Some measure of antipathy towards electoral politics and politicians has been a component of all civil society activism. Politicians had learnt to deal with it — by a combination of accommodation, suppression and indifference. The National Advisory Council set up by the Congress under the chairpersonship of Sonia Gandhi was a near perfect strategy. Then, one man disrupted everything.
Arvind Kejriwal’s maximalist activism initially mopped up the antipathy towards politics in general that had become acute due to two factors — one, corruption scams in India had come to be sensationally quantified by the CAG into astronomical figures; two, Kejriwal was walking ahead of an emerging social force that would follow and sustain him — activist journalism.
When Kejriwal built his politics based on anti-politics, he was accused of being a front for the RSS; being impractical and obstinate; being obsessed with only corruption; being in utter disregard for constitutional scheme of things.
Kejriwal is disproving a lot of such fears. First, he has made it clear that all experiments will be within the framework of the Indian constitution — “mohalla sabhas cannot be like khap panchayats.” “Despite his rebellious image, the fact is that he has worked within the system all through — from clearing an entrance to reach the IIT, clearing the UPSC, and then working on the RTI campaign,” says a bureaucrat who knew him from the days in IIT Kharagpur.
More importantly, Kejriwal has practically destructed the dialectical politics that has always worked in favour of entrenched parties — communal and secular; upper caste and lower castes; Hindus and Muslims; working class and the upper class. The BJP and the Congress have been hit the most due to this — because both were hoping to benefit from the other’s deficiencies.
Congress thought all anti-Modi voters will be forced to gather around it; the BJP thought it would be the only refuge for people tired of the Congress. “AAP has scrupulously avoided whipping up vertical issues, choosing instead to stick to horizontal ones.
This is a crucial point of departure since for most political parties in India their very raison d’etre for existence is one or the other vertical issue stemming from the differences of caste, creed, region, language or class,” says Shahjahan Madampat, a political commentator. As a result, AAP support seems to be coming from all castes, class and regions.
People are leaving the Congress in droves to join the AAP in urban centres such as Jaipur, but the party is not exactly complaining. For, all these deserters would have gone to the BJP in the absence of AAP. The BJP is taken aback by the sudden emergence of a more credible claimant for the anti-Congress space.
By articulating a governance model around citizenship rather than any other identity, Kejriwal has fundamentally altered politics. If nothing else, all parties will be forced to rethink the way they do politics. Kejriwal turned a mob into community. One may disdain his content and style but in the midst of cynical politics that turns communities into mobs like recently in Muzaffarnagar, he finds traction.