Just about everyone, political observers, poll pundits and cocktail party experts got it wrong. Very few actually thought that the leader wielding a broom could humble an entrenched and powerful three-term chief minister. Few thought that the modestly dressed little man could take on the vested political interests that work the levers of power in the sprawling megapolis that is Delhi. But this was the story with a twist in the tail end.
Now the question on everyone’s lips is, can this Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) phenomenon be replicated elsewhere. For all cities have similar problems, do they not? Perhaps what they need is a chapter of the AAP and indeed it is opening quite a few. For all his seeming modesty, Arvind Kejriwal does not lack for ambition. While he seems unable to cobble together a government in Delhi, he is already thinking of fighting all the Lok Sabha seats from Delhi and his partymen and women are talking about spreading the AAP across India.
But perhaps this is to forget the genesis of the AAP. It was born at a time when corruption was topmost on people’s mind. This explains why a self-styled Gandhian from Ralegan Siddhi Anna Hazare was able to bring the Capital to its knees with his fasts and demands for political accountability in the form of a Lokpal Bill.
In time, Anna Hazare was supplanted his acolyte and Magsaysay award winner Arvind Kejriwal, a man with a mission, a man judgmental in the extreme. Just when people had had it up to the neck with scam after scam came the horrific Delhi gang rape case last December, the brutality of which shocked even an apathetic nation like ours. It became a gruesome cause célèbre and the AAP rode the wave of anger against a seemingly supine chief minister, unwilling to accept that she had no control over the police. Then came the price of onions, always an emotive issue. People who had to give up things they liked at the table got even angrier. Look, said Kejriwal, the fat cats are getting fatter while you have to tighten your belts. The people listened in fury.
The circumstances were getting better and better for Kejriwal. In the hothouse of the Capital with its visible accoutrements of power, the flashing beacons, the intrusive, aggressive posse of security around politicians, the vast green acreages that they get to live in while the rest live cheek by jowl in crowded colonies struggling daily for enough water and electricity, the moment was becoming more and more opportune for Arvind and co.
This brings me to the question of whether it can be repeated elsewhere. I think not. In other cities, far from the seat of power, there is not the ferocious kind of resentment against the netas that there is in the Capital. The issues are different.
In Bangalore, for instance, it would probably be the lack of water and public transport. Sure, there would be anger against corruption but it is unlikely that an AAP or local version of it would thrive on that to the extent of winning elections. In Chennai, for all her imperiousness, J Jayalalithaa’s administration actually works. So, again a drive to sweep her into the Palk Straits is not likely to have much resonance. Then let us take Hyderabad. Convulsed as it is with the fate of Telangana, a broom brandishing Kejriwal would have little connect.
In Calcutta, the Left was considered the friend of the common man. It has been supplanted by another ally of the aam aadmi in the shape of Mamata Banerjee. It is unlikely that the canny Bengali would want yet another street corner politician of the AAP nature, howsoever well meaning.
So that leaves us with Mumbai. Here, unlike the BJP and the Congress, which despite all their faults, still play by some rules, the AAP will come up against the Shiv Sena lumpens for whom the rule of law and so on are a mere bagatelle.
I am not suggesting that AAP will forever be a one-trick pony. But for the moment, it is thriving in the right temperature and climate of the Capital. The political weather conditions elsewhere are not as conducive to its growth, indeed, it may find it difficult to take root at all. Unless, of course, it springs a surprise on us the way it did in Delhi.