India has witnessed an unprecedented set of elections. We can torture the statistics till they confess, we can be ingenious in our interpretations, but it would be churlish to deny some broad trends. The first is the triumph of democracy. In response to worries about institutions and cynicism about politics, Indian democracy widened participation and emerged stronger. This is also a riposte to all those who have exaggerated fears about authoritarianism running triumphant over India; unmeaning phrases like emerging middle-class fascism were being dropped far too freely to do justice to Indian democracy. Does this look like a country that will easily give up democracy? Despite occasional ups and downs, in the end, this is a democracy that will make everyone dance to its tune rather than be railroaded by anyone.
But the great churning is now producing stunning new possibilities. There is no question that an anti-Congress wave is gathering momentum. The Congress is identified with a tottering, corrupt and incompetent old order. Incumbent Congress governments not just lost, but lost heavily. It bears reminding Sheila Dikshit and Ashok Gehlot are not disastrous performers in comparative terms. There is something new emerging in how voters judge governance that is hard to describe in simple terms. One element of a post-identity formula was to concentrate on delivering a few schemes well. This is what many successful chief ministers had done well, Dikshit and Gehlot included. But there is also something more ineffable required: the projection of overall being-in-charge and general trustworthiness, and the ability to respond to crises. There is a trigger that is a tipping point in that loss of credibility. Looking back, all the chief ministers who lost will identify such moments, where, despite the good they did, they projected a loss of control. No amount of schemes can overcome the overall loss of credibility.
The Aam Aadmi Party’s absolutely spectacular political debut is a reminder that India’s progressive moment is ripe for being seized through political creativity and imagination. There will be new experiments with ideas, people and organisational forms. There is now a search for a new politics