In early January 2014, less than two weeks after Arvind Kejriwal had been sworn in as Delhi’s chief minister for the first time, a few of us went to meet him in his office at the Delhi Secretariat building.
Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had formed a minority government mainly with the Congress supporting it from the outside and the mood in the building was jubilant. A bit too jubilant, really. It was like the heady aftermath of a revolution — as if the secretariat had been stormed by the people. Inside and outside the CM’s chambers dozens of AAP workers milled around chaotically; and the CM himself looked a bit bewildered and out of place in his room whose walls and shelves were still adorned with artefacts that seemed to belong to the earlier regime.
In his brief conversation with us, Kejriwal came across a reluctant occupier of his new office, as if he’d never expected this to happen. Spawned out of the India Against Corruption movement, AAP was then barely a year old and still heavily steeped in the agitation-driven politics of its origin.
On that day, none of us expected that Kejriwal’s government would last for only another five weeks but we certainly weren’t surprised by his government’s unruly janata darbars, the sit-ins, and the protests, including one where the chief minister himself slept on Delhi’s pavements in freezing weather. AAP’s was then a different kind of politics — disruptive, confrontational and anti-establishment. The rules of its game had little in common with those of its rivals, such as the Congress or the BJP.
But they also proved to be its undoing.
Kejriwal’s first innings at the secretariat ended with his dramatic resignation, which turned many of his supporters against him and earned for him the epithet of an absconder or fugitive.
AAP then was a newborn party that was a ‘work in progress’. The thing is that it still is one. It has been roiled in recent weeks by unseemly controversy: Its leaders, including those who founded the party, have traded charges of power mongering and worse; a sort of a purge seems to be underway; and questions have been raised about whether the party and its leaders, including Kejriwal, have breached the principles of honesty and probity that professedly form the party’s bedrock.
All of this has grabbed the media’s attention but none of it is really of any importance — no political party evolves without its share of power struggles, rifts or purges. Nor does it really bother anyone other than a few dissenters in Kejriwal’s party.
It certainly doesn’t bother more than half of Delhi’s electorate, which, incidentally, voted for Kejriwal and not for AAP or anyone else in the party. Those who voted him to power should be bothered more about what the new CM does with his second innings and the historic mandate that they’ve given him than anything else. One month into that innings, Kejriwal has opened his account predictably with handouts he’d promised: He’s made water and power cheaper for the poor; he’s ruled out demolition of slum clusters; and assured roadside vendors that they will not be displaced.
Those were the easy ones — the low-hanging fruit. The real test will be to deliver on AAP’s other promises. Some, such as getting more powers for the state so that Kejriwal has more control over law and order and other matters, will not be easy to negotiate with the central government, especially one that is not exactly amiably disposed towards his government. And his performance in other areas — such as education, city transport, environment and healthcare — will be keenly awaited by the middle-classes who evidently turned out in huge numbers to give him a second chance.
So what of the rift and rumble in AAP that has been grabbing the headlines? It’s simple, really. If Kejriwal is able to deliver on governance, the current controversies that are rocking his party will become an insignificant footnote in its history.