If the Congress is serious about finding out the reasons for its debacle in the recent assembly polls, all it will have to do is to ascertain the factors behind the Aam Admi Party’s (AAP) spectacular debut.
The remarkable ascent of this greenhorn party recalls a similar performance by another newcomer to the election scene three decades ago – N.T. Rama Rao’s Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh. Significantly, it was the Congress’s missteps which led to its rise. But for Rajiv Gandhi’s insulting behaviour towards the then Andhra Pradesh chief minister, T. Anjaiah, the Telugu Desam wouldn’t have appeared at all.
It was to salvage the pride of the people of the state that the matinee idol of the time, NTR, decided to launch his party in 1982 and swept the Congress out of power in the following year.
The AAP’s trajectory is similar, though not identical. It also decided to enter the electoral fray to oust not only the scam-tainted Congress but virtually all the established parties which, the AAP believes, are hand-in-glove behind the scenes to feather their own nests at the expense of the hapless population.
As is known, the AAP’s roots lie in Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption stir during the summer of 2011. After the agitation fizzled out, however, with a flop show in Mumbai in December of that year – Delhi was deemed too cold for continuing with the protests – one of Anna’s lieutenants, Arvind Kejriwal, decided to enter the political field.
Quite a few believed at the time that his venture would be a continuation of the Mumbai fiasco. With no political experience and no money, it wasn’t considered possible that he would be able to take on the established parties with their enormous funds, organizational network and knowledge of how to “work” the system.
But what the doubters did not reckon with was the enormity of the seething anger against the Congress. In a way, it was comparable to what NTR had exploited. But, if a single incident at the Hyderabad airport had sparked off the rage in Andhra Pradesh, the prevailing wrath in Delhi against the Congress was the result of at least three years of what Finance Minister P. Chidambaram described as the government’s “ethical and governance deficits”.
But it wasn’t only these deficits which have since laid the Congress low. These deficiencies were compounded by the party’s and the government’s callousness – reflected by the heir-apparent’s casual attitude towards parliament – and cynicism, exemplified by attempts to buy off the voters with doles and subsidies.
If the AAP hadn’t been formed, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would have reaped the full advantage of the popular discontent. The Congress can consider itself fortunate that the AAP took away a substantial portion of the votes which would have otherwise gone to the BJP. If the BJP had received a huge mandate, it would have been a massive setback for the Congress and a boost to Narendra Modi.
At the moment, however, the blow has been softened by the AAP winning 28 seats against the BJP’s 32 and the Congress’s miserable eight. But the AAP’s main achievement has been to show that idealism still has a place in politics. It is because of its adherence to principles that the BJP has pledged not to try to entice independents or members of other parties to its side. It may be recalled how B.S. Yeddyurappa had increased the BJP’s legislative position in Karnataka in 2011 by winning over “friends” from other parties via Operation Lotus.
Considering how such “horse trading” had virtually become an integral part of the post-election scene, this cleansing of the system is a highly laudable contribution of the fledgling party to Indian politics. But there are several factors which can cast a shadow on the knights in shining armour who have sent tremors through the political establishment.
One is their holier-than-thou attitude which is behind their disinclination to sup with the devils of the other parties. This contemptuous outlook is also a characteristic of Anna who even described voters as bikau or purchasable, thereby tarring both the electors and the elected with the same brush. It is a matter of conjecture how long the AAP will keep itself lily-white after having entered the cesspool, as Amitabh Bachchan described politics after his brief dalliance with it.
The other disquieting factor about the AAP is its utopianism which has made it promise to slash electricity rates, provide 700 litres of free water and ensure that all decisions are taken in mohalla sabhas or local bodies which sounds highly democratic on paper but can be a recipe for indecision if not chaos in an argumentative society.
Like its politics which reflects a general desire to overhaul the system without much thought about its replacement, the AAP’s economics is expectedly socialistic with its belief in state control. Hence, no privatization, no FDI in retail, no contract labour, higher taxes and so on. Perhaps a spell in power will cure the party of its romanticism. Otherwise, it will remain an admired but solitary phenomenon.
(14.12.2013 – Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)