Even as I applaud the success of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), I have to admit that I was wrong about the prospects of the new party. I was dismissive of the movement — there could have been no AAP without the Lokpal movement — from the day Anna Hazare fasted for the Jan Lokpal at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi in April, 2011. I did not like the self-righteous crowd that howled and hooted against corrupt politicians and parties.
I did not think that the raucous demand for an anti-graft bill is the way to deal with the issue of corruption. And I still hold on to the view quite obstinately. There were other political analysts in the media who strangely moved close to the politicians and political parties, and scoffed at those people who were part of the Hazare crowd for not understanding politics. It was a strange sympathetic bonding between the media and the political establishment. There were exceptions. The TV channels batted for Hazare and against political corruption. But it appeared to be a TV event.
When AAP was formed, I thought that they did not have the skills to negotiate the political minefield. I did not think they would succeed. But three days before polling day (December 4) it became clear that Sheila Dikshit was losing her election and that the Congress was on its way out. There was the simple sign: No big Congress leader campaigned for the party in the last week. Dikshit stood alone.
There were analysts who wanted and hoped that AAP would succeed because they hated, and very rightly, the 15-year-old complacent and arrogant Sheila Dikshit regime. At the same time they did not want the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to replace the Congress. But the sympathisers, too, were not sure about the magnitude of the AAP success. I am not taking into account the belief of those who have been admirers of the Lokpal movement and then of AAP.
They were young and looking for change and did not believe in the old style of politics. But their arguments seemed to be that of converts, full of faith and zeal.
The success of AAP was due to the common people — the poor, the not-so-poor and the middle classes who were pragmatic, cynical sometimes, but who were willing to embrace an honest man or woman if one came along. They were all angry with the corrupt politicians but they did not speak out in virtuous tones about the imperatives of rectitude. They, especially the poor, voted with their feet. This is the kind of silent revolution that happens rarely, once in a few decades. The common people affect a paradigm shift and they go home. They are not even aware of the revolution they have ushered.
The unstinted praise for AAP’s electoral achievement is justified but not sufficient. There is a need to understand how AAP did it. The one thing to remember is that the civil society activists, whether those who fought for the Right To Information, which included Arvind Kejriwal, or those who worked at the Jan Lokpal, is that they worked at details with almost blinding dedication, and they mobilised public opinion on a large scale. There is something here that other political parties and opinion poll survey organisations need to imitate. The Lokpal/AAP activists did not depend on the big idea, the big wave and the big man.
They spread out among the people, and they sat down and collected information, analysed data and arrived at well-calibrated conclusions. Of course, it is not their meticulousness that won them the election in Delhi. People voted for them because they felt the AAP folks are good and sincere.
The image is important, but not enough. What is needed is the intelligence to marshal and process data based on a few simple ideas. The battle against corruption is one such simple idea. It is their intelligence and diligence that will stand them in good stead while in government and it will give them a tremendous advantage over the regular political parties. Political parties have become lazy and they think that all they need are good slogans, an iconic leader and lots of money, and a well-paid public relations machinery. The activists beat these big players with sheer hard and intelligent groundwork.
Can the regular politicians and political parties trip up these newcomers? The Congress and the BJP believe in their hearts that it is easy to do so and they are waiting for an opportunity. They are thus committing their second big blunder. The first was not to take the Lokpal/AAP challenge seriously. The BJP thought it was smart when it refused to form the government. When the AAP refused it had a reason because it came second in the electoral race.
But when a political impasse emerged, AAP was nimble enough to change its position, and it did this with conviction when it sought public opinion. The AAP is not on test but it is the Congress which has promised support to AAP whose credibility is at stake. The Congress cannot trip up AAP without degrading itself further. BJP finds itself in a sorry position, of emerging as the single largest party and still sitting out in the cold.
So far the AAP has walked the straight and narrow path rather well. And going by the manner it has travelled till now there is no reason to believe that it will stumble. The AAP people have displayed intelligence in their political moves, something that the Congress and the BJP have forgotten altogether.
The author is editorial consultant with dna