May 29, 2020
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Man Of The Masses

Can he break the mould in administration as he has in politics?

Man Of The Masses
Man Of The Masses

“In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a proud and arrogant hunter who was fixated with himself while Nemesis was the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris. Noticing Narcissus’s nature, Nemesis drew him to a pool of water where he saw his own reflection and unable to stop looking at it, drowned.”

—drawn from the entry on ‘Nemesis’ in Encyclopaedia Britannica


How does a Supreme Leader respond to the first truly crushing political defeat of his career? Does he conclude that the nation needs to see more of him in those choreographed events befitting His Majesty? Will his unsmiling gaze still look down on us from every corner in the national capital, or will he ask the minions to remove the hundreds of hoardings? Could the Emperor have new clothes, presuming he will never again appear in a suit with his name embedded in the pin stripes? Will the I-Me-Myself style of governance be toned down?

The victory of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi poses a very serious challenge both to the idea of Modi and to the manner in which politics has been conducted in post-liberalisation India. First, the extraordinary personality of Arvind Kejriwal cannot be overlooked. He too is the absolute leader of his very small party with very big ideas. Kejriwal is a man who has built the structure from bottom up, while Modi in a sense took control of the BJP from the top down.

There is too on display the human touch. When he wins, Kejriwal brings his wife to the stage and holds her in a very tight embrace. When Modi wins as he did in Varanasi, he appeared on a lotus float on the Ganges river like a divinity with his right hand man Amit Shah as the companion deity. When AAP celebrates, its youthful followers break into a spontaneous jive and they put out tweets just saying ‘Wow!’. When the BJP rejoices, its members often wear Modi masks, while some also vitiate the mood with statements that reek of majoritarianism and male chauvinism.

Kitne Aadmi Thhe: The empty presence of past stalwarts—Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, Deendayal Upadhyay—and present satraps is all the BJP could ensure at HQ.  (Photograph by Jitender Gupta)

When Kejriwal wins, he hugs his wife. When Modi won, he appeared on a lotus float with Amit Shah as fellow deity.

It can also be seen as a return to the value of simplicity from the gross of excess. Kejriwal shuns the VIP culture of the city, he’s the common man who can sleep on a pavement and go and see a movie with his buddies. He can break into a song, even if not especially tuneful, that appears to come from the heart.

He holds nukkad meetings, not mega events. In a city known for its excess wealth, rough speech and crimes against women, the spectacular triumph of AAP that won 95 per cent of Delhi’s seats could make us ponder whether people do prefer civility to unbridled aggression. It is yet to be seen how Kejriwal and his merry band will transform from agitators to administrators, but it can be presumed that they will position themselves as the outsider-insiders in the system they have challenged all along.

The most radical idea is actually the simplest. At its core, the existence and success of AAP challenges the lack of transparency in political funding and this has implications for all political parties.

True, there have been queries about the origins of specific accounts which donated to AAP, but fundamentally people realise that the intent was not to cheat or cover up any trail. The party puts up all the donations on their website and now that they have won, there is the very valid question that the public can ask of other parties. Why have the Congress and BJP joined hands in resisting extending the right to information to the finances of political parties? Who paid for the multi-crore campaigns of Narendra Modi, both for the Lok Sabha and the Delhi election? If it were big industrial houses, is there not an implicit quid pro quo?

The zeroic: The Congress hits the nadir. There is no lower it can go. The worker, clutching at straws, makes the occasional invocation to one last, untested family hope. It’s been as futile as anything else it has tried of late. And there’s no saying anyway that a likeness to Indira will deliver India. (Photograph by Jitender Gupta)

Two of three AAP MLAs also have assets over Rs 1 crore. The key would be to see if their assets grow after a stint in power.

Certainly, politics is often reduced to a coalition of castes or communities, rhetoric and personality. But the fundamental rot within our much-celebrated democracy was that it took millions to fight elections, upon winning which the candidates went on to become millionaires! Could AAP provide the much-needed check to this hollowing out of our democracy? There has been some disquiet over some of the lateral entries from other parties into AAP. An analysis by the NGO Association for Democratic Reforms reveals that two of three AAP MLAs also have assets over `1 crore. But the key would be to monitor whether the assets grow after a stint in power as they have done for most elected representatives in India.

There is simultaneously an attempt to interpret AAP and fit it into traditional ideological straitjackets. Commen­ta­tors from the Left, who in the past scoffed at AAP, are now coming round to the view that it now has filled in the space mostly vacated by them. AAP certainly speaks for the poor as the Left once did, takes strong positions against the nexus between politicians and big business and the blatant display of power hierarchies in the political system. It has also built a cadre in Delhi, inspired by the spirit of volunteerism and the persona of Kejriwal.

