination as the BJP’s candidate bodes well for the Indian political economy.
Therefore, the election campaign in Delhi, led by Kejriwal and Bedi (with Maken providing background score) is bound to be all about good governance, accountability, development targets and planned urbanization. The campaign for Delhi elections may well see Indian democracy crossing a threshold from competitive populism to competitive good governance. Bravo!
The Delhi electorate has a very difficult choice between Bedi and Kejriwal. They are from the same stock. Solid middle class backgrounds; educational achievements that landed them to senior government service cadres; long stints with distinction in civil society organizations; and active participation in Hazare’s India against corruption movement that made them comrade in dharnas at least for a while. Delhi electorate is bound to do well irrespective of who between the two forms the government. I am sure that on this occasion, the electorate will be wise and sagacious enough to give either of them a decisive majority. My friend Najeeb Jung surely did not bargain for a such a long administrative stint in the post retirement job!
Mrs. Bedi’s nomination is against all established conventions and practices in the BJP or the SanghParivar where long term selfless service to the organization and unquestioned loyalty have been the criteria for choice of leaders. I wonder how her selection reconciles with the cherished motto of ‘nation before party before self.’ Such a major overturning of established conventions must reflect some serious concerns in the leadership about the outcome on 7th February. By shielding Mr Modi from a potentially unfavorable outcome, defined to be less than 50+, the BJP leadership has done well to ensure that the PM retains his credibility irrespective of the outcome.
However, one intriguing aspect has emerged from
all these inductions and nominations. It seems that Mr. Amit Shah has evolved into an election master strategist who has some magic formulae to win elections. His prowess in converting votes polled into assembly seats is attaining mythical proportions. Thus, he can apparently come up with a winning strategy for any state or region in the course of a short visitation.
Alienation
Shah’s “magic” reminiscent of specialists from the Bretton Wood twins of yesteryears, who could reportedly come up with a development strategy for any country big or small during the course of a short mission. But this is also somewhat reminiscent of the ‘High Command’ phenomenon, which had hitherto been confined to the Communist Party’s Politburo or the Congress Party’s first family. As in the case of global development experience and also the political fortunes of the parties named above, this approach has many pitfalls. It boils down to pursuing a one size fits all approach and risks alienating the leadership and workers at the working level. They are are far more conversant with the realities and nuances of specific situations. This local networking and insights can often make the critical difference especially in tightly contested constituencies. On all these counts, Bedi’s entry has ensured that elections in Delhi, a quasi state will be keenly watched in India and abroad.
In any case with Delhi elections out of the way, the economic policy scene is clear of any pressing political agenda. This should provide a conducive backdrop to the forthcoming budget, which can now be full of bold reform measures. Lets hope that the Finance Minister would have finalized his proposals prior to casting his vote on the 7th- as he needs to be completely agnostic to the outcome of these elections to give the economy the necessary impetus and fillip that it badly needs.
Author is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research and Founder Director of Pahle India Foundation. The most recent book is Exploding Aspirations.
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