On Saturday morning I went to Ramlila Maidan looking for a magic moment in Indian politics. I wasn’t disappointed. A decade ago one would have perhaps used the word ‘revolution’ to define the exhilarating scenes unfolding on the vast expanse of the Ramlila grounds. But I would strongly resist that temptation today. Not because the mood of thousands of people who braved the cold, gathering under a sunny sky on Saturday to witness the regime-change wasn’t truly transformative in essence. Not because the event in itself — the first Chief Minister in India taking his chief ministerial oath in front of the aam aadmi — wasn’t radical enough to warrant the description of a non-violent revolution of sorts. I would argue that ‘magic’ not ‘revolution’ captures the essence of the chapter that was scripted at the grounds. That’s because Kejriwal and AAP have moved — almost in the blink of an eye — beyond the tired vocabulary peppered with the much-used and abused words like revolution and ideology. From Marxists to corporates, everyone talks about ‘revolution’ — selling a non-existent political dream. In that sense ‘revolution’ has come to limit and not expand our imagination.
We now need to find a new set of words — those not presupposing dogma or certitude, but conveying the skittish contemporary mood that’s engulfed Delhi, excited at the prospect of exploring new routes to politics. To find a new language to define what the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is trying to do on the ground. Whether such explorations will finally lead to radicalisation of political culture is yet to be seen.
But what has been witnessed is: In one fell swoop, the AAP has axed Delhi’s durbari political culture. The public oath-taking ceremony has pushed the boundaries of people’s imagination, has made the impossible possible. Such huge leaps in political imagination demand that the chroniclers of this period of history jettison hackneyed analysis and the semantics of language.
On Saturday, Arvind Kejriwal, the new Chief Minister of the high-powered capital city of Delhi, took the metro with his Cabinet colleagues and reached Ramlila Maidan, the very site where the anti-corruption movement had peaked two years ago. Just two years; and yet the stunning changes in this brief period are so fundamental in their nature that it’s become impossible even for the political or the corporate high and mighty to shrug them off.
As Kejriwal and his colleagues took oath in front of a sea of earnest faces, decades of decaying conventional politics seemed to be finally disrupted by an idealistic fledgling party. Coming from Bengal my thoughts can’t but stray to the historic year 1977 when India’s first Communist Chief Minister Jyoti Basu took charge of the state. At that transitional moment Basu, who later went on to helm the state for three decades and more, promised the people of Bengal that he would govern not from Writers’ Building but the Brigade Parade grounds, the equivalent of Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan. Yes, that too was a magical moment in history. It’s of course another matter that Basu and his comrades finally ruled only and only from Writers’ Building, moving further and further way from the people. Basu’s successor Mamata Banerjee, also had expressed her desire to take her chief ministerial oath before the aam aadmi at the Brigade Parade grounds. Another promise perhaps betrayed.
In his short address to a rapt crowd, the Chief Minister said that his party must not grow arrogant and must keep its ear to the ground at all times. Or else, he said, another party like theirs would break its arrogance. As the national anthem played, the AAP supporters, looked at the podium at their elected government, and joined in. Next to me, a journalist friend said.” I am getting goosebumps.”
The writer is Editor, dna of thought