I have never seen anyone squander so much goodwill in so short a time. I am speaking, of course, of Arvind Kejriwal, the perpetually aggrieved chief minister of Delhi. Now, at last, he has a genuine reason to be aggrieved: His party, the Aam Aadmi Party, which had swept aside all in its path to conquer this once-imperial city, has bitten the dust in the elections held to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. His party, once seen as the one with the greatest connect with the aam aadmi, seems to have lost its touch as a resurgent saffron tide pushed it to second place in the municipal elections.
You may wonder why a municipal election should occasion so much interest. It is because the BJP, in its newly minted avatar, fights each election with exceptional intensity. So Kejriwal and Co had a real corker on their hands. And now his party and, of course, he himself will blame everything from the faulty electoral process to diabolical conspiracies involving the lieutenant governor for the defeat.
Introspection, as you may have gathered if you are an AAP watcher, is not Kejriwal’s strong point. Nor indeed is the politics of accommodation or taking responsibility for failures. In his first stint, the CM railed and raged against a system, which he felt was unfairly arraigned against him. He took to the streets to protest and I can never forget the sight of the CM in a blue floral quilt sleeping on the footpath. He resigned.
Voters who had high hopes of this new formation were disappointed but so fed up were they with the established parties that they gave AAP a second chance. And how! It won 67 of 70 seats, a triumph worthy of the tallest of leaders. But from day one, AAP has favoured a politics of confrontation to the extent that much of the good work it did was overshadowed in the din of the CM’s high-decibel battle with the then L-G and his often personally vituperative remarks about the prime minister and other politicians.
But where I think AAP could have scored is in maintaining its earthy people connect and keeping up its street corner meetings. Its many politicians could have done more to maintain links with the places they came from. It could have highlighted its splendid mohalla clinics and its efforts to improve schools. It could have held fast to its promise of simplicity and probity in public life. But in his effort to project himself as the salt of the earth, a regular Joe, Kejriwal raised such expectations in people that merely moving into the chief ministerial bungalow was seen by many as a betrayal of his ethics and ideals. The unsavoury facts that emerged about some of his ministers — domestic violence in one case; a forged marksheet in another as well as a break from the core members of the party tarnished the self-appropriated halo.
In what I can only call running before learning to walk, AAP decided to spread its wings to other parts of India in the recent assembly elections. I wonder who advised Kejriwal to undertake this politically inept and self-defeating move. So off he went to Punjab, leaving Delhi to its own devices and Uttar Pradesh to take on the PM.
The results were way less than he expected. And so began the whine about EVMs being faulty. They were fine as long as he was on the winning side.
It must have been this unbridled ambition of power at all cost that put people off. After all, it is difficult to give a person or party so many chances when garbage heaps dot the streets and safe drinking water is hard to come by. Instead of stepping up to the plate and taking ownership for the good and the bad, AAP cherry-picked its causes. So if things were not going well, the fault was with the myriad political enemies, the traitors within its ranks, the PM or L-G. A question of seeing the speck in others’ eyes, but not the moat in one’s own.
I feel a tinge of regret because so many people bought into the dream that AAP sold them. They thought this was a genuine people’s party in which the leaders and the followers would be on the same page, would indeed be more or less be the same people. And it is a dream that could have come true if not for the monumental egos of some of the dramatis personae. Each battle with the L-G, justified or not, was played out in public and in language which often was — to put it delicately — unparliamentary and unbecoming of the high office of chief minister.
I strongly feel that if AAP had hunkered down and got down to work in right earnest, it would not be in the dire straits it is in now. It is not a national party, it cannot be in a long time to come. The party was uniquely positioned to hone its skills in the crucible of Delhi which accepted it so willingly. But it simply did not seem to want to get its hands dirty and thought that what worked in Delhi would work elsewhere. It did not count on the awesome saffron machinery.
I honestly think that Kejriwal and his advisers have no one but themselves to blame for this. They did not need anyone else to do them in — they did a pretty good job themselves.
But I still think there is political space for a party like AAP which has a strong local connect. But for that the party must look back at the rationale on which it came into existence, to deliver a politics shorn of the artifice and corruption that had come to become synonymous with mainstream parties. To AAP’s credit, it was not seen as caste or class based, it was not seen as having any communal overtones, it had no baggage and it had a fresh bouncy feel to it. But all that seems so far away. Behind the symbolic simplicity was a serious inability to govern the vast and unwieldy entity of Delhi.
Yes, law and order is not in the hands of the state government, the L-G can make life difficult but instead of wallowing in self-pity, AAP should have worked a way around these problems using the tried and tested political method of give and take. If you come out all guns blazing on any given day, people tend to see you as a perennial protester.
Kejriwal should have made the transition from naysayer to neta, activist to administrator, in the true sense of the term. This is not what people signed up for. And they have delivered their message in no uncertain terms.