Since anti-incumbency has become the democratic mantra of the moment, nothing can distract from the feat of the chief minister, Ms Sheila Dikshit, in holding on to Delhi for a second, consecutive term. She was the natural beneficiary of the visible improvement in the quality of life in Delhi, marked by cleaner air, better roads, a new Metro rail and assured power. True, not all these measures were initiated by the Congress government. The transition to compressed natural gas for buses and taxis, and the removal of polluting industries from the heart of Delhi were a consequence of judicial intervention. Likewise, the smooth progress of the Metro rail, a Central government initiative, is entirely due to its operational detachment from politics. Ms Dikshit’s success lay in her ability to appropriate these projects emotionally, work for their smooth implementation and approach the problems of Delhi from a non-partisan angle. Hers was a resounding public relations success but it was also complemented by tangible results on the ground. She raised the comfort-level of the middle classes with local politics, and this reassurance helped sway a large swathe of voters who were traditionally supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Congress victory in Delhi was the triumph of a dignified, non-abrasive style of politics.
Indeed, the Delhi results suggest a resounding rejection of traditional civic politics centred on the unabashed appeasement of specific interest groups. TheBJP leader, Mr Madan Lal Khurana may, have witnessed the evolution of Delhi from a bureaucratic and Punjabi refugee capital to a cosmopolitan centre, but stubbornly refused to change his style of politics. In an age of media, he remained wedded to the Tammany Hall. His spirited agitations against the introduction of CNG, the privatization of power supply, the removal of polluting industries and the introduction of value-added tax may have pleased sectional interests, but left the mass of young voters totally unimpressed. It was the alienation of the under-35 voters from the local BJP that made all the difference and contributed to the Congress sweep. Delhi may not be fully representative of national politics, but it does epitomize emerging trends. And the stark lesson for all politicians is that unless they can connect with soaring levels of popular aspirations and the quest for modernity, they are likely to be left behind. Ms Dikshit, ironically, symbolized everything that the Congress has spurned in the rest of the country. Mr Khurana, on the other hand, went against the emerging ethos of his own party. The results should give solace to all those who seek to take politics and governance into higher levels.