No Chicago-returned doctor, no former diplomat, and no NGOwallah. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has placed its faith in Savita Bhatti. A comic in her own right but better known as the late Jaspal Bhatti’s wife, Savita was being seen as a probable AAP nominee from Chandigarh many weeks ago, just after the AAP had sprung a surprise in Delhi and announced City Beautiful as one of its targets in the Lok Sabha elections.
But given her penchant for publicity, the murmurs died a natural death. Soon, in the rumour bazaar of AAP tickets, she was overtaken by the NRI doctor, the ex-diplomat, then a singer, and even a journalist who had to clarify on his Facebook profile that he was going to stay a journalist. As it turned out, and as is the nature of the political beast, this newspaper and several others were wrong in burying Savita’s chances in a subhead below some other ‘AAP story’.
The decision to field Savita comes after visible dissonance within the AAP over the probable “parachute” candidature of the US-returnedrned doc-doctor. The diplomat, who belongs to Chandigarh but seems to reside in TV, is too alien for his own town now. What seems to have turned the tables back in Savita’s favour is the fact that she is seen as a local. Also, for many analysts, Jaspal Bhatti’s legacy as an anticorruption comic genius is a natural ally of the AAP philosophy. Whether or not Jaspal would have joined the AAP remains a question no one can answer convincingly now, but Savita’s key card remains her late husband’s work that earned him goodwill and fans from across the social spectrum. The obvious challenge she faces now is converting that goodwill into votes for herself.
After a life as a loud sidekick of the gentle Jaspal, Savita will be pitted against a wily political veteran in Pawan Kumar Bansal, whose ticket looks certain as there’s hardly any other choice for the Congress. As for the BJP, the party remains more potent in sending press releases of NaMorelated campaigns and tea sessions, even as its local leadership remains viciously fragmented. Two of the BJP’s ticket contenders are also-rans, one having lost several elections on the Saffron Party’s ticket, and the other having lost several elections on several parties’ tickets. Their absence from party functions is being interpreted rather interestingly —pre-emptive sulking, or a classic case of wait-and-watch? The third contender hopes the BJP considers him tall enough to reach for a Lok Sabha ticket. Amid all this, within hours of Savita’s name being announced, there was renewed talk of a celebrity candidate from the saffron stable too — an actress well-known for playing the loud Punjabi mummy.
Where does this leave Savita Bhatti? And what does this candidate choice say about the AAP?
Apart from demanding that buildings be named after Jaspal, who died in a road accident in October 2012, and complaining that he had been “denied his due”, Savita has hardly been active. First, I wonder what “due” she talks about when the man has been given the country’s third highest honour — the Padma Bhushan — and his spirit remains alive in the hearts and minds of so many people. Second, it’s not hard to guess that Jaspal Bhatti would have relished the political scenario of today, which presents a fertile ground for the socially relevant satire and spoofs that he was known for. Savita may lack the genius and charisma of Jaspal, but she is an artiste too. She has done herself no good by staying out of the scene when the nation is witnessing a churning catalysed by the AAP.
Had the AAP picked an unknown entity, the silence would not have mattered. But Savita Bhatti carries a legacy of speaking up, and speaking out. Her candidature, thus, represents the symbolism that the AAP clearly loves. And, given her grave disconnect with the people, the choice suggests a different brand of nepotism too.
When an HT correspondent asked Savita why she had chosen to enter the poll arena, she replied, “To strengthen Jaspal-ji’s fight against corruption… Our work has always mirrored the frustrations of the common man. AAP will now give me a platform to continue doing that!”
It’s clear that she would seek votes in the name of Jaspal Bhatti. But her days as a sidekick are over, and she now has to convince people that she’s good enough on her own to represent them in the Lok Sabha. The real challenge for Savita is to grow out of Jaspal Bhatti’s shadow.