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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 8, February 14, 2015

Delhi’s Valentine Day Gift

Monday 16 February 2015, by Uttam Sen

The AAP’s thumping victory was a token of the fulfilment the people of Delhi preserved for themselves. As an eloquent newscaster described the electoral landslide, it approximated the symbol of affection and goodwill conveyed to a loved one on the martyrdom of a 3rd century Roman saint, his name also tagged to the vigour and vitality associated with the youth. If the statements of the AAP’s prominent leaders were to be heeded, the party was the aam aadmi’s vehicle for realising his/her aspirations. Such a spontaneous movement was witnessed on a national scale in 1977, when the Opposition united to dispose of the ruling party without ostensible resources or organisation. The AAP did not have the material reserves of its principal adversary, or even the one it replaced as the courier of the minorities and the underprivileged. People still take the claims to the AAP’s organisational capability with a pinch of salt.

The AAP’s unique selling proposition as the popular voice is articulated by the undoubted charisma and communication skills of Arvind Kejriwal, and several others, including Yogendra Yadav, but in the main centres around an inspired youthful core of volunteers drawn from all sections of society. Their character and deeds instinctively make a mockery of the sectarian contours of caste, class and community which were coming into view. The AAP’s arrival on the stage is a reiteration of the standards on which the nation was founded. Large sections of the otherwise staid middle class voted for them. The reasons this time are somewhat different from what went before. Not only were the traditional standard-bearers of the status quo undaunted by the prospects of the underprivileged getting their due, they were often biological guardians of the youth who campaigned for a change they thought would have arrived by now. Additionally, economic realities made them pitch for what a perceptive observer has described as the last stand of the imperilled against a predicament enveloping not just the poor.

The AAP has been introspecting. Kejriwal has regretted leaving in a huff the last time, or taking on the sins of omission and commission of past governments all at once. Cooperation with the Centre, arguably to the extent its basic codes permit, constructive cleansing of public life to plough back revenues to meet expenditure on essential services and a minimum standard of life for every citizen, in themselves constitute conspicuous but difficult agendas. The AAP is courageously pledged to controlling them. The process will be as important as the outcome, and popular involvement will keep it going longer than the mechanical restatement of mantras disseminated from a high.

The AAP is confronting disconcerting realties in its own unassuming way. Going bottom up both with ideas to explain things as they are and their implementation can translate into problematic situations. People’s requirements entail public expenditure which can be hard to come by through revenues alone. At the crunch, “austerity” involves a trade-off between them and book-balancing which the people of Greece, for instance, are finding unconscionable. Yet if Greece was part of a truly wider political and economic combination like the putative European Economic Union, it could have its debts absorbed and written off. A unit like Delhi theoretically enjoys that prerogative within the country. Yet the government at the Centre is poised more towards a pattern of investment-led growth which will generate income in future, before the aam aadmi’s dire needs of food, water, electricity, housing and so on are met in the present. Delhi’s electorate has clarified its preferences though not as yet the national electorate which in its last outing was intimidated by the seeming disintegration of public life.

Strategic defence could involve alignment with groups professedly guided by a country’s citizens and business, with the government a facilitator of the process. Yet the curiosity, and the hope, is that if the citizens of the country and business one day justly interact on a level playing field, that is, the priorities of both sides get fair value, a modus vivendi will be found. This is probably the singularity of AAP’s emergence in Delhi. It represents diverse constituents, from the economically poor to the technologically equipped and politically well-versed, components which are globally unique, even if greenness could at times be a double-edged attribute. The configuration creates common ground with the BJP—headed government in Delhi, just as much as it jells with different representations under the rubric of national and regional political parties across the country.

Even on the strategic front, the AAP is committed to robust national defence, and would probably abide by the Centre’s well-taken considerations. There are varied shades of opinion and interest across the global spectrum that are perhaps underplayed or understated on the media. But they do exist and are capable of negotiating open-ended arrangements. Delhi’s Valentine Day gift on February 14 could be one for the entire nation.

The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist.