The idea's important, not Kejriwal
Delhi’s newly anointed Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) proved their majority in the state assembly this week, thus paving the way for a state government that will be more or less stable for a while; notwithstanding, of course, the fickleness of the support provided to the AAP by the Congress.
It was evident with Kejriwal’s speech in the house that the party hopes for a good show in the forthcoming general elections this year. AAP has announced it will contest from at least 300 Lok Sabha constituencies, and with some prominent personalities joining the party, the stakes have just been upped.
Consider the names: banker Meera Sanyal, former Infosys board member V Balakrishnan, actor Ranvir Shorey, educationist and Padma Shri winner JAK Tareen, and aviation entrepreneur Captain Gopinath, just to name a few. This is besides some defections from the Congress as well as the BJP and those close to the BJP, including the husband of the revenue minister in Gujarat, a BJP-governed state whose chief minister is the party’s prime ministerial candidate.
This momentum would have been absent had Kejriwal and his party not won 28 seats in the Delhi assembly elections in the first week of December. The party won on a single-point agenda: corruption. Naturally, the media has latched onto Kejriwal as its blue-eyed boy, pushing the TRP-boosting presence of BJP’s Narendra Modi to second place for the time being. Congress vice-president and its most likely prime ministerial candidate Rahul Gandhi is nowhere in the picture.
And this is exactly the root of most of the problems Kejriwal will face in the coming weeks. A large part of being politically relevant is being in the public eye. And that being the case, it is only natural that rival political parties, especially the Congress and the BJP, will resort to gamesmanship. The second salvo (we will come to the first in a while) was fired on Friday with the debate over his official residence and the official cars to be provided to his ministers.
Normally, both these issues would have never come up for discussion had it been a Congress or BJP chief minister, given that almost every single minister and MP (BJP, Congress or any other party) lives in a lavish tax-payer-funded bungalow in the heart of Delhi. But with Kejriwal and his party, who went to the electorate on a promise of frugality (they even travelled in the Metro to reach the swearing-in ceremony venue), will consistently be a target of this gamesmanship.
The first salvo, of course, was the criticism of Kejriwal’s decision to provide partially-free water to Delhi’s residents and his other announcement of auditing energy providers in the city. Both decisions were fulfillment of promises made in the party manifesto. But the ad hominem attacks on Kejriwal continue, and are not likely to end soon. The wily, and often vicious, nature of Delhi politics will ensure that Kejriwal faces unforeseen troubles in the next six months.
A large proportion of his time, as indeed his government’s, might even be spent in warding off these challenges. He will stumble. He might even fail. There will be intense public and media scrutiny of his actions. But if he fails, will that mean the end of the Aam Aadmi Party or its brand of politics? Would it mean that the established political parties would make a comeback and go back to their profligacy and misgovernance? It is precisely because of these considerations that it is important for the electorate to focus more on the idea of a new political discourse, rather than Kejriwal alone. The AAP has facilitated a new kind of politics. Or, at least, it has promised to facilitate.
It is not clear what path this political discourse may take. In the late 1970s, Jayaprakash Narayan propagated the Sampoorna Kranti (Total Revolution) movement, and even held a massive rally at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, exactly the same venue for much of Kejriwal’s political activism. He inspired the formation of Janata Party, which later constituted the government in 1977, thanks to the votes of a frustrated and angry nation. Janata Party itself did not succeed for a long time; and by 1980, Indira Gandhi and the Congress party were back in power.
The only thing that united the members of the Janata Party was hatred for Mrs Gandhi. It was the party’s single-point agenda, just as corruption is the AAP’s sole obsession. The parallels are for all to see, though circumstances are seemingly different today. It is for this reason that Kejriwal should be the instrument of change; not change in itself. The dawn of new politics should shine upon an idea, not an individual.
Sachin Kalbag is the executive editor of MiD DAY. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter, he can be found at @SachinKalbag