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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 9, February 21, 2015

Introspecting on the Aam Aadmi Party and its Historic Triumph

Monday 23 February 2015

by Suresh Jnaneswaran

The triumph of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi elections augers well for a besieged country where minorities are running for cover and the Dalits visibly agitated. There was nothing new in the BJP programme and agenda—internal policy or foreign policy—that could be considered promising or something more than mere rhetoric and stage-management. Since the eight-month-plus of the BJP rule, practically nothing has been implemented in terms of promises or glamorous rodomontade of building a New India. The proverbial old-wine-in-a-new-bottle syndrome gradually started seeping into the minds of the Indian citizenry—educated and conscious of the chicanery they were subjected to.

Is the AAP triumph a turning-point as some media experts expatiate? Or is it the assertion of Indian democracy after its intermittent phases of indifference and political torpor? Indian democracy and its matured resilience are well known. The citizens have seen through the game-plan of the Congress and have been desperate for a change. That was the time when Modi appeared on the scene and the people reposed their faith in him. Eight months is too short to judge his capacities as the Prime Minister, but the signals that emanate out of the internal and external policies point to its cosmetology and overall continuity—alienation— feudal pretensions, showmanship—corruption, et al.

The ubiquitous political culture had become nauseating and the citizens desired a counter-hegemonic movement to extirpate and replace this ambience of hopelessness. The romantic aura of the AAP and its unconventionality along with the kind of people who were associated with it attracted the educated youth, middle classes, minorities, Dalits and all those who felt alienated. The appeal was universal. We need not be surprised if the people, who voted for the BJP and Congress earlier on, had switched their loyalties to the AAP.

Critics point out that this romance is short-lived as the AAP is ideology-deficient. What is an ideology? It is “a set of conscious and unconscious ideas which make up one’s goals, expectations and actions”. In this sense the tallest Indian of modern times, Gandhiji, had an ideology. So does Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP. It would be parochial and epistemologically stunted to call the AAP as bereft of an ideology. The AAP leadership reflects an ideology that the Indian citizens were yearning for—romance, naiveté and sophistication, contradictory attributes but appealing and possible.

The important aspect of it is that it comes naturally to Kejriwal like it did to Gandhiji and was never deliberately cultivated like the political event-managers of contemporary times. There is simplicity, forthrightness, plain-speaking and the guts to pronounce that you lack a planned mapped strategy for the future. However, the confidence to overcome all problems and impediments is very much present. The last great Indian to lead the nation, Gandhiji, did have this attribute.

The strategy and tactics of the BJP and Congress of foisting big names and money power on the people in the climacteric phase of elections in Delhi boomeranged only too naturally as the voters desired change and were anathematic to such practices. No fundamental dichotomies between the Congress and BJP were visible. The results of the ‘BJP- Congress’ winning three seats and the AAP sixtyseven is an eloquent testimony of the adoption of Kejriwal’s anger by the Delhi voters.

A new political culture of action and behaviour was needed. A fresh breath—which itself was ideologically innovative—was required. One is constrained to draw historical parallels with Gandhiji’s simplicity and first entry into mass politics—it was romantic, hypnotic and mesmer-ising, instilling a confidence in oneself and determination for freedom from colonial shackles. The situations are historically different but the significance cannot be undermined by mere verbal vitriol or shenanigans of the partially vanquished.

Uddhav Thackery sees a tsunami undermining a wave, others a juggernaut. These terms are inapposite to describe a bloodless, pleasant and soothing revolution without gunshots or tramp-ling armies. The objectives of the AAP in all their ramifications of policy and implementation have to be restructured and the old model reconstructed to negotiate the inbuilt traps of structured power hegemony and aspirations that would inevitably try to destroy the nascent revolution. India is in the embrace, like the greater part of the world, of a defunct, moribund and inebriating structure of power and its concomitant culture. This narrative has to be extirpated and an alternate narrative scripted.

Delhites have outgrown the communal loyalties of the partition days and segmentary divides of religion and caste that a bankrupt BJP continues to offer and the Congress surreptitiously practices. The public are no longer enamoured of the Maharajas or their expensive, glittering and scintillating wardrobes symbolising a lost era that Modi seeks to revive and replicate. ‘Dressage’ is no doubt significant but its genre was anointed by Kejriwal, not Modi.

The Delhi referendum was not about Modi as the PM but about the political culture practised by the BJP and Congress. The days of alienating one’s own countrymen in the name of religion, caste and region should definitely come to an end along with religious terrorism and disgruntled Maoism. The way out for India is the AAP and Kejriwal, not Modi as the narrative stands now. The Indian habitus is prone to intermittent assertions of course correction in its long history of cultural continuity. The AAP triumph can be seen as a ‘cultural assertion’ with political results rather than that of realpolitik. That is where the BJP and Congress lost out. The Dalits and minorities have hope; the working class and youth are jubilant. All classes and categories feel optimistic. What the AAP and country needs is many many more Kejriwals. And Arvind Kejriwal has to continue and exist as an ‘angry CM’ and not exit from power and its myriad challenges.

Dr Suresh Jnaneswaran is a Professor and the Head, Department of History, University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram. He can be contacted at e-mail: dr.sureshjnaneswaran@gmail.com