The hashtag in a way symbolizes AAP’s stunning victory in the Delhi Elections winning 67 out of 70 seats in the state assembly. It shows that neither corporate money nor media influence is a guarantee to victory, especially in times of heightened expectations amongst the working people. While opinion polls and critics alike clearly saw an AAP victory coming, but nobody expected such a near decimation of the BJP, left with just 3 seats and a duck for Congress!
Crowd-sourced funding, a dedicated volunteer base and effective use of social media by the AAP indeed played a crucial role in its victory. But more importantly AAP’s relentless focus on issues such as high electricity bills, water woes, price rise, housing, health care and education struck a chord amongst the Delhi working people. Besides AAP’s 49 day in office last year, where it did deliver on some of its promises (despite its limitations), has certainly not gone unnoticed. The fact that there was a perception of less corruption during AAP’s rule has only strengthened the feeling amongst many that it truly stands by its name as the ‘common man’ party.
With the Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal becoming the Chief Minister of the national capital once again, the question on everyone’s mind right now – Will he deliver on all his promises?
Before getting into the nuances of AAP’s politics and the question mark on its future prospects, it would be worthwhile examining the state of its enemy that has been routed, namely the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Nobody now disagrees that the real causative factor for the BJP’s defeat falls squarely on the shoulders of its Prime Minister – Narendra Modi and his acolyte Amit Shah.
Just over 8 months into his first innings and Modi has already started to display all the trappings of power, without any achievement to show on the ground. A clinical obsession over self imagery (photo-ops & selfies) that was best showcased during US President Barack Obama’s recent visit when Modi wore the ’10 lakh suit’ with his name written all over it. Such a shameless display of arrogance has not gone done well with many ordinary people at large, coming from a man who successfully sold the ‘Chaiwala to PM’ card.
The iron grip that Modi-Shah duo maintain over their party has also started to take its toll. Their perceived electoral invincibility since 2002 probably went to their heads. In the four previous assembly elections last year, it was Modi wave all the way and no second rung leadership of the BJP was given the lead. Delhi was also destined to be that way, when Shah probably realized the mistake too late and brought a rank outsider into the party as its chief ministerial candidate. Kiran Bedi lost the elections in a seat that was a traditional stronghold of the BJP for the last two decades. BJP may even have got a respectable number in this elections had it been led by a local BJP leader like Harsh Vardhan (who was shifted to the center after last year general elections). Kiran Bedi experiment was an epic disaster.
The pernicious role of the Sangh Parivar cannot be forgotten either. Last 3 months has seen a barrage of fear mongering statements and rise in communal tensions allegedly meant to shore up Hindutva supremacy, which has only backfired. It has not only alienated a lot of middle class liberal supporters of Modi, it forced the minorities – Muslims, many Sikhs and Christians in Delhi to vote en masse in favour of AAP.
Negative campaigning, something the Sangh specializes in, was unleashed against Kejriwal by the party and its leader alike attacking his family, distastefully bringing his caste into picture and name calling him a naxalite, anarchist and so on. While such kind of low politics may have worked to some extent against the Nehru-Gandhi family last year, but in Delhi this only strengthened Kejriwal more and more, boomeranging against the BJP in the end.
And last but not the least, over 8 months of proxy rule in Delhi, the gap between development rhetoric and no real ‘development’ so to speak cannot be any more stark than in Delhi – the seat of power. No attempt was made to address any of the key concerns of the Delhi working people and Modi is being seen as only accessible to business tycoons like the Ambanis, Adanis or foreign leaders, than to the man on the street. To make matters worse, the BJP did not even publish a manifesto for the elections. Just a vision statement was comically read out by Kiran Bedi, each focus area indistinguishable from the other!
This was in complete stark contrast to Arvind Kejriwal led campaign. Not only was he seen as being accessible to everyone at all times, Kejriwal one-upped Modi by mimicking the latter’s general election campaign strategy in many ways. If it was Modi’s Gujarat Model there, here it was Kejriwal’s 49 days, the outsider rhetoric was played to the hilt, if it was ‘chiawalla’ PM there, now it is ‘common man’ CM, both campaign saw personality politics played to gallery – ‘Har Har Modi’ to ‘5 Saal Kejriwal’ songs and much more.
