A most exciting experiment with political power met its logical end on Friday. But this stint in power can only do a world of good for the Aam Aadmi Party’s pursuit of alternative politics. The metro rides lasted only a day, the convenience of opting for government accommodation was recognised, and the pitfalls of making irrational poll promises became evident. The 49-day AAP government may not have any concrete achievements to show. Nevertheless, even its worst critics would frankly concede the AAP government’s ability to take tough decisions. In decisive interventions, the AAP significantly altered the city’s water and power policy, attempted to take on the Delhi Police, booked the Capital’s former Chief Minister and the country’s richest industrialist in corruption cases, and drafted bills to create an anti-corruption watchdog and devolve powers to Mohalla Sabhas.
In the end, Arvind Kejriwal went down fighting with his pet Jan Lokpal Bill and a martyr’s halo to boot. To survive in power on outside support is always a tenuous proposition. The Congress support for AAP — puzzling because it offered neither any visible advantage — left the AAP with no option but to aggressively target its benefactor, if only to silence BJP barbs of Congress-AAP collusion. From day-one, Kejriwal has given the impression that his government was short on time. The consequent flurry of initiatives is possibly unmatched by any state government in India. But framing revolutionary policies cannot become an end in itself; patience with finer points and the nuts-and-bolts of implementation is the hallmark of a fine administrator. Kejriwal’s hit-and-run style of governance might grab eyeballs, and even votes, but the gains from such populism come at the cost of credibility.
The Aam Aadmi Party is at an interesting juncture. This bittersweet experience of power must prompt an intense soul-searching on its quest to expand across the country. While there is no way to screen every individual joining the party, the incalculable damage caused by “leaders” like Somnath Bharti, Vinod Binny, Kumar Vishwas and Ashutosh have far-reaching consequences. The bets placed on AAP following other political parties into perdition stems from the influx of those with questionable antecedents. If the AAP continues with its street protests and midnight raids, with such leaders, can it ensure that innocent people are not wronged? Demanding the overhaul of dysfunctional systems is fair game but how good are the AAP’s alternatives. The Mahila Suraksha Bal and the Mohalla Sabhas could easily turn into social morality groups that police communities in regressive ways.
It is for these reasons that Kejriwal’s dharna demanding the suspension of four Delhi Police SHOs was met with wariness despite putting the police force on notice for crimes within their precincts. At the moment, the AAP represents a hazy set of ideas advocating probity in public life, equality before law, and an end to VIP culture. The constant swipes at politicians and the Ambanis is the practical application of these ideas. As the AAP fans out in the coming months, aided by Kejriwal’s presence, it will up the ante on corruption and crony capitalism. Aware of the organisational weaknesses of his nascent state units, Kejriwal’s suggestion to target “corrupt” political leaders — a replication of his personal gambit against Sheila Dikshit — redefines the AAP yet again. Take guard on the anti-corruption pitch by all means, and hurl those bouncers and googlies at politicians and others, but remember that the aam janta are yearning for a party that will stand and deliver — change.