For a man who saw Anna Hazare’s meteoric rise and equally dramatic fall from close quarters, Arvind Kejriwal appears to be remarkably unfazed in the face of the AAP’s mounting challenges. Leaders are developing the foot-in-mouth syndrome, members are rebelling against the ‘power centre’ culture and squabbling amongst themselves; add to this the party’s policy pronouncements and plans appear to be convoluted at best.
Kejriwal seems to have forgotten some of the key political lessons that Anna’s movement taught us; lessons that if not heeded, will lead the Delhi CM through the same gates of political oblivion that Hazare was forced to walk through not long ago.
Method to the madness: A movement that is born on the streets is reactionary in nature and peaks with a huge spike. However, on attaining critical mass there needs to be a strategic plan to keep the movement together and the momentum going. Anna lost the plot when, carried away by public support. He took a very rigid stance on the Lokpal Bill and failed to convert the social capital into something tangible. Kejriwal, too, is losing strategic focus by concentrating on populist gimmicks like subsidised power /water, besides trying to reserve Delhi University for Delhi students. There has been no uncovering of mass corruption or systematic change to make Delhi better — issues that got him elected.
Overambitious zeal: Anna in 2011 was an unstoppable force; the political class in Delhi was kowtowing before him and he could have leveraged this position. However, wanting to spread his wings, Anna opened another front in Mumbai, believing his movement was as popular there. The subsequent disaster at the MMRDA grounds exposed the Gandhian as someone who did not enjoy pan-India acceptability. Hazare never quite recovered after that. Kejriwal, too, risks a collapse this with his overarching ambition to make a dash for 2014 Lok Sabha elections; while contesting some Lok Sabha seats would have been essential for the organic growth of AAP — going the whole hog is stretching AAP too thin, and has major backfire potential.
Convince, not confuse: A few months into the Jan Lokpal movement, people didn’t know what the core issue was; because what started out as a pure legislative for an anticorruption ombudsman, came to encompass amongst many other things, what Anna thought about people drinking alcohol. Similarly, Kejriwal had seemingly assured Delhi that in a matter of days, corruption would tumble out, several people would be sent to jail and artificially high prices would be tamed. While that has not happened, people are confused as to how Kejriwal will pay for a 50 per cent subsidy on the power bill, or deliver 700 litres of free water to all. Increasingly, AAP is coming across as Leftist and not a party that is focused on wringing out corruption and changing the system.
Troublemakers and Political Tourists: Besides taking on the government, Hazare had to deal with internal troublemakers like Swami Agnivesh, who went from being Anna’s close aid to a guest in the Big Boss household. Not only do such people cause internal strife and leak information, but they also damage the image of the party. Kejriwal has more reason to worry — in his race to contest the Lok Sabha elections, he’s opening up the AAP to a plethora of vested interests. Political tourists who just want to try politics part-time, ticket seekers who have no affinity for AAP’s ideology and plain troublemakers. Tina Sharma and Vinod Binny may be just the tip of the iceberg, and there will be many more, as no internal scrutiny committee will be able to process so many new members without significant slippages.
Media cuts both ways: It’s a lesson that Anna learnt the hard way. Used to positive media coverage from the word go, Anna and his core team were aghast and enraged when media began to highlight irresponsible statements made by so-called Team Anna members. Any negative coverage was construed as a conspiracy — rather than an opportunity to introspect and autocorrect. Kejriwal, too, spent the better part of 2012 screaming ‘media blackout’ for this campaign — now he would be wishing less of the 24x7 focus on his party. AAP needs to appreciate that the media is basically anti-establishment in nature and they are the establishment. Also, a gag order on all AAP functionaries may not be a bad idea at this point of time.
While the BJP may be gloating over the recent developments in AAP, it’s too early to comment on the national impact of the party in the Lok Sabha Elections. However, Kejriwal better be looking at the warning lights that are blinking loud and clear.
— Akash Banerjee is the author of Tales from Shining & Sinking India