Everyone loves a winner.
And when it’s an underdog that wins, the romanticism just goes through the roof.
Everyone wants to be a part of it. It resonates at some atavistic level in the human psyche that wants to be a part of the strongest pack, to be at the apex of the food chain.
It helps when your conscience is constantly nudged in that direction. “We can change the world. We are the change. We can help those who need it, and steamroll those who stand, immorally, against us. Because we are right.”
AAP is the latest revolution in our land. A party that was born of the marriage of frustration and anti-corruption, a party without a dynasty or a climb through the ranks, transparent and well-intentioned, an antithesis to every other entity in the establishment… it’s easy to see how the Aam Aadmi Party has captured the imagination of the aam aadmi.
You do not need to be a Gandhi – or be on sycophantic terms with one – to have a shot at representing your ward. You do not need to have spent years with a grassroots organization like the RSS or the Youth Congress to be heard by the higher-ups. And best of all, the left-leaning ideals – subsidies at government expenditure, giving people what they need at no personal cost, the automatic imprint of secularism because the AAP is not the brainchild of any particular community – assuage your own ideals for living a socialist, value-to-society life without compromising on any of the comforts you can’t live without.
And with the zeal of the converted, the neophytes end up being more loyal to the king than the royalty itself. Indians have a tendency to move from condemnation or indifference to worship without bothering themselves with too much introspection or uncomfortable questions. Thus, an on-screen persona tranlsates into a Puratchi Thalaivar or a larger-than-life NTR without being troubled by the understanding of the differences between the reel and the real. Icons take the place of ideologies, and in the process cost us the intellectual cynicism that should guard us against the trap of falling in blindly.
We never seem to learn that lesson.
Of late, I’ve been getting into arguments with my wife, normally an apolitical person, whenever I criticize AAP. That – making a person care about the political setup in the country once again – is perhaps AAP’s greatest success. That, and the fact that you do not need a filmi-flashback to be in politics or make an impact.
But reducing AAP to just another party is to make a mockery of the hope that they’ve held out to those who are looking up to them. And excusing their compromises as ‘necessities’ or ‘naivete’ is perhaps the biggest danger to the chance that India has in its grip right now.
Why should we be far more unforgiving of AAP than any other party?
Because AAP is supposed to be the party with a difference. And that difference is not in the absence of a dynastic following or a Bhakti cult or the specter of communalism, but in the principled stand – of austerity, level-headedness, honesty, a non-pseudo brand of secularism and a desire to clean up the system by breaking the insiders’ club – that catapulted AAP from an extra in an anti-corruption crusade to the superstar of the day. And any chip off this stand, any dilution of these standards, is a betrayal of those who subscribed to it.
Like a hard rock that gets pounded by running water into a pebble without even realizing it, AAP’s compromises have the potential to reduce it to another aspirant to the corridors of power and its abuse – and a traitor to the promises it once held out.
While I am impressed with the way that the AAP has gone about its business in the last four days, I also have my reservations.
One, while the promise of 700L of water was delivered in the letter of the law, the spirit was found lacking. The supply is only for piped connections to houses – covering about 40% of Delhi’s populace – and comes with a sensible rider of penalties for misusing that privilege. So far, so good. What troubles me is that there are no apolitical voices asking for the government to push through connections for the remaining citizenry. No one from the AAP has come forward so far with a blueprint for increasing the water connectivity to houses (something that’s pretty basic for anyone who’s played SimCity!) One measure without the other is not good governance – like the FSB, it’s merely tokenism.
Socialism aside, one also has to wonder where the money is going to come from. Subsidising water and power are short-term solutions that might take them to a stronger position after LS 2014, but how are they going to make the system more efficient? Auditing discoms and reducing the guaranteed margins of 16% (one wonders at the naivete that assumed that one govt is free to overturn/cancel arbitrarily the contracts entered into by its predecessor) to lower levels might work to please the voters for now, but what if the coffers run out some time later? What if the cost of these populist subsidies bankrupt the utilities? Who ends up paying for it then?
The media went ga-ga over Arvind Kejriwal and his cabinet’s aam aadmi approach to their swearing-in ceremony, but lost in the din of ‘change’ was that it had all been done before by people who’d been similar lanterns of hope. Mamata Banerjee, AK Antony, Manohar Parrikar, Raman Singh… yet, no one spoke of them. No one seemed to want to remember anyone from the ‘establishment’ because to do so would be to be disloyal to the moment and the movement. The perspective that should have been in place was lost in the excitement.
The governance-by-poll is a great concept that has found traction in Western countries – and it is great only as long as it is done in a transparent, foolproof manner. AAP’s surveys have always been couched in non-specifics; if their ‘Congress-support’ poll is any indication, flawed in accounting for selection bias as well. Ironic, given that one of their leading lights is a man who’s considered to be a psephologist.
We are used to the you-are-with-us-or-against-us that most parties tout (especially when they are in power or think they would be) and the AAP, sadly, has fallen into the same mindset. Kamal Farooqui becomes secular the moment he embraces the AAP, as does Tauqeer Rana – but everyone arrayed against them, irrespective of what they stand for, are branded ‘corrupt’, tarred with feathers and railed against with the rancour of a neophyte. This is not AAP’s failing as much as it is its followers’, but the disturbing fact here is that they have done little to stop this or set some expectations regarding the language they would prefer.
When Yogendra Yadav talks about Anna Hazare’s movement being a Hindu movement and it was therefore AAP’s responsibilities to bring in Muslims with direct appeals, he reduces AAP to another votebank parasite that has displayed political cunning that it claims to stay above of. The presence of people such as Yogendra Yadav (a member of Sonia Gandhi’s NAC until he was ‘booted’ out for joining the AAP) and the Bhushans (who were held guilty of undervaluing a property for tax evasion) has to be guarded against – perhaps acceptable in ‘yet another party’ but definitely not in one that claims to be different.
Leakages and theft are common and it doesn’t help when Kejriwal suddenly becomes amnesiac about his 2010-speech and the 370-page report that have suddenly vanished from his desk and the AAP website alike.
AAP is acting like a runner who was the slowest off the blocks but has now overtaken the runner ahead and has its sights on the leader – and has, therefore, trained its sights on overtaking the leader. But what it fails to realize is that it is a marathon, not a sprint, and a short burst that robs it – and the one ahead – of the energy to last the entire distance would be playing right into the hands of the third-place they both started out competing against.
And to excuse the AAP’s excesses, or to prevent them from burning-bright-too-soon, it requires not the blind exuberance of a kid with a new toy. It needs the cold, guiding hands of a coach who might not applaud a wild slog as much as a consistent, unbreakable defense. It needs us to be vigilant in ensuring that AAP delivers on each and every ground it claims to be different in, instead of excusing it under the guise of necessity or naivete.
Remember, that’s the same excuse our beloved PM used when he spoke of ‘political compulsions.’