If you’ve heard Arvind Kejriwal’s radio jingle, when he was still Delhi’s chief minister, where he exhorts ordinary citizens of Delhi to use their mobile phones to sting errant and corrupt officials and put them in jail, you know that he speaks in a lingo that is utterly different from that used by his predecessor, or for that matter, any chief minister.
His is a P2P kind of speaking style where he speaks to the people as if they are his peers. No talking down, no sermonising; just straight up openness. And people on the streets love it.
They also love his dharnas against the home minister of India, the sleeping on the streets, and the broadsides against the high and mighty, including Mukesh Ambani, against whom and the petroleum and natural gas minister he’s got a police complaint filed — something quite unthinkable for a CM to do.
To the poor, the dispossessed or the lower-income groups, Kejriwal is a hero, a kind of a Robin Hood who takes on the rich and gives to the poor — free water, slashed power tariffs, protection for small retailers, relief for auto-rickshaw drivers and so on. Beneficiaries of such measures may still remain AAP’s loyal vote-bank even in the next Delhi elections.
But even before he ended his own government’s barely seven-week tenure, Kejriwal may have lost another constituency that voted for his party last year: the middle class. This segment, including readers of mainstream newspapers like this one and watchers of 24x7 news channels, want a little more than histrionics such as dharnas and sops.
Those among the middle class who had voted for AAP wanted to see some transparent and efficient governance. Not dharnas or midnight raids and unconcealed demonstrations of racism. Sadly, they didn’t get it. Sops and rebates and grandstanding aren’t examples of governance.
The problem with AAP’s rise was that it happened far quicker than the transformation of its members from being agitators to legislators, a process that can take a lot of time in a political party that is barely a year old. And if the 49-day tenure of AAP is anything to go by, that transformation isn’t happening anytime soon. Organising agitations remains an intrinsic part of the party’s way of trying to get things done.
Things could have happened differently. Kejriwal blew away a great chance of doing a good job in Delhi, at least the first time that he got an opportunity. True, his was a minority government — some would say reluctant even, because the Congress may have forced him to form it, albeit backed by a sort of referendum among his supporters. But still, Delhi is like a dream lab to hone one’s skills at governance before taking on bigger things.
As a city-state, Delhi has its tricky issues: without full statehood, things such as law and order and civic issues fall outside the state government’s writ; and there are multiple bodies with overlapping jurisdiction that can make things messy.
But it also is much smaller than other states and its predominantly urban population and, as the capital city, generous largesse from the Centre make it far less complicated to run. Voters who elected him and egged him on to become CM would have also expected him to do that: run the state for a reasonable period of time, instead of looking around for the quickest opportunity to bail out.
What happens next? Kejriwal and AAP have already made it clear that the party will be contesting the Lok Sabha elections, focusing more perhaps on urban centres such as Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore and also states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
But AAP will also fight in the Delhi elections again, whenever those are held. Those who benefited from his seven-week dole-outs (free water, cheap power, auto licences and so on) will probably turn up again to press the jhaadu button. And, what about the middle-class voters who stood in long queues and for whom in many places the voting hours had to be extended? I’m not sure Kejriwal can count on them next time.
Hindustan Times editor-in-chief Sanjoy Narayan