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The AAP experiment

Anyone remember how the India Against Corruption movement fizzled out one December at the Bandra-Kurla Complex in Mumbai? After that, the leaders fell out with each other and went their separate ways. Anna Hazare, self-proclaimed Gandhian and social activist was a bit upset that there were no crowds — unlike the hundred thousand plus who had showed up in Delhi. But from that whimpering end came a new entity which has spawned an unending use of that old cliché about new brooms.


The broom effect: Arvind Kejriwal, Hazare’s main supporter and strategist during the India Against Corruption movement, not only ended the struggle to get a Lokpal Bill passed in Parliament but also decided to make the jump from activist to a politician

Arvind Kejriwal, Hazare’s main supporter and strategist during the India Against Corruption movement, not only ended the struggle to get a Lokpal Bill (where an independent judge would tackle corruption cases) passed in Parliament but also decided to make the jump from being an activist to a politician.
Now the Aam Aadmi Party has swept through Delhi — I use the broom metaphor like everyone else because the party’s election symbol is a broom — and won 28 seats out of a total 70. That is astounding for a party which is only one year old, which has no political background and has built its network out of ‘ordinary’ people as its name translates from Hindi to English. It’s quite clever in its short form — AAP — too since ‘aap’ is the polite term for ‘you’ in several Indian languages that have descended from Sanskrit.

But, but, but ... how can the AAP experiment be repeated across India? What about right here in Mumbai? For a few years now, there have been a few alternative political movements which have sprung up in the city: The Loksatta Party, formed by former IAS officer Jayaprakash Narayan, the Professional People’s Party and some strong Advanced Local Managements. But elections have not been as kind to these parties as they just have to the AAP.

Is that because Mumbai and Delhi are so intrinsically different, as the society chatter wars between the two suggest? Or that the AAP found a readymade battleground in Delhi, between a tired warhorse, an angry public and an electorate in search of an alternative. According to people who live in Delhi, Sheila Dikshit had done a very good job with infrastructure. But that was not enough — the 2012 gang rape and the immediate fumbling political reaction galvanised public anger. Rising prices did not help. Delhi is a funny bird, where law and order is not under the control of the state government and a municipal corporation looks after sanitation, garbage and so on.

How does Mumbai compare? We have had the same combinations at the state and municipal levels for over a decade now and both are equally responsible for all our problems. But how do we vote? The upper and middle classes hardly bother. And it’s not a two-way race anyway, even if there are two main political alliances. The regional angle and the sons of the soil factor will play a part.

This is not a political city, this is a busy city and this is a complicated city. The fact that the Sensex rose when the BJP won the recent assembly elections tells you that traders are BJP supporters. I went to an India Against Corruption rally at Azad Maidan a couple of years ago, there were not even a few thousand people present in spite of the hyperbole and hysteria on news channels. The ground available was not full. Even worse, South Mumbai did not come out and vote for one of their own in the last Lok Sabha elections, her foreign bank credentials notwithstanding.

Across India, there are many different combinations and equations which work in the political sphere and that makes life for the AAP a bit complicated in the next few months. There is no denying that some part of India is crying out for change from the political molasses that we are stuck in. Had the AAP come to power in Delhi and formed a government, their governance could have given the rest of India some idea of the party’s mettle. Instead, it’s a new muddle but still a muddle.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona 

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