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Issue No.: 561 | March 2014
 

Aam Aadmi Party - Confusion Compounded

Firoze Hirjikaka
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AAP legislators displayed their naiveté and inexperience by rushing headlong into their manifesto like a bull in a china shop.

What is the principal emotion engendered when one contemplates the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)? For me, it is bewilderment tinged with exasperation. What is this motley crew up to? Why are its members running around with their heads stuck firmly up their rear ends? Do they have an agenda? Are they fiendishly clever or preternaturally stupid? Is their aim to be heroes or martyrs? Are they exhibiting obdurate stubbornness or is there a devious method to their madness? What is wrong with these guys?

The AAP's well publicized unique selling point was they were just-one-of-us folks. There would be no ‘leaders’ in their Party. Their office bearers were just regular people, no more important or exalted than the man in the street. If elected to power, the citizens of India would witness a form of government unparalleled in their nation's history. They would be astounded, grateful and euphoric all at once. Indeed, it was the AAP's novelty value that proved to be the main attraction. True, the Party was an unknown and untested entity, but the general feeling was that anything was better than the birds-of-a-feather political opportunists we have been saddled with for half a century. For the first time, the common man felt that he had a genuine alternative to vote for and not just the customary choice between the least evil of a coterie of charlatans.

Speaking of the usual suspects, there is a common misconception that the principal grouse against them is that they are universally corrupt. This explanation is too simplistic and somewhat hypocritical. Corruption may not be built into the genetic code of Indians, but it comes pretty close. For sure, our politicians are the undisputed champions in the corruption sweepstakes, but they are trailed by millions of also-rans. Public servants get most of the publicity, but the reality is that hordes of businessmen, traders, directors of corporations, builders and those in almost any profession you can think of, regularly indulge in the competitive sport of avoiding taxes and other legitimate dues to the government. It is only a question of degree. Besides, let us not forget that most people feel compelled to pay bribes because they are trying to cut corners or indulge in activities that are not strictly legal. I believe many people would be prepared to overlook a tolerable amount of corruption in exchange for decent infrastructure, controlled inflation and secure employment, to name a few.

Living in Utopia

But back to the AAP. The fledgling Party cleverly adopted the humble broom as its election symbol, presumably signifying its intention to sweep away the existing corrupt political entity and replace it with a somewhat utopian ideal of a fully participatory democracy where the common man would be involved in every aspect of governance. The concept was luminous in its idealism, but rather short on practicality. Right at the outset, the AAP legislators displayed their naiveté and inexperience by rushing headlong into their manifesto like a bull in a china shop. They were so eager to prove they meant business that they began to issue sweeping government decrees almost on a daily basis. Day one saw the abolition of water tax for everyone except profligate users and those without water meters. This was promptly followed by slashing the electricity tariff in half. If it occurred to the Party leadership that these schemes were wildly impractical and that they had obviously not thought through the financial implications, it was not evident in their actions. 

It seemed that Kejriwal and company were so caught up in the initial euphoria following their ascension to power that they had taken temporary leave of their common sense. The AAP acted like a puppy eager to please by wagging its tail and expecting a reward. Their elation indeed seemed justified in the early days, as millions of ordinary citizens rushed to join the fledgling outfit. The general public appeared to be enthused and slightly hypnotized by the revolution. Even corporate honchos and entrepreneurs - like Meera Sanyal and Captain Gopinath, to name just two, were seduced into lending their support.

Hubris?

Kejriwal made an inspirational speech after his swearing in, extolling the virtues of the aam aadmi and giving him full credit for his Party's victory. It seemed as if Indian politics had entered a new dawn where honesty, humility and accountability dominated the political discourse. It did not take long however, for reality to sink in. At the first taste of power, Kejriwal's head - as well as those of his ministers - swelled like a balloon. Although the BJP predictably attacked him on television, at public functions - most notably the President's Republic Day reception - Kejriwal was mobbed like a movie star. It wasn't long before he started believing his own hype. He also started courting the media, under the assumption that he was their darling and they would support him through thick and thin.

Before the election, Kejriwal had grandly promised that political misdeeds of any form, even from members of his own Party, would not be tolerated. Then his law minister, Somnath Bharti, assuming the avatar of a Wild West sheriff, stormed into a New Delhi locality, television cameras obligingly in tow, and demanded that the police arrest a group of African women whom he alleged were guilty of prostitution and dealing in drugs. When the police reasonably pointed out that they had no warrant, Bharti flew into an imperial rage that completely contradicted his Party's cultivated humble image. Here was a golden opportunity for the "democratic" Kejriwal to put his money where his mouth is; and discipline his errant minister. Instead, he not only defended Bharti, but actively supported him by going on a dharna on the streets of Delhi to demand the resignation of the policemen who had dared to disobey the imperial command. Millions of television viewers watched the sorry spectacle in horror and a deep sense of disappointment. Here was another arrogant neta masquerading as a man of the people. The Indian spring had proved to be a chimera. Worse was to follow. Kejriwal's government arbitrarily reversed the Centre's decision to allow Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Retail. The newly inducted Party elite looked on in horror. This was beginning to resemble the chaotic and repressive French revolution, rather than a genuine reform movement.

Hoping against Hope

The AAP may have shot itself in the foot, but it is still in the war. The surprising thing is that despite the blatant missteps, many people are still enthusiastic about the AAP. Perhaps they are so disgusted and disillusioned with the present political dispensation that they do not want to give up hope. They are hoping that the AAP's missteps are just teething problems and that they will get their act together. I applaud their optimism, but I am not too sanguine.

As for the AAP's principal players, I am getting an increasing impression that Kejriwal is a titular head. He seems sincere enough, but I do not believe he has the intellect or political guile to be genuinely in charge. I suspect the powers behind the throne are the whiny Prashant Bhushan and the bit-too-suave Yogendra Yadav. The latter in fact is a novelty on the television news because unlike almost all his counterparts, he never loses his cool and delivers his discourses in a professorial tone. I surmise that there is a very shrewd political brain behind that calm exterior; and if he achieves his unstated goal of becoming Chief Minister of Haryana, he will abruptly cease playing second fiddle to Kejriwal and may even desert the AAP altogether. Unlike fellow traveller Bhushan who makes no effort to disguise his leftist leanings, Yadav is playing his cards close to his chest and will declare his true colours only after he achieves his political goal.

So there you have the AAP in a nutshell. Its charitable supporters are saying that the new Party is still finding its feet and is giving it a long rope. Their patience is not infinite however, and unless Kejriwal and company sober up and act responsibly, they may prove to be a flash in the pan who will be but a distant memory a couple of years from now. Whatever happens, the next few months are going to be very interesting.

Postscript:

A week after writing the above, Arvind Kejriwal and his band of misfits brought their well-played drama to its inevitable conclusion. In coming weeks, it will be interesting to observe if this disparate group of idealistic opportunists will achieve their unstated goal, or implode in a self destructive orgy.

FIROZE HIRJIKAKA is a retired civil engineer, a blogger
and a freelance writer and a member of the Advisory Board
of Freedom First. leonardo8_99@yahoo.com
 
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