The chattering classes are all atwitter over political developments in the Aam Aadmi Party which came to power in Delhi a month ago, literally sweeping aside all opposition and winning an unthinkable 67 out of 70 seats. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was the new knight in shining armour, riding a white horse. That armour now looks made of tinsel, the horse an old hag.
The unravelling has been rapid, with an insatiable media scrambling to keep pace with the washing of dirty laundry in full public view by stalwarts of the ‘andolan’, which literally translates into movement but AAP prefers the transliteration, revolution. The ‘revolutionaries’ in the vanguard of the AAP ‘revolution’ appear no more than men and women with feet of clay, a far cry from the ‘Che Guevara’ image they had assiduously cultivated for themselves.
Arvind Kejriwal waves at his supporters during his swearing-in ceremony as Delhi chief minister at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi on February 14. File pic/PTI
At the core of the raging internecine war (never mind the AAP spokespersons claims to the contrary, this fire is not going to be put out anytime soon) is the question that comes to haunt all ‘revolutions’ which piggyback popular though frivolous discontent and tap into underclass angst: Who gets to be in command of the ‘revolutionaries’? Or, in AAP’s case, who shall lead the army of volunteers to greater glory?
With Kejriwal ensconced in the Chief Minister's office, others who saw themselves as having contributed in equal measure to AAP's stunning electoral success began eyeing the party chief's post. What they did not factor in was Kejriwal's own overvaulting ambition. Loathe to let someone take charge of AAP in the event of his securing an elected office, he ensured the party constitution did not specify the rule of 'one person, one post'.
Parties that allow for internal democracy, no matter how restricted or flawed, do not allow the same person to hold a legislative as well as an organisational post. Even during her tyrannical Emergency Mrs Indira Gandhi had a fawning Devkant Baruah as Congress president. Rajiv Gandhi remained party chief though he had a working president.
The ‘one person, one post rule’ is strictly adhered to by the CPI(M) and the BJP, two parties at opposite ends of the political spectrum. The Congress has long abandoned its own fine principle. The regional parties are not burdened with notions of internal democracy. It was expected AAP, the preachiest of the lot on reinvented bunk like ‘Swarajya’, would uphold internal democracy.
That was a misplaced expectation. As was vesting faith in the spurious slogan of ‘New Politics’ no more than naivety of the uninitiated and unsuspecting. That cynical voters driven by self-serving cynical motives (free water, cheap power) were gullible enough to be taken in is, to put it mildly, tough to believe. But that’s Delhi for you.
For all his highfalutin bunk, delivered in his shrill preachy schoolboy voice, Kejriwal now comes across, both to his detractors and disillusioned devotees, as a tinpot dictator. Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan, who have been all but chased out of AAP’s not-so-idyllic Swaraj in sac cloth and ashes, sitting face backward on braying donkeys, would know and appreciate the Latin American reference implicit in this suggestion.
Let it be said, and said bluntly, there is nothing ‘new’ about AAP’s politics. It is as old as politics as usual, politics of the variety we have seen and are comfortable with as there are no unpleasant surprises or impossible claims. From the selection of candidates, to the funding of Delhi Assembly election, to the manipulation of media, to minority vote-bank politics, to the covert vote-transfer deal with the Congress (which had nothing to lose but everything to gain by blocking the BJP), Kejriwal has played fast and furious.
It is in that backdrop we should see the latest revelation that he was trying to engineer defections from the Congress before the last Assembly was dissolved and fresh election was announced. And it is in this context we should view the laughable assertion by AAP that what is lowly horse-trading for others is lofty ‘political realignment’ for them.
This comment would be incomplete without mentioning that while the stalwarts of AAP slugged it out among themselves, Kejriwal was far away from Delhi, recuperating from imagined illnesses at a nature cure resort in Bangalore. Naturopathy has its uses.
The writer is a senior journalist based in the National Capital Region. His Twitter handle is @KanchanGupta