And in a role reversal, like Modi invited Nawaz Sharif and other regional leaders for his oath taking ceremony to show who is the new boss, Kejriwal turned the tables by inviting Modi (although declined by the latter) and his ministers to the CM oath ceremony, ironically on 14th Feb (Valentine’s Day!). What’s more, AAP has gone to the extent of giving opposition status to the BJP in assembly (something denied to Congress in the Lok Sabha).
Thus, it remains to be seen what these gestures towards Modi truly signify in AAP’s journey towards the mainstream.
R.I.P. Congress (Delhi)
Having ruled Delhi for 15 years and now with virtually no seat in the assembly, questions are once again being raised about the future of the party led by the aging Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi. All its traditional voter base has been transferred to AAP, while BJP’s voter base remains intact to a larger extent.
While it may be too early to sound out the death knell of the Congress throughout India yet, but the organization is definitely in tatters and its leadership bankrupt. The entrance of AAP on the scene has only made the matters worse for the party. Yes, the AAP is yet to spread its influence throughout India and has a long way to go, but Congress is seen as becoming increasing irrelevant in the politics of North India.
One thing is for sure, AAP has definitely learned from its mistakes in the past. All talk of anarchy or AAP trying its luck in other states like last time is not going to happen for the time being at least, as focus for the party right now shifts towards delivering its promises. There is no escaping for the AAP on this one. Not just the media or other rivals are watching its every move, but the working people who voted for it decisively are not going to remain passive if AAP fails to deliver.
A cursory look at AAP’s Manifesto has promises that include: Swaraj (self rule) bill for devolving powers to local areas, halving electricity bills like last time, free water (upto 20 kiloliters) plus 14 lakh new connections for the low income sections, increased spending in education & healthcare, free Wi-fi, 8 lakh new jobs, regularization of contractual labour in government services, affordable housing, regularization of slums, 200,000 public toilets, controlling prise rise, justice for the anti- Sikh riot victims, no FDI in retail, women safety through CCTV surveillance, fast track courts and citizen force etc., and other vague promises like promoting solar, reviving the Yamuna or reducing pollution etc. The most important promises and contentious as it would involve working with Central govt. include meeting the full statehood demand for Delhi and passing of the Jan Lokpal Bill.
While some of the promises are implementable, but whether AAP can seriously implement promises that could significantly raise the standard of living for the working people of Delhi is questionable. Unlike other states that have resources spread out in a much wider area and much greater powers, the problem for the AAP is its resource crunch and limited powers of the govt. However, much AAP sincerely tries there will always be financial crunch plaguing the government. That is where the limits of working within capitalism will be tested out and exposed. Unless AAP seriously considers taxing the wealthy to fund its somewhat socio democratic programme, it will always fall short of its promises. Subsidizing will only make matters worse for the government.
This is not to say that all of AAP promises are actually pro-people. Jan Lokpal bill is a draconian measure, coupled with CCTV cameras are recipes for a surveillance state. And AAP has not said anything with regards to how it plans to reform state institutions like police, civil administration etc., if statehood were to be achieved. But at the moment these questions do not count as much as AAP meeting these demands first.
Working with the Modi govt is not going to be easy for AAP and efforts will be on to derail the AAP in every step of the way. Letting AAP implement on its promises would only end up de-legitimizing Modi. On the other hand, the economic policies of the AAP would be like any other govt elsewhere, attracting investors and slavishly follow neo-liberal economics with a cleaner conscience perhaps. While opposition towards capitalism is certainly not to be expected of AAP, but some of its elections promises would put it in conflict with the corporates and it remains to be seen how AAP chooses to play. A lot of pressure would definitely be exerted on the AAP by the ruling elite to dilute its programme.
On the other hand, the composition of AAP ranges between center left to center right. It will face pulls from various directions. For eg., nearly 2 out of 3 MLA’s elected have assets more than Rs. 1 crore and 11 MLA have assets more than Rs. 10 crores, with the highest valued at Rs. 87 crores. Money speaks louder than words, there is no second guessing here as to where their true loyalties lie!
Prashant Bhushan, perhaps AAP’s most left leaning leader (now sidelined) has raised concerns on candidate selections and recently stated that “Some people who were taken in the party from other parties are completely immoral … fighting elections is a business for them” (ToI). So such careerists and opportunists can wreck havoc on the party’s prospects in the future.
