DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"New politics" of Aam Aadmi Party

http://www.bagchiblog.blogspot.com

Shiv Vishwanathan seems to have got it right. For those who do not know him, he is a social scientist and an intellectual of repute, who generally comments on matters of random interest, politics and society. Writing in The Hindu a few days before the Delhi Election results came out, he could see the “Return of the AAP” – AAP standing for the AAM Admi Party, the party of the common man. Despite the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) having become that “majoritarian phenomenon”, Vishwanathan saw the AAP becoming a formidable prospect for the Delhi elections. In the current environment, it was courageous of him to go on record about it. He saw even BJP’s electoral super-strategist Amit Shah being outplayed by AAP despite the several electoral victories that the former notched up for the BJP. Shah wanted as many as 60 seats out of 70 for the BJP. In a dramatic reversal, however, his party won only measly 3 in one of the worst performances of his Party. While Viswanathan was spot-on, the joke on Twitter was “Nano had more seats than the BJP in the Delhi Assembly”.

Apparently, it was not Modi’s controversial narcissistic buttoned-up suit or  or former Commisioner of Police Kiran Bedi’s induction or arrogance and over-confidence of the two BJP biggies Modi and Shah alone that caused the Party’s decimation. If all this were to be conceded it would be unfair to the “muffler-man” Kejriwal, who was quite a contrast to the immaculately attired Narendra Modi. For all one knows, Kejriwal, chief of the AAP, sartorially tweaked his “aam aadmi” (common man) appearance adding a tinge of rusticity only to make the contrast more apparent. A tenacious man, as he is, nothing could perhaps distract him from his objective. Even after the hammering his outfit got at the Parliamentary elections nine months ago he just did not give up. He was committed to his cause and he went about consolidating his vote bank. Even after being called a “bhagoda” – a deserter – by all and sundry, including those who gave him a substantial mandate in the Delhi elections in 2013, he did not get frustrated or indulged in self-recrimination. Instead, he used the gap between the two (Delhi) elections, inexplicably extended by the BJP at the Centre, to rebuild his organisation. After all, he nursed within him that unflinching commitment to his ideal of a corruption-free India. He had the comfort of a large number of dedicated supporters, volunteers and admirers of his unpretentious interfaces with them. They probably gave him the strength to take on the mighty BJP that denied him all the seats his Party contested in the Lok Sabha (Parliamentary) polls only nine months ago.

He regrouped and his outfit came up so strongly that Shiv Vishwanathan saw it as good enough for giving BJP a run for its money. It is a matter of surprise that if Vishwanathan could gauge the rebuilding of AAP how the hard-boiled politicians in BJP and Congress couldn’t see it – especially Prime Minister Modi, who not only won for the BJP four elections within nine months and claims to have never ever lost his own. Perhaps, it was sheer over-confidence and even Amit Shah, the BJP President and playing Sancho Panza for Modi, could not dream of the upset that was lurking around in the city state. They were sure of a win in, what they thought, was a conventional political battle but, as Shiv Vishwanathan saw it, it was not conventional politics but a new politics – a kind of politics devoid of any ideology and in which citizens occupied the centre stage.

AAP was not preparing for a conventional electoral campaign – a campaign of public rallies and meetings. Its campaign comprised the volunteers going to the people door-to-door seeking out their problems and working out resultant issues and answering the accusations of AAP’s adversaries from detailed answers put down in notebooks. The committed volunteers were so thorough that they spared enormous amount of their time for ‘home work’ as well outdoor campaigns. It was a self-less and self-effacing campaign by unpaid volunteers – common men and women – for which numerous of them left for the duration of the campaign whatever they were occupied with in eking out a living. Scarcity of financial resources prevented media ads, whether electronic or print. It was only banners and posters – sometimes even volunteers acting as ‘human’ posters. It was, kind of, shades of India Against Corruption led by Anna Hazare in 2011 – a fantastic civil society movement that was wrecked by – of all the people – Kejriwal by his untimely and uncalled for 9-day fast in 2012 and later by ditching Anna and forming the AAP.

With their sincerity and commitment they steadily chipped away at voters’ resistance that was generated for AAP’s indiscretion in pre- maturely giving up its rule in 2013. Not only they, even Kejriwal himself begged voters to excuse him. He erred, he said, and that to err was human and then went on to say that after all he and his colleagues did not indulge in corruption and did not loot and plunder the nation’s resources – but only made a silly mistake.

Ideology did not figure in the campaign. The Party was neither leftist nor rightist or what is now fashionable “left of the centre” or “right of the centre” or, for that matter, it was not even centrist. The words secularism and communalism were not bandied about. Repeatedly asked by a prominent TV news channel interviewer about the AAP’s ideology, one of its important and vocal leaders said that they had none and, if at all, they had one, it was “Bharat” (India) – and saving its people from the stranglehold of corruption. The commitment to nothing other than the country and its people and the overwhelming desire of the AAP leaders to rid the country of the scourge of rampant corruption, offering a hassle-free life attracted the voters towards it. The clean-looking campaigners seemingly appeared convincing and were able to change the voters’ inclinations and turn the tide in AAP’s favour.

The unreserved commitment to people – regardless of caste, creed, religion, etc – made Muslims desert their supposedly traditional protector, the Congress and Dalits their party of the Dalit Czar Mayawati. The long-suffering petty traders and businessmen seeking freedom from the haftas of policemen and municipal officials, of course, voted for AAP as they were aware of its effective control over petty corruption during its 49-day run in the government in 2013. While a sizable bloc of government servants adversely reacted against Indian Premier Modi’s tough administration, the internal dissensions within BJP transferred some of its votes to AAP. No wonder, the Party ended up with a strike rate, as the television channels reported, of 95.5%, recording wins in as many as 67 out of 70 seats.

While Modi’s “juggernaut” has been halted (perhaps for the good of him and the people) and the Congress has been sent back to the drawing board, the AAP has the task cut out for it – and that is nothing but to deliver on its promises in Delhi before looking for extended new pastures. Having hit the ground running Kejriwal, probably, is already at it. One cannot but wish him Godspeed.

Photo: from the Internet
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