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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 9, February 21, 2015

Rebirth of Aam Aadmi

Monday 23 February 2015, by Kuldip Nayar

It is, indeed, instructive to analyse why the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was decimated at the polls in Delhi. But the more important point to know is how the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has emerged with a bang: 67 seats in a house of 70! The BJP is down to just three from the 32 it had won in the December 2013 Assembly election.

Who’s the AAP? It is a secular, Left-of-the-Centre party which may become an alternative in the country, replacing the Congress which is languishing. Some time ago a set of motivated people came from different fields and joined the Gandhian, Anna Hazare, in his campaign for the appointment of Lokpal (ombudsman) in order to fight corruption at high places. The movement engulfed the entire country in no time because the campaign had permeated all segments of the society.

How the government beguiled Hazare and his associates to circumvent its undertaking to appoint an ombudsman is another story. Yet, there is no doubt that his movement attracted many idealists in the society at that time. And Arvind Kejriwal was one of them.

He was among the many who aspired for a clean and transparent polity. Although the movement was suppressed, it never allowed the idealism go out of the public gaze. That was when the AAP was born and it refocused its attention on the issue at hand. The party contested the election and was briefly in power.

But how and why the AAP got more attention this time was because the people were sick and tired of the two main political parties, the Congress and BJP. The AAP, despite facing the apathy of the public, stuck to its path and managed to catch the imagination of the people once again to be voted to power with an unprecedented majority.

Much will now depend on Kejriwal and his associates and how they pursue the ideals they have adumbrated. The Delhi electorate has pinned its hope in AAP because the people believed that the party can deliver. The two main political parties do not evoke optimism and both the Congress and BJP look like the relics of the past.

People are looking for an alternative and the Delhi election has thrown open one such opportunity. It is, however, too early to think that the politics of values, which goaded the people to participate in the freedom movement, can return.

Whether or not the AAP leaders realise it, they have become the centre of attention as well as hope. They can become an option at the Centre in the next Lok Sabha elections in 2019. But it will be a different journey and, to traverse it, the AAP will have to remain focused on values which constitute the basic structure of our Constitution.

True, the Delhi election was not a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But it was the BJP that had made it by putting his photos on every bit of publicity material it released. The many crores of rupees in advertisements which the party released in newspapers and on hoardings displayed in Delhi had the photo of Modi along with Kiran Bedi who was seeking election.

Nonetheless, it would be too simplistic to believe that the induction of Kiran Bedi as the chief ministerial candidate was the cause of the BJP’s defeat. Perhaps, it made some difference. But the vote was against the BJP and its ideology of Hindutva. The party still does not want to face the fact that the spell of Modi has waned. The BJP itself looks jaded and stuck in the old mould of religious superiority. The voters swung towards them last time not because of their ideology but because they were promised development, the economic betterment of the people. Almost 10 months of the Modi Government at the Centre has made little difference to the life of an ordinary man on the street.

Both the BJP and the Congress, which did not win a single seat in the Delhi election, must introspect hard and change their policies. The ideology of Hindutva does not sell in a society which is pluralistic if the BJP were to analyse the causes of its defeat. The vandalism of churches is suspected to be the handiwork of extremists in the party. The campaigns like ghar wapsi or the projection of Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, do not go down well in a country that takes pride in being secular.

The Congress, stuck in dynastic politics, has little hope of a revival. The party was a movement and had all its qualities. Today, it is distant from the people. The belated efforts of Rahul Gandhi to address rallies or give speeches are too little, too late. He should cultivate the media. But he hates to hold a press conference or give an interview.

The rout of both the Congress and BJP should make them go back to the drawing boards. If they do that honestly they would realise that they are distant from the ground realities. Even if they do not move to the Left, they have to find a solution to poverty and unemployment. Modi’s free enterprise has not given any dividends so far. There is no running away from the reality that one-third of the people are living below the poverty line.

The RSS, the BJP’s ideologue, takes pride in saying that the rule of Hindus has returned after many centuries. This is not a solution but the problem. All segments of society should be associated with development. One, however, feels that the minorities are being left out purposely.

India, as Mahatma Gandhi said, is a bouquet of flowers. He was emphasising the plurality of the society. The Constitution assures equality to all before the law, whether Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians. But it is a pity that we are going away from that principle. The sooner we retrieve ourselves to that basic requirement, the less arduous would our journey be towards a democratic, secular and socialist polity.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com