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Sunday, December 15, 2013


By Swapan Dasgupta

Maybe I am over-reading the boisterousness, but the Aam Aadmi Party’s coming-second party at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar last week left me a trifle disturbed. The enthusiasm of the modest but jubilant crowd, most flaunting their by-now familiar headgear, was only to be expected. After all, it is not every day that a determined bunch of activists can alter the electoral calculus of a state, especially one that happens to be India’s Capital city, and come within smelling distance of an outright victory after polling nearly 30 per cent of the popular vote. No, the triumphalism was both understandable and expected.

Yet, I expected a measured show of humility by those who had emerged out of a popular movement against both corruption and political high-handedness. Instead, TV viewers were subjected to an astonishing show of cockiness by individuals, heady from their rapid elevation from relative anonymity to stardom. The Master of Ceremonies was particularly exultant and never missed an opportunity to direct his snide asides both on those who had lost and those who had performed better than the fledgling AAP. Although Arvind Kejriwal did make a show of inviting “good people” from the Congress and BJP to join his party, the overall tone was one of dismissive sneer: the AAP was the stage army of the good and all the other mainstream parties epitomised the rot of India.

It was this infuriating arrogance that also led to a AAP celebrity heckling former army chief General V.K. Singh at Anna Hazare’s fast in a village in Maharashtra. So much so that Anna had to personally intervene and ask the loudmouth activist to leave.

To attribute this unseemly display of triumphalism to the personal shortcomings of a few individuals may well be correct. But if success has gone to the heads of those who promised a new brand of “alternative”, much of the responsibility can be pinned on the editorial classes who have cast AAP in the mould of a La Passionara—the legendary figure from the Spanish Civil War who uttered the famous words “they shall not pass” directed at the advancing forces of General Franco.

There was always an extra gush in the coverage of the AAP campaign but if this impressionable folly of junior reporters has been transmitted up the hierarchy after counting day, it is due to two factors. First, there appears to be generalised consensus that the bottom has fallen off the Congress’ support base. This was most in evidence in Delhi and Rajasthan, but even the Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh results reinforced the conviction that no great depth left in the Congress batting any longer. Secondly, there is an emerging groupthink that suggests the AAP is the only viable force that stands between Narendra Modi and victory. If the AAP, or so the argument goes, can replicate its Delhi performance in urban India, Modi will have to be content with his existing job as Chief Minister of Gujarat.  

The AAP euphoria is proving infectious among those who are exasperated by the sudden death of the Congress and are desperately in search of a force that can derail Modi’s journey to Delhi. An Indian-American academic who was earlier singing praises of Rahul Gandhi has, for example, detected that the dynasty is well past its sell-by date. He is now detecting an AAP surge in places such as Bangalore and Pune. Whether such individuals have actually detected something that is not visible to the naked eye or are merely clutching at straws will be known in a few months. Whatever the reality, the AAP is certainly celebrating its moment in the sun, its rise being equated to a tsunami and the Arab Spring that toppled various decrepit West Asian regimes and left the region in a state of confused turbulence.

Yet, while the AAP rise has many obvious lessons for a smug and complacent leadership of the national parties, its rise suggests various possibilities for the future. The most important—and by far the most reassuring message—is that traditional electoral calculations go out of the window if a big idea grips the popular imagination.

Contrary to media reports, this is not a new AAP contribution to Indian politics. The elections of 1971, 1977, 1980 and 1984 were decided on the strength of a big idea. In those elections, voters weren’t bothered about candidates: their preference was for the big picture. In an equal way, the BJP’s triumph in Uttar Pradesh in 1991 was brought about by a similar attraction to another lofty ideal that proved more appealing than local organisation and candidates.

