A new political mood for the 2014 elections can already be credited to AAP. Ironically what could cause them to stumble is the pace of their own success
When Delhi Law Minister Somnath Bharti said he would “spit” on two distinguished men in India’s public life, he was only employing a salivary image, a metaphor. When the pretty pert anchor on a leading Hindi channel raised her eyebrow, distancing herself from Bharti’s allegedly inelegant speech, she asked: “Does he realize that, because of his bad behavior, the world is doing thu, thu (spit, spit) at us.”
She had inadvertently walked into a spitting image. One better get used to the new public vocabulary as my friends in old Lucknow have. They were proud of their city once known for its “gandi galiyan-saaf zabaan” or dirty lanes but sparkling speech. They have adjusted themselves to a Lucknow where Mulayam Singh Yadav’s successful rally against Mayawati a few years ago carried the emblem “dhikar rally” or “curse you rally”. Mayawati paid him back in his own coin. She led a “thu, thu” rally.
Bharti, the TV anchor and Mayawati, all employed the same figure of speech, a quaint function of growing egalitarianism, something one cannot quarrel with. There is a problem, though, when feudal elegance and an egalitarian culture lay an equal claim on ones allegiance.
It is this somewhat confused set of people morphing into the tinsel middle class which did not know what to make of a chief minister at the pickets, who eventually retired for the night on a pavement, not far from parliament, under a thick flowered quilt. It was an astonishing spectacle.
What was Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal trying to dramatize by setting up this spectacle? Throughout her 15 years as the Congress chief minister, Sheilah Dikshit lamented the fact that police and law and order where not in her hands. The BJP held the same position.
This is a piquant situation which creates an almighty gap between reality and perception. The reality is that in December 2012, a brutal gang rape and murder took place in a moving bus in Delhi. The guilt in popular perception lay with the elected government. But all authority to deal with the situation was with central government or its agent, the Lt Governor.
The AAP exploded on the national scene with an ambitious programe to wean out corruption. It is axiomatic that a new political party, determined to fight corruption, must willy nilly be seen to be fighting the police as well — in order to change it.
Status quo parties like the Congress and the BJP talked about police reform but did nothing. Having been boosted by a raving Delhi public, the Aam Aadmi Party could not rest on its laurels.
It is for this reason that the contradiction with the police was sharpened so dramatically. Bharti kept pointing at a house in Khirki Extension which, according to his constituents, was a “den for drugs and sex”. The police officer pointed his finger at the minister. Heaven knows on whose side the TV channels were: they kept this shot in focus for three days without a break. There were allegations of racism but not in the footage that was telecast.
The AAP were keen to demonstrably establish their case: Look, the police are not under our control. If law and order deteriorates, do not blame AAP. Blame the central government. If the police do not listen even to a minister, what chance does the ordinary citizen have with them?
The police was out to highlight the AAP as a bunch of law breakers. So were the BJP, Congress and the channels.
After the recent election verdict, whom will the people believe?
It is a deeply political situation too. Any doubts on that score have been removed by the Delhi Congress chief Arvinder Singh Lovely: “AAP wants us to withdraw support but we will not oblige them.” Lovely, whose party was down to eight seats in a house of 70, knows in the next round he will be liquidated.
On polling day Dec 4, the Delhi voters’ support for AAP was blind. After the startling verdict, even the BJP’s bravado rings hollow.
Has there been an erosion in the AAP’s support in the month it has been in power?
Soon after the results I had written:
“There is a split in the ruling class and this must be watched. This class is inherently fickle, anchored to deeply entrenched interests. The rapturous applause with which a section of it received the AAP’s arrival may give way to caution, a cunning reserve, eyeing both sides of the street. A group that may be separating itself from this class is its own youth, a sort of rebellion within. AAP has catalyzed a larger dynamic for change.”
The challenge for AAP begins now as it proceeds to harvest the wild support that has mushroomed in parts of the country.
In Kanpur, a leader announced his support for AAP with hundreds of drum beaters in tow. Industrialists turned up to plead his case for a ticket. It looked like old times until authorized AAP functionaries introduced some order.
Mumbai is seething with enthusiastic donors. Is there a screening process in place? In Gujarat, agitating farmers are turning to AAP. Narendra Modi is already talking of inclusive politics. Remember his Atal Bihari Vajpayee like soliloquy on Gujarat’s pain?
A new political mood for the 2014 elections can already be credited to AAP. Ironically what could cause them to stumble is the pace of their own success. The challenge is to prove wrong the old adage: “Victors are by victory undone.”