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A fledgling party that took on a behemoth

Saturday, 17 May 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Arvind Kejriwal took the nine-o-clock flight to Varanasi just as the results of the 2014 general elections were trickling in. He surely would have hoped for victory — and yet would also have realised that victory could well be out of his reach. Narendra Modi clearly won the day. The stock market was in a tizzy in anticipation of his arrival at 7, Race Course Road, and media pundits had been endlessly beating their drums for more than a month. An atmosphere had been created, battling which was not easy for the Aam Aadmi Party — ill-equipped to match the massive financial resources and manpower of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

But here is the thing about the Aam Aadmi Party that imbues it with a certain kind of invincible charm. Beat this fledgling party down to the ground and it shrugs the dust off and rises again. We have seen such a process of mutation and resurrection since the days the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement petered out. I saw it while tracking the unique campaign of the party in Varanasi — its volunteers unpaid and without hope of plum jobs in the power structure — sweating it out on Varanasi's streets.

The future of the AAP is not necessarily at stake, even though many would fervently hope for such an eventuality. The hostility of sections of Left-liberal activists to AAP, many of whom even went to the extent of describing Kejriwal as an "RSS agent", has been disturbing — to put it mildly. The propensity of these critics of AAP to project a decaying, bankrupt party like the Congress as the sole alternative to the BJP, has damaged the cause of secularism where it matters the most. Like crony capitalism, crony Congressism was evident in the recent campaigns in Varanasi even when the AAP was the only party taking on the mighty apparatus of Modi and party. At the end of the day one wonders who was the true "RSS agent"? The party which contested the Sangh Parivar against all odds or the myriad "secular" forces that actively worked to split the secular vote in places like Varanasi?

Perhaps one of the most important questions at this historic juncture of Indian politics is: Will the overwhelming electoral sweep by Modi lead the AAP to a new phase of politics? Not just politics of resistance as is in its DNA, but also of moving ahead with its alternative discourse — whether on development or political culture.

Senior AAP leader Yogendra Yadav has already said that the party will return to the streets, forge links with social movements, and present an alternative idea of India. Many AAP volunteers in Varanasi, coming from different streams of consciousness and walks of life had said the same — they wanted to craft a different imagination of India. That very imagination that could now well be in peril following the election results and the huge majority won by a party known for its right-wing politics and economics.

It may be pertinent to mention here the concerns of some political analysts who, in the election programme anchored by NDTV India's Ravish Kumar and Abhigyan Prakash, said that a dangerous message has been sent out by the BJP in this election outcome: Muslims have become redundant in India's electoral politics. On hearing this, my thoughts returned to Mushtak, the Muslim rickshaw puller in Varanasi, who told me on reaching me to my hotel: "Kejriwal haar jayega toh mera dil toot jayegaa (My heart will break if Kejriwal loses)". We are now left picking up the pieces.

The writer is Editor dna of thought

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