Equally, the large network of volunteers that AAP was able to organise isn’t exactly new. Every worthwhile party has its network of kayakartas. What makes a crucial difference in the election season is a party’s ability to attract incremental support. In 1977, the Janata Party—born barely a month before the election—was completely dependent on unpaid enthusiasts. For that matter so is the NAMO campaign dependent on volunteers who have shelved other activities to campaign for what they see is a noble mission. Yet, the enthusiasm of these volunteers can only make a difference if they are integrated into the main campaign. The AAP succeeded in effecting that synergy and for that it should be credited. Now it is up to the others to do what is necessary to energise a campaign.

AAP has indicated that the mould of conventional politics can be broken. Mercifully, it is not the only force that can benefit from creative destruction. 


No Mist said...

give a banana to a pig and he will stomp on it to eat only the peel. but the pig is smarter than AAPers.

AAPers are hell bent on smashing that peel and licking the soil.

I am sure most AAP voters are already regretting their votes. thankfully next election does not look far.

Anonymous said...

That makes two of us. I was also equally "disturbed" as the callow yuppies lack a profound knowledge of governance & the credentials of dubious folks like Kejriwals.

The only objective of congress & AAP is to deny us Indians Sri.Narendra Modi. Congress would not hesitate to cut its own nose to spite its face.
Add to that P.Chidambaram's ominous threat that no party would win a clear majority in Parliamentary Elections.

But AAP is destined to fizzle out.
Its Kejriwal never had any clear vision & agenda like Sri.Narendra Modi. It fills me with revulsion to even compare the two.

Kejriwal's arrogance would derail him for sure.

Solutions Persona said...

I admire your thinking in every subject that you speak on.

Solutions Persona said...

I admire your thinking on every subject that you speak on. I just love it.

Anonymous said...

AAP= Always Agitating Parasites, they never cared for any aadmi. They never intended delivering any of the bunny out of hat promises they promised. They never expected to bag so many seats. They thought some party would form govt and they could keep on whining and yelling unreasonable idealistic mumbo jumbo. Now they are like the dog who chased a car noisilyn and speedily! they caught up with the car, but sadly 2 cars stopped drivers got out and offered ride but dogs & bitches still barking not taking the ride.

Ramesh Kumar Bithar said...

sir yours arguments speaks truth 4 d wise men only but majority of aaptards conmen find difficult 2 digest

Anonymous said...

"For that matter so is the NAMO campaign dependent on volunteers who have shelved other activities to campaign for what they see is a noble mission."
Oh really, Noble cause by paid workers. ha ha. Something for which volunteers come by their own will and for no benefit is called Noble.
making statues have been older generation idea not gonna work. Roti-Bijli-makkan is gonna be real issue yet again after 65 yrs of Independence. And this is the gift of Cong/BJP to the nation.

Anonymous said...

Do you choose to publish only comments favorable to you

Amitabh Coomar said...

Dear Sir. You seem to be in a hurry to find faults with AAP. I think their entry has not only been spectacular but also interesting and pregnant with overall positive outcomes for the national polity. Fair criticism is always welcome as they will likely continue to show their naivete and inexperience as they fumble and fall.

Anonymous said...

The Swagger of AAP is uncalled for..will be exposed. Till then have to bear with them.

Vineet Gupta said...

Now the Time of NAMO has come...the wave of CHANGE will put Namo to the top job..and only he can deliver. AAP is not the solution. It is destroyer of the system in place..but remember only system can bring change..

Anonymous said...

Swapan Da - I am sad that you could not see the humility from Kejriwal across interviews. But if you categorize their resolute moral position on corruption as arrogance, then its your choice.

May be your evaluation about them will change again as it changed during the last year.

I have been a Modi supporter, but you know what, the more people like you leave rational and objectivity to call them with various adjectives, the more I grow I closer to AAP. Same is what is happening across my networks. Party, that you sympathize with, and may be I also sympathize still, needs to play its politics very very well from now onwards. Urban audiences are having change of heart.

Anonymous said...

What about the cockiness and double speak of BJP. I guess you have only one working eye and have knowingly/unknowingly closed the other eye or you believe that it is not working. Very soon you will see the realistic view. If you think Arvind is arrogant may be its true he should be arrogant because he has the will and personal strength to fight against the corrupts.