a) A new phase? Nepal’s historic vote

Nepal voted on Sunday in the first phase of parliamentary elections under its new Constitution of 2015 and with the electoral battle lines redrawn in a recently altered political landscape. The first round was mostly concentrated in the upper hill regions, with the rest of the country scheduled to vote on December 7. Uniquely for Nepal’s highly fragmented party politics, these elections witness a direct battle between two fronts. The first, the “democratic alliance”, is led by the Nepali Congress and includes the former Panchayat parties and Madhesi groups; the second, the “left alliance”, brings together, in a surprise agreement hammered out in early October, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre). On the face of it, this is an electoral battle between the forces belonging to the centre-right and the centre-left, but to reduce it to an ideological battle would be misleading. The NC, the UML and the Maoists have been in power at various points in the last decade and have done little to distinguish themselves by way of implementing socio-economic policies or in terms of performance. The Constitution-writing process was completed in far too many fits and starts largely due to short-sighted battles for one-upmanship among these parties in Kathmandu since 2008. Populism dominates the ideological positions of the major parties and the politics of patronage has governed their engagement with the people. The consequence of this has been lack of movement on key issues facing the underdeveloped nation-state. One such issue that dominated the political discourse in the last half-decade has been the need for decentralisation and representation of the marginalised communities. Madhesis and janajatis (tribals) have continued to claim that their demands for adequate state restructuring and federalism were not met in the new Constitution. The new electoral alliances have subsumed such differences — with the Maoists, who were willing to grant such demands for amendments to the new Constitution, joining hands with the UML, which is strongly opposed to any concessions. Similarly, the Naya Shakti Party, a fledgling socialist party, has broken away from the left alliance and aligned itself with the NC despite significant differences over state-restructuring and other issues. The political flux has meant that vital issues of economic development have remained largely unaddressed, belying hopes that Nepal’s transition from a monarchy to a republic would foreground the people’s concerns. The clear contest, for the first time, between two pre-poll alliances may finally give an ideological and political shape to the republican polity as a battle of ideas, and mark a break from the years of squabbling over positions of power in Kathmandu. Clearly, the voters are not cynical: the turnout in the first phase on November 26 was estimated to be 65%. The politicians must now deliver.

b) The dream and the reality of AAP

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is five years old. When I reported this to a friend of mine, he laughed and said that AAP is a concept that unfortunately degenerated into a party. AAP was a set of ideals and one was excited by the number of idealistic people who joined it — students, activists, IFS officers. In fact, the first casualty of AAP was its ideals. It shed a lot of its early exemplars to become a more mundane party. One wishes AAP had remained an experiment, a perpetual hypothesis reworking the idea of politics and even the ritual of the political. The banalisation of AAP might be its biggest tragedy.

A long journey

When it appeared, there was something carnivalesque about it. Anna Hazare appeared like an Old Testament prophet and Arvind Kejriwal, who is now Delhi Chief Minister, as a milder version almost had the gentleness of a later Testament. Mr. Hazare smelt Gandhian, more Swadeshi rather Swaraj, but his battle against corruption and alcohol had an old-fashioned style to it. He reeked of nostalgia and India wanted the nostalgia of Gandhi and the national movement for a while. But one sensed an authoritarian streak in him, and Mr. Kejriwal seemed to be more fine-tuned to the new generation. As a former Indian Institute of Technology student and revenue officer, he seemed more real. His arrival was greeted with a sense of unprecedented joy. AAP seemed amphibious enough to be both non-governmental organisation and political party, and be naive enough to be quixotic. The beginning was almost like a reverie. Sadly, his Teflon-coated attitude to feminist issues did not work and instead of sounding progressive, he betrayed hints of a khap panchayat mindset. Yet, his audience was loyal. Each of us could reel off the names of idealistic people who had joined him. They came from many walks of life and helped create a halo of expectation around the party. There was also a sense of moral luck because the Congress was at the height of its inanity. If the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had become formidable as the main bet, many felt AAP as a side bet would sustain a more creative politics. In the beginning, the very disorder of AAP conveyed that sense of effervescence. There was a gossip of the new, a real sense of pluralism, a bilingual idealism where English-speaking college students and Hindi-speaking activists found a meeting point. For many of them, politics offered the possibility of a career which allowed for both ideals and a real impact. AAP for a few months seemed to be the harbinger of a new future.

