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Indraprastha

Virendra Kapoor is a political commentator based in Delhi
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State elections, pointless raids and Sushma Swaraj's declaration

FOR SOMEONE WHO has closely watched every election, state or Central, since the early 70s, I discern a certain degree of indifference to the ongoing state polls. Mizoram might not register on the antennae of even the most hardened politicos, but surely the outcome in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh ought to be of some concern? But, surprisingly, Delhiites, otherwise clued in about all things political, seem uninterested. It may be because apart from the momentary bragging rights that winners get on December 11th, people are resigned to the fact that the results will have little or no bearing on who wins the Big One next year. Not to put too fine a point on it, this election will do nothing to diminish Modi’s stock (Amit Shah’s is a different matter), and, whatever the outcome, it will do little to enhance Rahul Gandhi’s, though a setback could certainly hurt him. Also, most pundits have already decided that Rajasthan is as good as lost to the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP. And it will be no big deal, given the state’s history of alternating between the BJP and the Congress in each poll. As of now, there is near unanimity on Raman Singh retaining Chhattisgarh for a fourth straight term. In Madhya Pradesh, it is supposed to be anyone’s game, though the soft-spoken Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who is making a bid to retain power for a fourth term, is very much in contention. To everyone’s utter surprise, Telangana seems to be turning tough for K Chandrasekhar Rao’s TRS. At the start of the campaign, he was considered a shoo-in for a second term; now the tide is said to be turning with the Congress-TDP tie-up giving him sleepless nights. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to know if the intrusion of 24x7 television into their lives has caused people to turn their backs on politics—and instead watch general entertainment channels. For, before the arrival of satellite TV, the only thing people talked about in public places was politics. Now, they talk anything but.

THE MORE THINGS change, the more they remain the same. I was reminded of this old adage while driving through Connaught Place the other day. In front of the iconic Regal Building, clusters of people watched curiously even as a group of NDMC employees—with a handful of policemen on hand to lend physical support—picked up odd stuff such as plastic stools, chairs, buckets, etcetera, from the dozens of hawkers of export-reject woollens who ply their trade here regularly, making it tough for passersby to move freely. With a TV camera crew duly filming the proceedings, the NDMC chaps were soon done with what they had set out to do. However, hundreds of onlookers were left wondering what difference, if any, the official ‘swoop’ on illegal vendors had made. The hawkers carried on unperturbed as if nothing had happened. Clearly, hoodwinking the law while taking hafta payments is part of an unwritten deal. It reminded me of the almost-mandatory drill the Delhi Police and various women activists’ bodies go through every six or eight months, raiding GB Road in the walled city and claiming to have picked up a few prostitutes from the kothas along with a couple of pimps. This ‘drama’ has been repeated ad nauseam for decades without making any difference to the flesh trade. Indeed, so cynical have we become that even the authorities no longer send out the mandatory press release announcing raids in the red light district; nor, for that matter, do the morning dailies take note of it. We, as a people, have come to internalise corrupt practices, particularly at the lower echelons of babudom. Which allows me to make the point that we are always ready to hold our politicians accountable, but we refuse to hold ourselves accountable to any standards of civic conduct.

SUSHMA SWARAJ TOOK everyone by surprise, declaring she wouldn’t contest the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. What spurred her? Health? Diminishing influence in a party to which she had come from George Fernandes’ Socialist Party but to which she never gave her all, though she was a good orator in Hindi? Is she looking for a relatively easy time as a Rajya Sabha member? If she is, she will have to report to Arun Jaitley, who has served as the BJP leader in the Upper House both in opposition and in government. Let us wait for a fuller explanation, though the timing of her announcement amidst campaigning in MP could not have been worse.

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