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Bibles, Coconuts And The Delhi Party: Why AAP Lost Goa

Old habits and new tricks coompleted the losing formula.

30/03/2017 12:14 PM IST | Updated 31/03/2017 9:44 AM IST

Since the announcement of the assembly election results, there've been a number of questions about the victories as well as the losses. One question that pops up often is, "Why did AAP lose?" Here, I must confess that I am no AAP insider. So what follows is purely my personal interpretation how and what went wrong in this yearlong whirlwind of passionate energy that stirred up Goan society but failed to translate in terms of votes.

Votes swayed as the custodians of religious belief directed. In such a close kinship scenario a "Delhi party" such as AAP was the last thing on anyone's mind.

In the end, the youthful fervour of AAP failed to challenge the deep-rooted belief that corruption is the cost of governance or even convenience, and not the theft of rights and taxes paid by citizens. AAP's campaign against casinos also seem to have worked against it, which is confounding given the societal drains caused by gambling. Jawaharlal Nehru is said to have observed, "Ajeeb hai yeh Goa ke log", and I must admit I'm beginning to see why he may have said that.

The renowned American political scientist Francis Fukuyama has done considerable work on the evolution of the political order and state formation in various societies world over. Two of his themes— namely clientelism and the implications of democratising a kinship-based society—are quite relevant to the Indian context. Regarding kinship based societies Fukuyama writes:

"One point I would like to make however is that it is a general truth about development. No earlier form of social organization ever gets abandoned or eliminated, and it always survives (its entirety or as the remnant) in succeeding higher organizations. "

(Words in brackets are mine)

Indian society has not experienced steady evolution through movements like the Renaissance, Reformation And Enlightenment and the consequent rise of democratic values such as individualism, a doctrine of social contract and a code of rights and responsibilities.

So, essentially the kinship-based society that India is in many parts (including Goa) was force-fitted into the political institution of an organised hierarchical impersonal pluralistic democracy. This resulted in a premature baby—a seriously compromised democracy.

The institution of "vados" (ward councils) in Goa echoes this kinship culture and the ethos of collective decision-making. Indeed, many people prefer to comply with collective decisions by vados and caste/community formations; it's thought that political influences from outside of the community will be detrimental to their own wellbeing and come in the way of the greater good. This medieval kinship extends into parishes and mutts. Votes swayed as the custodians of religious belief directed. In such a close kinship scenario a "Delhi party" such as AAP was the last thing on anyone's mind.

Some candidates went to seal the [cash for votes] deal with a copy of the Bible and a coconut to swear by to strike the fear of God...

"Clientelism", on the other hand, is defined as the institution of securing power by the systematic exchange of votes against favours distributed through a hierarchy of social organisation which is painstakingly built by the local bosses through years of "community work." These patronage-dispensing Big Men or their underlings are present in almost every village of Goa. Citizens depend on them for government jobs, funds for a daughter's marriage, arrangements for medical treatments, school admissions etc. Clientelism as an institution is so well established in Goa that each member of this network has now acquired relative autonomy. In other words, depending on his resources and entrepreneurial capabilities, he offers a bargain of his catchment area of vote bank to every aspiring candidate and eventually settles for the best bid. This is an ideology-free world of pure commerce, with accounts tallied for every booth. Many AAP activists told me about this ground reality.

Now that the benefits-dispensing network has acquired its autonomy and bargaining power, many candidates choose to partake of the votes-for-cash scheme and administering it through a select coterie of workers. However, there's always the fear that voters will take the cash and vote as they like. An innovation was thus devised: some candidates went to seal the deal with a copy of the Bible and a coconut to swear by to put the fear of God in the minds of voters. With this patrimonial state, no wonder, there were not many takers for AAP's offer of dignity for individuals. Paul Kriwaczek, BBC correspondent and author of the book Babylon: Mesopotamia & The Birth of Civilization has written:

"The collective view of most societies is rather conservative: in the main people prefer to see the social arrangements of their youth perpetuated into their old age; they prefer that things be done in the time-honoured way; they are suspicious of novelty and resistant to change. Thus when radical action must be taken, for whatever reason, a great burden falls on the ruler, the father-figure, who has to overcome this social inertia and persuade his subjects to follow his lead. In order that his will shall prevail, he needs to generate huge respect, preferably adulation, and if at all possible sheer awe among his people."

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