Democracy disciplined and enlightened is the finest thing in the world. A democracy prejudiced, ignorant, superstitious, will land itself in chaos.
– M K Gandhi
The victory of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is generally hailed as heralding a new era of urban politics in India, a sign of citizens finally stirring from their long night of slumber, drugged as they have been from the opiate of corruption and waking up to the call of cleansing “dirty politics”.
AAP has definitely made an impressive foray into the electoral combat by successfully combining rhetoric with hard organizational work. The unscrupulous politics of stealth and loot of the challenging legacy parties has been the main feed for the AAP.
State elections in India are always complex, but sometimes a crucial issue or a potent trend becomes the main driving force that produces the outcome. This did not happen in Delhi in 2013 election that gave the AAP an unprecedented debut. Over the past few years, results to state assembly elections in India have typically reflected local and regional factors rather than the national. However, in the recently concluded 2013 assembly elections, the Congress Party’s extremely poor performance (barring the victory in Mizoram), irrespective of whether it was in power (Rajasthan and Delhi) or in the opposition (MP and Chhatisgarh), suggests that national factors dominated voter choice. It has been clear for a while that the United Progressive Alliance government in the centre has become very unpopular. AAP’s performance in the elections owed less to the combined rhetoric and hard organisational work than to widespread popular disenchantment with the Congress. The blame for disenchantment falls squarely upon the Congress led government at the centre, which did more than anyone to determine the election outcome – the widespread view regarding the central government as callously unconcerned with people’s welfare. Some ministers performed quite well while others went badly awry. However, a few ministers were grossly irresponsible. They behaved like medieval monarchs and concentrated on self-enrichment.
The BJP, however, had been more adroit than the AAP in opposition to the Congress over the previous year. So while the BJP’s campaign was strong, AAP emerged because it was lucky in its adversaries and not because it was a strong political force.
AAP represents a sentiment that is immensely supported and shaped by the mainstream media. While the Indian media has been deeply hostile to the reception of radical left politics opposing mindless appropriation of liberalisation by the elite and continued forms of historical injustice (by either of the national parties: the BJP and the INC), it has shaped the AAP. The Kejriwal effect is, therefore, a creation of the media. The media has definitively driven the lorry leading to its success to a great extent.
The argument that the AAP is a “media creation” sometimes also suggests that the party and the anti-corruption movement that bore it are somewhat unstable, lacking the wherewithal of “solid politics”. Naming and shaming politicians is what has been the strategy of the AAP. Arvind Kejriwal hopes to continue to make an impact as the newest entrant in Indian politics by following the same strategy. The anti-corruption crusader-turned politician began by questioning the legitimacy of the real estate deals involving Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and claiming to have documents that bring out his nexus with a business group.
Kejriwal alleged that in a span of three years from 2007, Vadra’s fortune multiplied to Rs. 300 crore from Rs. 50 lakhs. Vadra’s real estate and land deals, he claimed, were facilitated by the Congress governments in Haryana and Rajasthan. These were allegations that had been reported in the media several months earlier and forgotten. They created a buzz for a few days when political exchanges filled television news channels with the viewers being none the wiser at the end of it all.
The heat and dust of this expose had hardly settled when Kejriwal turned his focus on Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid and his wife Louise Khurshid, alleging that Dr Zakir Hussain Trust, the NGO they run, had misappropriated public funds, running into several lakhs of rupees, meant for helping disabled persons. This allegation was the subject of a sting operation by a media house.
To explain their position the Khurshids held a press conference but it ended in an ugly exchange of words between them and a section of the media. Kejriwal claimed that the Khurshids had not answered the five questions put to them by India Against Corruption (IAC). But even as the tempo of charges was building up, Kejriwal suddenly announced that he was ending the agitation in Delhi and moving it to Farrukhabad, Salman Khurshid’s Lok Sabha constituency in Uttar Pradesh, starting November 1, 2012.
With two of his “exposes” still hanging over fire, Kejriwal went on to a third one a couple of days later. The then BJP president Nitin Gadkari, was on target, who, Kejriwal alleged, got farmers’ land at a throwaway prices for his business ventures in what has come to be called the “irrigation scam”. And Kejriwal carried on with his game of allegations.
If Kejriwal was serious about fighting corruption and if he indeed had proof of corruption in all these cases, why did he not approach the courts? Was his only purpose to sensationalise corruption and feed upon it in the upcoming elections? In an interview to Frontline Kejriwal said, “Why should we approach the court all the time? It is for the governments to take action. We are only trying to make people aware that there is corruption cutting across party lines. It is a cosy nexus at the top in all parties. We are trying to raise people’s awareness about this cosy nexus so that this corrupt system can be changed.”
AAP has resorted to ‘an allegation/shock-a-day’ kind of activism and the same has been appreciated and carried forward by the media and Indian electorate, evident from the Delhi Elections results. It has been a common belief that Kejriwal’s AAP has led to the emergence of an extremely unpredictable and unstable political condition. But the open secret is that the AAP exploited the extremely unpredictable and unstable political condition which prevails today in a mix of issues in the upcoming election which ranges from combating or supporting communal forces to combating or supporting the most secular concept of corruption. While the AAP formed the government in New Delhi it became the victim of its own strategy of ‘a shock-a-day’!
The fall of the AAP government in Delhi is definitely not a bolt out of the blue for Indian electorate. The public support for a party which believes in unpredictability and brazenness of style is only an indication of an unstable political situation – mango people in a banana republic!