Too inflationary

But three things happened which vitiated these possibilities. First, many outstanding people who joined the party found themselves at odds with it, in fact sometimes conveying an aesthetic distaste for it. Second, many who joined it promising a new sense of solidarity across a variety of styles seemed to return to their old narcissism. Each was an egoist who thought he was the party. Third, AAP as an idea became inflationary. It threatened to promise an all-India impact when it was still a local phenomenon. The dream of AAP was bigger than the reality called AAP. Oddly, it is this very reaching for the impossible that brought it down. As Humpty Dumpty, it could be put together again only locally. The local dramas were of a different and more mundane kind. They had a more routine quality to them, from factionalism to the predictable melodrama of corruption. For a party that came in like a bunch of Savonarolas, its private lives were more questionable than its public face. A sense of scandal ate into the party. Oddly Mr. Kejriwal, as a leader, seemed strangely oblivious to all this. He seemed to read it as teething pains, convinced that some kind of naturopathy would cure both his asthma and the party’s growing sense of disorder. Also, he seemed less quixotic. It is as if he had switched costumes to be Hamlet while Manish Sisodia, Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister, continued to play Sancho Panza. Also, the BJP kept gnawing at its edges, playing to the ambitions of lesser players. For all its publicised sense of ideological rectitude, the BJP was pragmatic about enticing floor crossers. The BJP could combine hypocrisy and pragmatism while AAP was expected to be idealistic. Yet for all this, it was the voter that insisted on sustaining the dream of AAP, convinced that AAP as a hypothesis, an alternative idea must survive. AAP remained the one party that could trounce the BJP. The BJP had to live with the irony that it swept India but could not win Lutyens’ Delhi. It was an irony it must have found painful as all its sanchalaks wondered when the fairy story called Arvind Kejriwal would end. But what local bosses could not do, the Lt. Governor could. He became a barrier to AAP, more loyal than the king. Many AAP experiments were still-born as he asserted his primacy over AAP. It was an odd case of the law upholding an appointed over an elected official. The battle between Mr. Kejriwal and Najeeb Jung became the Capital’s favourite Punch and Judy battle as the Congress and the BJP watched this development with obvious delight.

Ageing fast

As time went by, AAP seemed to age faster. A realistic Mr. Kejriwal echoing the problems of governance was less impressive and engaging that his earlier quixotic incarnation, the party symbol of the broom less magical than before. Comrades who were once core members claimed more prime time than Mr. Kejriwal. Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan were more effective at denting the pretensions of AAP than in building their own constituencies with Swaraj Abhiyan. The results in Punjab offered a small breather as AAP was one party that had heroically battled the drug menace and brought it to public light. The battle to create a more open budget, to have a more inclusive educational model to rally the public around pollution was not as convincing. One cannot decide whether it was a failure of communication or half-chewed ideas of governance. As a sympathiser remarked sadly, as an asthmatic, Mr. Kejriwal could have brought a difference passion to solving pollution. By year five, from an epidemic dream of alternative politics, AAP had become a more modest hypothesis. Yet it created a sense of excitement among people across India. There was a magic to the idea which almost has an existence parallel to the travails of the actual party. People often talk of inventing an AAP in Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, or Bengaluru. AAP as an unofficial dream appears to have a life of its own. There is an optimism about such politics that is both moving and endearing. Yet, one senses a reverse trend around Delhi. Aspirational Delhi seems to have dropped ideals as unnecessary or unconvincing. Delhi prefers the grim realism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, or the cynical power of BJP president Amit Shah. Yet there is a loyalty to Mr. Kejriwal and his dream of a decentralised polity among migrants to Delhi, among the margins of the middle class, people who still sense an authenticity and hope in his programmes and are ready to wait. A new party has survived five years. One cannot grudge it a celebratory cake even as one looks critically at its next move.


1) Redrawn

Meaning: Draw or draw up again or differently.

Example: “the rota was redrawn”

Synonyms: Draw, Prepare

2) Landscape

Meaning: All the visible features of an area of land, often considered in terms of their aesthetic appeal.

Example: “the soft colours of the Northumbrian landscape”

Synonyms: Aspect, Perspective

3) Fragmented

Meaning: Break or cause to break into fragments.

Example: “Lough Erne fragmented into a series of lakes”

Synonyms: Break, Explode

4) Hammered out

Meaning: to reach an agreement or solution after a lot of argument or discussion.

Example: Three years after the accident the lawyers finally managed to hammer out a settlement with the insurance company.

Synonyms: Decision, Decide

5) Short-sighted

Meaning: Lacking imagination or foresight.

Example: “a short-sighted government”

Synonyms: Narrow-minded, Narrow

Antonyms: Far-sighted, Imaginative

6) One-upmanship

Meaning: The technique or practice of gaining an advantage or feeling of superiority over another person.

Example: “the one-upmanship of who can get the best presents”

7) Patronage

Meaning: The power to control appointments to office or the right to privileges.

Example: “recruits are selected on merit, not through political patronage”

Synonyms: Partisanship, Favoritism

8) Marginalised

Meaning: Treat (a person, group, or concept) as insignificant or peripheral.

Example: “by removing religion from the public space, we marginalize it”

9) Subsumed

Meaning: Include or absorb (something) in something else.

Example: “most of these phenomena can be subsumed under two broad categories”

10) Concessions

Meaning: The action of conceding or granting something.

Example: “this strict rule was relaxed by concession”

Synonyms: Admission, Acceptance

Antonyms: Denial, Retention

11) Fledgling

Meaning: A person or organization that is immature, inexperienced, or underdeveloped.