But Kejriwal succeeds with a cross-section of society also because he does not carry the ideological baggage (and intellectual arrogance) of the traditional Left. He is a doer who presumably does not waste time in Marxist analysis of ‘thought and non-thought’, class struggles, ‘action and inaction’. He jokes in interviews that he is a ‘baniya’ and knows the importance of making money. And people did put their money where his mouth is as AAP did win over most of the small traders in the city with promise of lower tax and no raids. The small traders were one of the keys to the party’s success.

Everyman’s CM Kejriwal with wife Sunita after the landslide victory

The AAP has also redefined the contours of the secular-communal debate in ways that challenges the Congress. First a bit of perspective: The movement of India Against Corruption in 2011 led by Anna Hazare but with Kejriwal as the main architect struck a fatal blow to the credibility of the Congress. That was also the time that sections of the RSS supported the movement. But it has been a dynamic process of growth, trial and error for the new force, now morphed into a political party. Four years later, 63 candidates losing their deposit hammered another nail in the Congress coffin.

AAP occupies the space the Left has mostly vacated but minus its ideological baggage and intellectual arrogance.

AAP did the demolition job even as it appears to be evolving an alternative to the Congress brand of secularism by avoiding the culture of seeking support from imams and religious leaders. Without making community-specific promises but just promising justice, Kejriwal got 77 per cent of Muslim votes, and 57 per cent of Sikh votes. It was a healthy campaign that fundamentally steered away from problematic sectional appeals to voter blocs. He got the Dalits too and with that took away what was left of the bsp’s votebank in the city.

But the unkindest cut has certainly been dealt to the BJP that had much more to lose and has been on a high post-May 2014. The post-Modi trance has now come to an end and the party has sunk into what it calls a dharam-sankat. Says a party veteran: “This result is a wake-up call to the Sangh and the BJP. We have submitted to a personality and there is no dialogue left within the party. Modi and his team just impose decisions on us.” There are serious questions being raised about the BJP turning away from its model of strong state leaders and instead choosing to follow the high command model of the Congress where leaders are decided by the Modi-Shah duo.

Youngistan hamara AAP’s young supporters hail its stupendous win

The control-and-command structure of Gujarat now superimposed on the entire party will not be immediately challenged, but make no mistake, there is quite a lot of abuse going around among workers and sidelined veterans. Clearly, the faultlines and the rumbles and grumbles from within will increase if the government falters again, both in image projection and in economic indicators. There is within the BJP and Sangh parivar always the problem of hate-mongers. Put them on a leash and they will undermine you. Let them loose and they could at times repel the public and turn people against you. Did the yogis, sadhvis and maharajs of the BJP also turn the tide against Modi or was it just the unfortunate Ms Bedi? The party says they will debate it.

Those who are at the heart of the Modi strategy believe that the answer lies in greater liberalisation and ‘modernity’ with the communal rhetoric being down for the moment but up in the event of anything that Modi could project as heroic defence against all the fifth columnists! They say that their electoral support fundamentally came from an aspirational class and they have the captains of industry behind them more than ever before (presumably because the Congress has made another spectacular show of its irrelevance). Hence they must continue down the path to what they call reforms. In political terms that means still capitalising on elite and upper-class aspirations, because a BJP strategist explains that “the more prosperous class holds the key to our future as the poor and marginalised made up a much smaller section of the 31 per cent votes that the BJP won in the general election”. AAP incidentally got 54 per cent of Delhi’s vote, a 22 per cent lead on the BJP in the city-state that should logically have fallen for the promise of smart cities and faster trains in a gleaming, shining India.

Mending Centre-state ties? Arvind Kejriwal calls on PM Modi with Manish Sisodia

AAP got a 22 per cent lead on the BJP in a city that should have fallen for its promise of smart cities and bullet trains.

That is where the rub lies. It is the articulation of AAP on what they call crony capitalism that will make life difficult for the BJP regime. Since Modi came to power, the funding for the National Rural Employment Guarantee programme, among the largest employment schemes in the world, has been cut by 45 per cent. More recently, the government passed an ordinance to make land acquisition easy for business and corporations even as it reduced the safeguards promised to farmers. It is important to note that AAP campaigned on this issue in the ring of outer Delhi where farmers sit on valuable land. They had overwhelmingly voted for BJP in the general elections and have now rejected them. The BJP has also been dismantling environment protection structures and clearing projects in a tearing hurry. They are wont to tom-tom the fact that all details of environment clearance are on the ministry’s website although they evade questions about putting the details of their own funding on a website.

As far as the BJP is concerned, the fifth column of the anarchists is now in power in Delhi. (The fifth column is a group that undermines the activities of a larger group from within a city-state or a nation, both overtly and covertly). They will try to flush out the usurpers or make their life as difficult as possible. The challenge for AAP is now to come back with innovative solutions that can actually be made to work on the ground. This time, breaking the mould in administration as they have in politics.

Democracy and politics are about getting the chemistry right only after which is the arithmetic done. Any student of chemistry would know that adding a new element would change the nature of the compound. AAP has certainly added a dash of the unknown and a dose of morality into public affa­irs, accountability and politics.

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