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Not all who voted for the AAP realise what it could entail

By the time you read this, you'll have known whether the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has played the role of a spoiler, spoilsport or gatherer of spoils in the Delhi assembly elections. Indrajit Hazra writes.

columns Updated: Dec 07, 2013 23:28 IST
Indrajit Hazra

By the time you read this, you'll have known whether the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has played the role of a spoiler, spoilsport or gatherer of spoils in the Delhi assembly elections.

While various numbers have been bandied about prior to the results today to gauge what amounts to 'electoral success', a double-digit show of seats would mean the jhadu entering Delhi's political iconography.

In these times of hyper-expectations when whole mountain ranges are built out of conical mounds of loose soil, the AAP — and, more obviously, its predecessor, the Anna Hazare-led Lokpal Bill movement — has suffered from both over-expectation and under-expectation.

Performance in an assembly election is the least unreliable way to measure a party's real put-your-votes-where-your-mouths-are popularity. But whatever be today's results, any AAP success story beyond the Richter scale readings of the polls will continue to be doubted.

Doubt is good.

Far too many disappointments have come about because we have been naïve — or crafty — enough to suspend doubt, taking things at their face value. But the questions that have been raised about the AAP's lustre, and even its longevity, tell a story of their own.

Even as pundits admit that the AAP has shaken things up in an arena that resembles the changing of guards outside Buckingham Palace, rather than the storming of the Bastille, there is a view that wagon-breakers can't build engines. That the AAP will be unable to ever cross over from being an anti-corruption movement-based entity to become a competent party of governance.

This view is understandable. The Lokpal Bill movement now resembles a travelling circus, pitching its tent in maidans and then moving on, leaving the law of diminishing returns to do what it does best.

But one reason for Kejriwal and Co to establish the AAP in November 2012 was to solidify a brand of politics that runs counter to the one that has been practised by the Congress and the BJP and their various mutants. Both these two older parties behave and practise a politics of proprietorial power, a politics of hand-outs and trickle-down effects.

This is not something that people are necessarily disgusted about.

If that was the case, an alternative would have been invented a while ago. The popular disgust for political swagger and pelf comes only when there are tipping points — the Commonwealth Games financial scam, the December 2012 Delhi rape, etc. The AAP was born in this incubator of much-needed but selective popular and media-goaded outrage.

The firm belief from many quarters that the AAP will always remain a Diet Jacobin movement is atavistic and infused with class prejudice.

Even if one dismisses Sheila Dikshit's rather noxious comment, "One man who lives in Ghaziabad comes to Delhi and thinks he can sweep Delhi clean. I mean, is that (the AAP) even a party?", the chief minister isn't the only person in Delhi today thinking along those lines. There is no reason to think that Kejriwal and other AAP leaders will wrap themselves forever in their superhero-meets-Occupy All Streets costumes.

The ‘act' of entering electoral politics itself signified a willingness to shift and adapt. The question, of course, is whether they will be capable to turn a ‘movement' into a good old, boring ideology and be ever able to run a Rajdhani.

The Congress was once a ‘single-movement' party, India's Independence from British colonialism being its movement of choice. It managed to survive 1947, despite Mohandas Gandhi's suggestion that the party disband itself after freedom had been delivered.

After many false starts, the BJP discovered the Ram Janambhoomi movement in the late 80s. Since then, it's done pretty well, adapting, changing and ‘widening' along the way.

Not all who voted for the AAP last week may really be comfortable of its Lutheran zeal once they realise what it could entail.

There will be the aam aadmi who wants that extra gas cylinder delivered in exchange of some extra cash; there will be the aam aadmi who will want to receive chai-paani for a job done; there will be the aam aadmi who may not think it's a terribly good idea for a neta to behave like an aam aadmi.

The AAP will have to keep selling difficult ideas, next time without the advantage of being a novelty party.

But then, the people who set out to change politics are also changed by politics. It's how the AAP proceeds from here in defeats, dead-ends and dealing with strategic compromises that will decide whether we just witnessed a freak downpour or climate change.