Example: “the country’s fledgling democracy”

Synonyms: Emergent, Beginning

Antonyms: Mature

12) Flux

Meaning: Continuous change.

Example: “the whole political system is in a state of flux”

Synonyms: Variability, Instability

Antonyms: Stability

13) Squabbling

Meaning: Quarrel noisily over a trivial matter.

Example: “the boys were squabbling over a ball”

Synonyms: Quarrel, Argue

14) Exemplars

Meaning: A person or thing serving as a typical example or appropriate model.

Example: “the place is an exemplar of multicultural Britain”

Synonyms: Model, Ideal

15) Mundane

Meaning: Lacking interest or excitement; dull.

Example: “his mundane, humdrum existence”

Synonyms: Dull, Tedious

Antonyms: Extraordinary, Imaginative

16) Perpetual

Meaning: Occurring repeatedly; so frequent as to seem endless and uninterrupted.

Example: “their perpetual money worries”

Synonyms: Interminable, Ceaseless

17) Hypothesis

Meaning: A supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.

Example: “his ‘steady state’ hypothesis of the origin of the universe”

Synonyms: Conjecture, Supposition

18) Prophet

Meaning: A person who supports a new system of beliefs and principles

Example: Rousseau, that great prophet of the modern age

Synonyms: Seer, Harbinger

19) Testament

Meaning: Something that serves as a sign or evidence of a specified fact, event, or quality.

Example: “growing attendance figures are a testament to the event’s popularity”

Synonyms: Witness, Evidence

20) Reeked of

Meaning: If an event or situation reeks of an unpleasant quality, it seems to be caused by or connected to that quality.

Example: His promotion reeks of favouritism.

21) Nostalgia

Meaning: A sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.

Example: “I was overcome with acute nostalgia for my days at university”

Synonyms: Remembrance, Recollection

22) Streak

Meaning: Move very fast in a specified direction; a continuous period of specified success or luck.

Example: “the cat streaked across the street”

Synonyms: Race, Sprint

23) Fine-tuned

Meaning: Make small adjustments to (something) in order to achieve the best or a desired performance.

Example: “they can fine-tune the computer programs to focus on a small region of space”

24) Unprecedented

Meaning: Never done or known before.

Example: “the government took the unprecedented step of releasing confidential correspondence”

Synonyms: Unmatched, Unequalled

Antonyms: Normal, Common

25) Naive

Meaning: (of a person or action) showing a lack of experience, wisdom, or judgement.

Example: “the rather naive young man had been totally misled”

Synonyms: Trustful, Unaffected

Antonyms: Sophisticated

26) Quixotic

Meaning: Extremely idealistic; unrealistic and impractical.

Example: “a vast and perhaps quixotic project”

Synonyms: Idealistic, Extravagant

27) Reverie

Meaning: A state of being pleasantly lost in one’s thoughts; a daydream.

Example: “a knock on the door broke her reverie”

Synonyms: Trance, Vision

28) Betrayed

Meaning: Treacherously reveal (information).

Example: “many of those employed by diplomats betrayed secrets”

Synonyms: Deceive, Cheat

29) Reel off

Meaning: To say a long list of things quickly and without stopping.

Example: The old man reeled off the names of his 22 grandchildren.

30) Inanity

Meaning: Lack of sense or meaning; silliness.

Example: “he commented on the breathtaking inanity of the board’s decision”

31) Formidable

Meaning: Inspiring fear or respect through being impressively large, powerful, intense, or capable.

Example: “a formidable opponent”

Synonyms: Daunting, Alarming

Antonyms: Easy, Weak

32) Effervescence

Meaning: Active, positive, and full of energy

Example: She’s one of those effervescent personalities that you often see hosting TV game shows.

33) Harbinger

Meaning: A person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another.

Example: “witch hazels are the harbingers of spring”

Synonyms: Indication, Signal

34) Aesthetic

Meaning: Giving or designed to give pleasure through beauty.

Example: “the law applies to both functional and aesthetic objects”

Synonyms: Attractive, Artistic

35) Narcissism

Meaning: Too much interest in and admiration for your own physical appearance and/or your own abilities.

36) Melodrama

Meaning: A story, play, or films in which the characters show stronger emotions than real people usually do.

Example: The car’s hardly damaged – there’s no need to make a melodrama out of it.

37) Gnawing

Meaning: Cause persistent distress or anxiety.

Example: “the doubts continued to gnaw at me”

Synonyms: Oppress, Bother

38) Hypocrisy

Meaning: The practice of claiming to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case.

Example: “his target was the hypocrisy of suburban life”

Synonyms: Pretence, Humbug

Antonyms: Honesty, Sincerity

39) Incarnation

Meaning: A person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit, or quality.

Example: “Beethoven was seen as the incarnation of artistic genius”

Synonyms: Embodiment, Personification

40) Pretensions

Meaning: A claim or assertion of a claim to something.

Example: “his pretensions to the imperial inheritance”

Synonyms: Aspiration, Claim