AAP: OF ORDINARY MEN AND EXTRAORDINARY LAWS

The AAP’s claims of issue-based and action-oriented governance are unique, though not unprecedented. But incidents such as the harassment of the Africans by a mob led by an AAP leader point to the Achilles’ heel in a post-ideological party

Rahul Govind Delhi

The aam aadmi party reveals the germ of horrific possibilities within the larder of ebullient hope. The Somnath Bharti incident and its construction and reconstruction in the AAP’s discourse (as relayed in the media) and actions (specifically the two-day dharna around Rail Bhawan) threaten all that has been so patiently and heroically built up by the party. It reveals not only the uglier side of the leader, Arvind Kejriwal, but also signals the inherent dangers to a party that may well find itself indistinguishable from a cult. So what luxuriant potential might well be snuffed out before its time?

Everyone who has been out in Delhi late at night would not have helped notice the numbers of our kind that sleep on the dividers. And those of us who spare a thought for what our eyes see with indubitable certainty may well have wondered how they survive the damp and merciless winters. Kejriwal spoke about them, just as he did about the bullied street vendors, the exploitative contractualisation, extortion-afflicted rickshaw pullers, public school going children who might have neither blackboard nor toilet, with a level of determination and concern not seen in the present media. Brought out of statistical abstraction of numbers and the sentimental vacuity of empty sloganeering, they singed into shape in an otherwise REM media culture. In listing what he has done — and the plans he has for them — on the same plane as auditing the all powerful corporate, poverty was given form and the sort of distillation that spoke of his party’s work among the poor and their aspirations. One might well contrast this to Sheila Dikshit’s irritation-laced surprise at her party’s debacle in spite of building 86 flyovers (or was this her idea of shelters for the homeless?)

Poverty as evisceration and deprivation thus made a surreptitious entry into our consciousness. Integrated in a gradual and graded manner with the much more greatly publicized big institutional changes promised in the manifesto, i.e. auditing the corporate and investing in public education and health. Though a dirty word now, one cannot but characterize the latter as socialist. Just as the media would speak of a thankfully long-gone past of the license raj in an age of corporate-political rule. Kejriwal’s main argument about water, that the state must ensure a minimum amount of water to every citizen, should surely be extended to other “rights.” Rights such as the right to shelter and livelihood, echoes seemingly dead values by pointing out the obvious: state accountability to its citizens towards guaranteeing the dignity of minimum material conditions. It is in such a context that one could understand the detailed attention to the ‘illegal’ colonies and the rights of street vendors. A discourse that reflects our own sensory experience aches, in this language of the AAP, to ‘find utterance’. And one applauds.

With Kejriwal holding so many portfolios and appearing to take most decisions on his own, the nature of decision-making processes of the party must be brought to light

Such attention and attentiveness has moved a long way from the so called Anna movement with its overly precise focus on the Janlokpal Bill, its insufferably vague ranting about corruption, and the horrific imagery of its founder whipping those wedded to the bottle. While numbers on the streets are scarce index of anything — whether political intention or prudence — by contrast the resounding success of AAP in the electorate without (corporate) money or muscle lend substance to the democratic promise that we are indeed equals. However, ghosts are difficult to keep at bay and certain unresolved issues in the Anna Movement have undoubtedly carried over and found distillation in the Somnath Bharti incident. If the Janlokpal Bill did not address the fundamental issue of whether simply instituting a new cadre or chain of command will successfully combat corruption, Somnath Bharti is an unpleasant symptom of the same issue. That government servants should not be protected by any immunity — vestiges from a imperial order of things — cannot and will not be disputed. But whether simply having a new institution (Lokpal) without a clear elaboration on the manner of its selection or its modus operandi will deter future acts of corruption, is, well, questionable. Remember Delhi government’s unique solution to the large number of accidents caused by rash driving — itself traced to the privatization of public transport in the 1990s? With great alacrity, the government responded to the scourge of the “Red Devils” (the new private buses) as they were called by painting them blue. If policemen are indeed corrupt, is the solution to get Janlokpal men?

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