Expansion into other areas for the AAP is not going to be easy and depends on how successfully it can market its Delhi model. While opposition spaces would definitely open up in many parts of India, given the way Modi is aggressively implementing neo-liberal reforms and this is bound to clash with various downtrodden sections of the society. Here again AAP’s support is questionable, as it does not have a clear stance on nuclear power, nationality question, environment etc. In the near term, however, AAP might cautiously try to expand in its areas of influence like Punjab or some of the urban centers where it has lot of support amongst the middle classes. Here again success, as AAP strategist clearly know, would depend upon timing and issues that AAP takes up to project itself as the savior.
And finally, it is not going to be an easy ride for the AAP. Yes it has overwhelming majority in the assembly and stability of the government is guaranteed for the near term. But its support amongst the working people of Delhi will depend on how far AAP is willing to go the extra mile and any compromises with the ruling class on livelihood concerns will be seen as a betrayal leading to a possible backslash from its ordinary supporters.
This victory of AAP in Delhi is definitely a dent on Modi’s image and a course correction is likely to be made by the Modi-Shah duo. With Bihar elections due later this year, Delhi mistakes are unlikely to be repeated. Modi has already started to make some noises that he will not allow religious intolerance and has personally ordered a probe into the attack on churches in Delhi recently. This is nothing more than a stop gap strategy to salvage the situation or else it could seriously end up damaging the prospects of the government in the long term. Attempts at hounding activists like Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand (who have been courageously fighting on behalf of Gujarat riot victims) and the recent release of police officers involved in fake encounters, 70 rioters from the post-Godhra carnage are all signs that deep down nothing really has changed.
An unexpected outcome of this elections is that spotlight on Modi will certainly come down and all media attention will now be focused on Arvind Kejriwal’s govt. scrutinizing its every move. This would definitely afford them a breathing space to re-consolidate lost ground and hit back at the opposition when the time is ripe.
While regional opposition parties and left especially have hailed AAP’s victory, but any question of them gaining back lost momentum is not going to happen. The regional parties like the Janata Parivar are a totally discredited lot and any opposition led by them can only be opportunistic to say the least. The worst off probably are the left parties like the CPI(M) that now see a new messiah in the AAP phenomenon for their equally discredited third front politics and learning nothing from the Delhi experience. And AAP is certainly not going to be seen in the company of these gentlemen. More than likely they would try to build upon the opposition vacuum and tap on to the youth potential that has been criminally discarded by these so called communist parties.
While certainly the stunning victory of AAP over BJP & Congress has to be welcomed by socialists/Marxists, as the juggernaut of extremely communal, Modi led BJP has stumbled if not halted. It is a sigh of relief in the midst of many doom-sayers who had erroneously started the phrases such as “fascism Indian Style” etc.
But, as the the two Communist Parties have started vaulting and singing shenanigans of AAP, it will be entirely wrong to put the eggs in this basket, with out any scrutiny. AAP in many ways is still an unknown quantity, and has declared policy to say that it refuses to be a LEFT party, and in the same breath speaks of Clean Capitalism. To recall one of its ideologues, the suave Yogendra Yadav quipped that “ the two decades of neo-liberalism has not worsened the situation of the poor in India, they were poor even prior to reforms. What is required is Intelligent Management of Capitalism”!
Secondly, the AAP leadership refuses to see the ‘Elephant in the Indian Closet’. Their deliberate blindness towards the complexity of CASTE, and attempts to push it under the carpet as of no consequence is something of a mind boggling strategy.
One can argue that politics has to go beyond Class & Caste in India, hence the new-political “experiments” should dare such bold initiatives, but as mentioned earlier regarding the grip of money bags within the party, the caste composition of the leadership is also alarmingly upper-caste.
In all its proclamations, it is now more than clear that AAP is surely claiming the space of what was Congress party’s domain, AAP is the 21st Century Congress reinvented. Yes, there are possibilities that it can be pushed to the left of centre, if not to the left it self.
All in all, an interesting period opens up once again after the lull following Modi’s victory in the last year general elections. This is not to say an opposition is about to break out against Modi’s policies, more likely opposition spaces will crop up in the coming period affording a platform where ideas of democratic socialism can boldly be raised and when limits of NGO inspired politics would have run its course.