The recent sting operation against the Aam Aadmi Party is revealing not of its political culture, but that of the country’s dominant parties – the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Now found to have been selectively edited to malign the AAP candidates, the sting’s message can be decoded thus: since the two political parties do not intend to end their venality, they’d rather project the AAP to be wallowing in the mire of corruption as they undoubtedly are.
We’re All Guilty
Ironically, in attempting to sully the AAP’s image, or casting aspersion on it, they have accepted they are corrupt. Through the last one month, every time a controversy has surfaced involving the fledgling outfit, the subtext of the response of the Congress and the BJP has been that the AAP accuses others of corruption, but it is as corrupt as any party.
Indeed, it is so much easier to tarnish the squeaky clean image of AAP than to undertake the onerous task of reforming the culture of corruption. This strategy they presumably seem to have decided upon in desperation dashed, as their hopes were that the AAP would fall on its own from the pedestal it had perched upon. It is important to analyse the changing perception of the Congress and the BJP about the AAP’s political potential to fathom why they have taken to accusing it of corruption.
Changing Perceptions of the AAP
To begin with, both the Congress and the BJP had believed the AAP couldn’t become a threat to them, that it couldn’t gather momentum to even cut into their votes in the battle of ballot. Really, when did anyone last hear of civil society activists banding together to stump political parties in election? It is easier to stoke passions, gather a few thousands at a protest site, than to win the mandate of an electorate as diverse as India’s, the political bigwigs declared with certainty.
This perception of theirs arose from their own experience of election, and the manner in which they have been winning polls every five years. They said, you need money, big money, to be swept into power; you need a well-oiled election machinery to reach out to the voters; you need leaders who have a proven track-record of wielding power to win the confidence of the people; and you need a platter of issues rather than the hackneyed anti-corruption slogan to appeal to different sections of the population. They simply forgot that corruption could mean different things to different people.
As weeks turned into months, the political class began to believe the AAP could snatch away a certain percentage of votes, perhaps even win one or two constituencies, but it was, nevertheless, a fly which could be swatted as soon as the big parties began their poll preparations. Underlying it was the same old assumption: to field 70 candidates in the Delhi assembly election requires deep pockets and innumerable coffers. They weren’t too wrong in assuming that the big business houses, the contractor class, and the water mafia would keep away from the AAP, insistent as it was on making every donation public.
The Power of the Underdog
In their hubris, characteristic of those who posses power, both the Congress and the BJP forgot the energy and resolve people inherently possess but which are seldom tapped. The people have donated what they could afford, swelling the AAP’s electoral chest to Rs 20 crore, which is considered a paltry amount to fight election, yet a sum adequate to bankroll a few basic necessities – advertisements, for instance, or salaries to volunteers, who have trooped from different parts of the country to pitch in for the AAP in Delhi.
The big parties became anxious as one opinion poll after another began to show that the AAP was snapping at the heels of the Congress and BJP, perspiring and panting no doubt, but still not depleted of the energy required to pip them to the post. More astonishingly for them, it was racing without following its style and technique, of eschewing the temptation to gather tainted money to finance its debut electoral endeavor.
It was then wild allegations began to be leveled against the AAP. Since it had so exuberantly stuck to its principle, it had to be portrayed as a bunch of hypocrites indulging in the rhetoric of cleansing politics but having a chest of slush funds of its own. From describing them as anarchists to political greenhorns to Leftists to Rightists, the Congress and the BJP switched to calling, and showing, them as corrupt.
Simply look at the flurry of attempts to disparage the AAP. First, both the Congress and the BJP claimed foreigners were bankrolling the AAP. It is a different matter that NRIs are allowed to make monetary contributions to Indian political parties. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy spoke of one Avaaz Foundation contributing $4 lakh to the AAP, but he provided not a sliver of proof to back his claim. Then he talked of an Indian who had taken the citizenship of another country contributing Rs 500 to the AAP. Such allegations the media dismissed outright, claiming it was incredibly silly of mainstream parties to holler over a kitty of Rs 20 crore even though they themselves had an income running into thousands of crores, and have obstinately refused to name all their donors.
Unable to make these charges stick on the AAP, the sting operation was made public, the raw footage edited to portray a few of its candidates were inclined to take money underhand. An AAP source confessed to this writer that the sting operation did rattle him and other leaders, and had deeply disappointed the volunteers. This was why the AAP did not dismiss the charges immediately, and its team watched and analysed the raw footage, obtained from the Election Commission to which the video had been handed over, for 15 hours at a stretch. It was palpable to them that the footage had been edited to sully the AAP’s image and innocence.
The sting operation was arguably the most concerted effort by the political class to damage the AAP’s credibility, but it wasn’t an isolated incident. In the AAP’s constituency of Manish Sisodia, workers of other parties donned the AAP cap and went around distributing cash. AAP volunteers, however, were quick to expose them as interlopers harbouring insidious intent. Then again, it was claimed an Innova sporting an AAP sticker was found carrying Rs 3.5 lakh in cash.
With barely a week left for Delhi to go to election, don’t be surprised to read headlines claiming the AAP has been stung through yet another tendentious editing. It is unlikely these allegations will persuade the supporters of AAP into deserting the party overnight. In fact, the AAP might find its votes augmented, for these allegations tell the voter that the Congress and the BJP will neither change their venal ways nor want anyone reform the system.
By Ajaz Ashraf
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