Changing the political paradigm
There’s no way to tell how far this Aam Aadmi Party will go with its idea of new politics and cleansing the system. But it has one remarkable achievement to its credit, at least. It has changed the political discourse in India from Congress versus BJP to a larger context. And most heartening of all, has given us an option to Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi. In spite of protestations that India follows a parliamentary form of democracy, the BJP and its supporters had succeeded in giving the next general election a US presidential feel. We have been force-fed the pronouncements of Modi and Gandhi, no matter how banal and often downright embarrassing they have been.
Modi of course specialises in his own brand of accusation, insult and self-aggrandisement. This is seen as mainly by his supporters because apparently that is how men are supposed to behave — brash and arrogant. Gandhi counters this with a sort of whimsical, otherwordly pseudo-wisdom with far too many mentions of his family history and his mother to appeal to anyone who is not already a diehard fan.
Kejriwal brings into this equation a bit of spice. He can be equally annoying as the other two with his self-righteous ‘I am just a simple nobody’ stance even though you can clearly see the arrogance overflowing from those pursed lips. And you get the distinct feeling that he is quite chuffed with what he has achieved. But even so, he is not yet playing the game the way the other two are.
Modi is a one-stop shop for all answers and all solutions. The latest gem from his stable (or is it from the Indian academics of Columbia University who sing his praises in every other newspaper’s edit pages?) is the abolition of income tax and various other taxes. O glory be, as we step into this utopia where Muslims and other minorities are not allowed unless they toe the Sangh Parivar line. The Congress and Rahul Gandhi, reeling from the mess they have made in the last five years, are unsure whether the poor need more help or less help or who knows what. What they still have for themselves is far more sophistication and subtlety of thought than Modi’s fan base. Also, several Congress party members appear to have a better understanding of the Indian Constitution and a larger idea of political reality.
However, has Kejriwal beaten them all at their own game by standing up for the ‘common man’? The hysteria and hope will probably die down. Different places will react differently to him and the AAP. Mumbai could well be a graveyard the way it was for the India Against Corruption movement. But even among the unconvinced, there is a palpable sense of anticipation. Can Kejriwal actually make a difference? What if he is able to deliver even 50 per cent of his somewhat outrageous promises? Should our scepticism be allowed a little holiday?
Suppose Indian politics, at last, has nothing to do with religion, caste or region? Suppose identity politics is on the downswing? Suppose politics which relies solely on ethnicity is no longer quite so desirable? And before all this becomes just so much wishful thinking, Kejriwal and the AAP addresses this still hopeful constituency.
It is little wonder that the BJP is said to be worried at the AAP’s rise. Kejriwal has made the corruption agenda his own domain — and this was the biggest stick with which he beat the incumbent UPA government at the Centre. Even worse for the BJP is that public attention and that ever-fickle media has dumped Narendra Modi who had dominated headlines for months in favour of this new entrant.
It is possible that the Congress has been too clever by half in supporting the AAP in Delhi and it will come a cropper. But it is also apparent that the Congress is willing to wait this next election out and assess its chances which it feels will only improve after whoever comes to power later this year. The silly season just got a new joker in the pack and he’s the only one laughing at the moment.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona