A gale of change has started sweeping across India. It has brought palpable hope. Millions, pushed beyond the periphery and treated with indifference by the Congress, BJP and smaller look-alike parties, are rejoicing. That slight-looking man, Arvind Kejriwal, the like of which has not appeared on the Indian political scene for a long time, has set on a path where ordinary Indians feel they would have a say in creating their own future. No more business as usual in politics.
But not everyone is happy.
On the sunny Saturday as thousands from all parts of India flocked to Ramlila Maidan in Delhi where Kejriwal was sworn in, Congress and BJP politicians were sulking in their guarded isolation. Exactly the same way they did when Anna Hazare and Kejriwal launched their civil disobedience movement at Ramlila Maidan in 2011.
In an ugly show of churlishness, former BJP president Nitin Gadkari made an unsubstantiated allegation saying a deal has been brokered between AAP and Congress by an industrialist in a five-star hotel, even as other leaders of his party squirmed in unease.
Some in the media were also not happy. Several anchors and so-called experts grudgingly referred to Aam Aadmi Party’s rise and skeptically droned mainly one concern: how long can the Kejriwal government survive? They failed to feel the vibrancy of the public mood and see the beginnings of a seachange in every aspect of Indian politics.
Why? The established political parties had turned politics into commerce and Indian democracy their fiefdom. For many, politics is a family business. Two-thirds of Indian MPs are from political families and all MPs under the age of 30 are hereditary. The pattern is repeated in state assemblies.
According to one study, Congress central ministers owned on an average Rs.100 million worth of assets in just two years after they assumed office in 2009. BJP leaders don’t want to fall behind. According to non-profit Association for Democratic Reforms, in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, 141 legislators who re-contested in November saw a jump of over 240 percent in their assets from an average Rs.17.1 million to Rs.58.7 million in last five years. Also in Madhya Pradesh, Sanjay Pathak, a Congress candidate, increased his assets from Rs.341.7 million in 2008 to Rs 1.213 billion, an increase of over Rs.870 million, in five years.
These political parties and their dynastic leaderships veered far away from the ideals of participatory democracy (swaraj) that Mahatma Gandhi propounded when India gained independence. Instead of dismantling colonial traditions and practices in legislature, bureaucracy and judiciary, where repressive hierarchy was strictly maintained by the British, politicians in independent India became the new masters. Elections legitimized the tyranny of the elected few.
Evidently, the gap between the ruler and the ruled grew. The average politician generally treated people with contempt; they were needed only for votes. They failed to read the mind of the ordinary Indians, not to talk about their yearnings, since power and privileges had blinded them. Their hubris prompted them to dismiss AAP as upstarts. Shiela Dikshit even said: “Kejriwal, who?”
But the people are desperate for change. Kejriwal and his AAP colleagues felt their suffering with empathy, understood the pervading hopelessness and tapped into the smouldering popular anger.
The spectacular acceptance of AAP as an alternative political force has been sufficiently displayed by the people. The AAP’s conduct even in victory is sober, realistic and dignified. Kejriwal sang a song of universal brotherhood, extended a hand of cooperation to his rivals and critics, reminded his colleagues to be humble, and reiterated their sole task of serving the people.
Still some people, including established political parties and their cronies, remain dazed and confused by the AAP phenomenon. The reason is they are still trying to understand the emerging trends in Indian democracy, with the old, worn out vocabulary of politics, and finding it difficult to accept that the people are rising up.
The message was tellingly delivered by a common man.
Schoolteacher Nimma Jairam Reddy, 44, bought a ticket and travelled 28 hours in a crowded train from Medak district in Telangana all the way to New Delhi. “In the past 60 years, the difference between the aam aadmi and the amir aadmi has grown,” said the jubilant Jairam Reddy, sitting among thousands in Ramlila Maidan. “For it to end, traditional politics must die and be replaced with moral and modern politics which Kejriwal represents.”
A majority of Indians would agree with him.
(02.01.2014 – Sudip Mazumdar is a New Delhi-based journalist. He has reported from the Indian subcontinent for over 30 years and his stories have appeared in Newsweek, Foreign Policy, Scientific American and many other publications. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)