What’s in an AAP?
Arvind Kejriwal leaves no one in doubt about who he is – an aam aadmi or a common man. His Gandhian cap screams that, and so does the muffler he wraps his neck and head with. The eminent chatterati would blanch at the sight of his painfully mundane pyjama trousers. Quite like Mahatma Gandhi, Kejriwal has de-classed himself to show that he is a clean, principled and austere man with the right credentials to tackle corruption. This is despite the fact that he comes from a family of businessmen, and was also in one of the most corrupt departments of the government of India – income tax. His conscious self-abnegation and a lifestyle that reinforces an impression of renunciation, has managed to endear him to those who were repulsed by the arrogance of the ruling elite.
He tapped into the rising anger of the middle class against those who promised to deliver on the promises, but got caught up in reckless self-aggrandizement. In other words, he leveraged the gap between the elections to reinforce the need for participatory democracy in policymaking. The movement for bringing in a Jan Lokpal led by Gandhian Anna Hazare, which provided the foundation for the Aam Aadmi Party, was an example of how people had begun to perceive parliamentary democracy. In the age of remote control, social media and 24/7 news channels, Kejriwal was trying to say that the people have to be engaged at all times, and no one in power can afford to ignore them. Structures have to be created that involve the people in policymaking and its implementation. Through his subversive suggestions, he was essentially questioning the wisdom of Parliament to design policies without considering the aam aadmi’s views. It was on this issue that he used the social media, and the Internet to not only canvas for a Jan Lokpal, but also garner support from ordinary people. Not unlike that advert by the mobile service company, Idea, where people, through voice and text messages, elect their next government. Was that the inspiration for AAP when they decided to ask their supporters about forming the government?
Despite its stunning victory, where the AAP chewed up the jhuggi jhopri support of the Congress and all those who were worried by the rise of the BJP, you can hardly call it a revolution. Au contraire, AAP is quite status-quoist. Prabhat Patnaik calls it a right-wing crowd led by leftists. It works on the simple assumption that the country can progress if corruption can be curbed in high places. This pitch goes down well with his supporters amongst NRIs, international funding organizations, NGOs and many others who have prospered from the system. Kejriwal himself is a Right to Information (RTI) activist and winner of the Magsaysay award. The AAP movement emerged from demonstrations that took place in large public spaces, similar to what was witnessed during the Arab Spring. All these demonstrations demanding regime change had the support of the United States, and technology giants like Google have been driving their foreign policy. Exposure by WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden makes it amply clear how the US has leveraged the expanding reach of Google and social media outfits like Facebook and Twitter to bend people and societies to fit their objectives. The success of Kejriwal in Delhi from this standpoint was the most stunning. As he did not face violence of the kind protesters did in Iran, Egypt, Myanmar, Bahrain, Yemen and even Turkey. He took on the timid regime of Manmohan Singh in Delhi that did not want to use strong-arm tactics, effectively employed in countries like Putin’s Russia. Not only did Putin ban the funding of the NGOs involved in the agitation, his government was extremely tough with protesters. Singh and his government actually involved Kejriwal in drafting the Lokpal Bill, thus raising his profile. How would Kejriwal have fared if he had taken on a Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad? Would he have got so much space or would he have been hosed out from the streets?
The truth is that Kejriwal is here to stay. His model is replicable and scalable and it could seriously hurt all those political parties that have been thriving on patronage systems. In some ways, this is good, but their agenda is too narrow and fuzzy and allows fascists to take advantage. The challenge to the India project does not come just from corruption, but also from inequality, regionalism and communalism. It is an imperfect world and Google search will not get all the answers.