The AAP Paradox

Editorial: February 2014
Hardnews Bureau Delhi

Who would have thought that this man of humble stature, clad in baggy trousers, with a muffler wrapped around his head or neck—depending on the temperature—would become the Chief Minister of Delhi? Surely not many—including Hardnews.

After all, Arvind Kejriwal is not your usual CM. Although his Aam Admi Party (AAP) worked hard and creatively to wean away votes from the traditional support base of the Congress party, they were surely never expected to come to power.

But for the support of Congress, AAP would have been merrily protesting some civic issue or the other. Now, power has been thrust upon them. Ever since he was sworn in as the CM, Kejriwal has been struggling to create a new persona of an Aam Admi Chief Minister. He tries to give the impression that he is fighting with an establishment that wants to bind him with rules, expectations and security-related protocols.

His insistence on having his swearing-in at the Ram Lila ground and his joyous and somewhat raucous rendition of old Bollywood songs were unprecedented. Some dewy eyed commentators muttered “a breath of fresh air” from the sidelines. Indeed, without the stiffness of official protocol, the stuffiness associated with such high profile gatherings was also gone. Subsequently, Kejriwal has tried to give life to his promise of fighting corruption, by announcing a helpline and by exhorting the general citizenry to conduct sting operations on venal officials.

These are bizarre solutions, no doubt, but could they be seen as germane to the day and age we live in? How on a cold morning, he decided to hold a jan panchayat: people lined up in huge numbers, some even carrying little gifts for him, and turned the whole thing into an unmanageable mela.

This exuberance and headiness of getting one of your own elected was proving to be infectious. Reports of AAP offices opening to floods of volunteers all over the country began to pour in. Such excitement towards the party reveals the disdain ordinary people had for political orthodoxies, and reflects their hope for change. Suddenly, AAP became a political entity that could challenge BJP’s muscular juggernaut in many urban centres like Delhi. The argument was, if AAP could even get 20 seats, it could throw a wrench in BJP’s plans. Many with secular leanings who had lost hope in the ability of Congress and the Left have now begun to rally around AAP. The presence of Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav is perhaps the reason for their optimism. Yet if the conduct of some of the AAP ministers is anything to go by, its support base is little different from the mobs that converge for BJP’s rallies. Some of its leaders, like Kumar Vishwas and Somnath Bharati, could be sitting pretty in BJP as well.

Surveys have shown that people who vote for AAP are also likely to support Narendra Modi for Prime Minister.

AAP, therefore, represents that contradiction, which could undermine some of the principles that support our secular republic. Look at the manner in which one of their ministers went on a racial profiling spree, harassing Ugandan women for being allegedly involved in drugs and prostitution. Kejriwal cleverly turned this event into a protest against the police, which routinely troubles the poor and those living on the margin. But the truth is that some of the agendas of AAP—like identifying and cleansing illegal Bangladeshis from Delhi—are no different from BJP, or even MNS, or Shiv Sena. As expected, BJP perceives AAP as one prong of their double-barbed attack on Congress in the coming parliament elections. If it defies the growth expectations of its promoters, such as the corporate houses, and if elements of the Sangh Parivar feel threatened by its rise, AAP might see some kind of retaliation. Maybe it has already begun, after the New Delhi dharna.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2014