Aquintessential outsider who left the Indian Revenue Services and took to social and RTI activism for over a decade, Arvind Kejriwal’s post-2010 metamorphosis into a doughty anti-corruption crusader, politician and now Chief Minister-designate of Delhi is perhaps the most inspirational, unfolding story of our times. From a juncture where civil society activism and Gandhian-styled agitation hit a dead end, Kejriwal has stunned the naysayers who consistently rejected his Aam Aadmi Party’s electoral prospects.
To be fair, the AAP’s stunning success has already been replicated several times by political outfits ranged against entrenched establishments. The Congress victories in the 1937 provincial elections, and the post-Independence emergence of the Communists, Socialists, the BJP, and various regional parties were all expressions of disenchantment with unpopular incumbents. But then governance and political power has a way of co-opting idealism; and while they may deny it, today all these political parties represent the establishment.
With a history of such precedents, the AAP was circumspect about angling for political power without a clear mandate. A new-found sensitivity towards public perception seems to be driving Delhi’s politicians. The BJP renounced power, despite coming close, refusing to break any political party. The Congress offered outside support to the AAP after an unceremonious trouncing. The AAP went back to the people to ascertain their views on government formation.
Now that 80 per cent of jan sabhas and respondents to online and SMS polls are in favour of government entry, the AAP has little elbow room to back out now. Implementing its manifesto without legislative support will decide the AAP’s fate. Many of the AAP’s poll promises are inconvenient to the political class, bureaucracy and corporates.
Measures that antagonise the Congress could precipitate a daily battle of attrition that saps the government’s vitality. But the AAP’s best shot in the court of people’s opinion would be to go the whole hog and implement its promises like changing the political culture of the Capital, assured water supply and ending the water tanker regime, audit of power distribution companies, citizen’s charter, and setting up a strong Lokayukta.
The AAP will end up fighting a battle on two fronts. In expansion mode, it needs the services of Arvind Kejriwal, its most charismatic and recognisable face, to incubate regional units and prepare for the upcoming general elections. Chief ministership will be a double-edged sword for Kejriwal; one edge pins him down to Delhi while the other conjoins him and Narendra Modi as the only Chief Ministers with proven national appeal. It has now become imperative for the AAP to build a second and third rung of leadership. In doing so, it must avoid the pitfalls other parties fell into by the entry of those merely seeking political power.
The BJP will look to derive political capital out of the Congress-AAP alliance. The Congress can be expected to derive a hefty price for its offer of support. It will want the AAP to soft-pedal corruption allegations against the previous Sheila Dikshit administration. But can the AAP be seen as diluting its stance on corruption? To make a difference in the life of the average Delhiite, Kejriwal has to negotiate a multiplicity of authorities that administer Delhi, including the long arm of the Central government. Kejriwal set out with a promise to change Delhi; the moment of reckoning is here.