The Aam Aadmi Party’s success at the elections in Delhi is appearing to be similar to the victory of the Greek King Pyrrhus of Epirus, who defeated the Romans at Heraclea in 280 BC and at Asculum the next year. This war is now known as the Pyrrhic War. As related by Plutarch, King Pyrrhus is reported to have said “one more such victory would utterly undo him.” The phrase “Pyrrhic victory” has entered the lexicon and is used in describing victory obtained at the cost of the utter ruination of the victor.
As an ordinary member of the Aam Aadmi Party I am trying to make sense of the events after Arvind Kejriwal’s government in Delhi resigned citing irreconcilable differences with the opposition in the Assembly on the Jan Lokpal Bill. At that time, I thought, that he had pushed the Congress to withdraw support that would lead to the dissolution of the Assembly, paving the way for fresh elections. I believe that since AAP had won 28 seats and lost quite a few by very small margins, it had led the party’s think-tank to assume that in a re-election it would easily obtain a comfortable majority and would then be in a position to implement the various promises it had made to the public. AAP had not expected that the Centre would advise the Lt. Governor to keep the Assembly in suspended animation. It is now clear that fresh elections to the Delhi Assembly will not be held along with the General Elections in April/May. Whatever happens now will be decided by the new central government that will assume office after the 16th of May.
This realization is now prompting the Aam Aadmi Party to launch an all-out attack on the BJP and its Prime Ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi. The party’s think-tank must now be certain that the BJP and its allies will comfortably pass the halfway mark and that Narendra Modi will become the Prime Minister. The calculation is that the Congress is a sinking ship and its allies in the UPA will abandon it once the results are in. The chances of a Congress recovery under the totalitarian rule of the Gandhis are well-nigh impossible. It does not even have the solace of becoming a regional party as it lacks a regional character or agenda. In states where it was the leading political force, its regional presence has been appropriated by offshoots like the YSRC in Andhra, the TMC in Bengal, the NCP in Maharashtra, and the BJD in Odisha. In other states it has already yielded space to regional and dynastic dispensations. In any future elections it will find it very difficult to find allies, and I can only predict its inevitable demise. Theseus’s paradox, exemplified by his ship, queries whether an object which has had all its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object. The Congress, after its first split in 1969, has undergone so many transformations that it would not be out of place to question if today’s Congress is the same as the party of Nehru and Shastri. As in Anand Gandhi’s critically acclaimed film, “The Ship of Theseus” the vital organs of the Congress have been harvested and are providing a lifeline to the recipients, leaving behind only a cadaver.
Arvind Kejriwal’s whirlwind tour of Gujarat; his attempt to gate-crash into Modi’s residence with 16 or 17 questions; his return to Delhi by private plane sponsored by India Today to enable him to attend its conclave; the indiscipline displayed by the cadre in Mumbai; and the reported disaffection among a section of the leadership; all are raising uncomfortable questions about the future of this party. Are we seeing a repetition of the Pyrrhic wars and is the Aam Aadmi experiment coming unstuck even before the fruits of its spectacular debut in Delhi have been savored?
In the 1960’s I had read “Between Freedom & Anarchy,” an article written by Nirad C. Chaudhuri, and published in the “Encounter” magazine, a literary journal published from the United Kingdom. “Encounter” began publication in 1953 with the British poet Stephen Spender and the American journalist Irving Kristol as its editors. Though pronouncedly centre-right and anti-communist in its slant, the magazine attracted a large number of intellectuals who contributed a range of dazzlingly brilliant articles and literary pieces that are impossible to find in any other single publication. The “Observer” had noted that “Encounter is a magazine which constantly provides, in any given month, exactly what a great many of us would have wished to read… there is no other journal in the English-speaking world which combines political and cultural material of such consistently high quality.” Its closure in 1991 has left a number of ardent admirers mourning its demise. As a student I had collected quite a few of its issues which got misplaced in the course of my peripatetic life. Now, trying to recall what Nirad Chaudhuri had written, a search on the internet yielded a link to the said article. It was published in the September 1967 issue of the magazine on pages 77 to 82. Readers can find the link to the article here: http://www.unz.org/Pub/Encounter-1967sep-00077.
I did vaguely recall that Chaudhri’s opinion was that Indian history was full of cycles of energy and inertia, and that anarchy was the only system that inevitably prevailed after intervals of foreign rule. Now, after having read the article, I can fearlessly quote from it.
Chaudhuri writes that “the Indian people, whose extraordinary individualism in behavior is matched by an equally extraordinary collectivism in excitement and passion, create an impression of organized action when they are only driven in a herd by a shared passion. That they are generally passive does not affect their inflammability.”
Further, he opines that “The force which works against political organization in India is not any kind of motive power, but inertia, which is basically a product of the climate, and arising out of the operation of that factor has become fixed in behavior and outlook. It asserts itself whenever the adventitious, political energy is spent up. Thus the conflict between the energy and the inertia gives to the political history of India alternating cycles of winding up and running down, of imperial regimes and imperial interregnums.”
The heat, the humidity and the dust of the plains contribute to this inertia that has become ingrained in our DNA. This inertia makes us disinclined to physical labour and makes us impatient of discipline. It has affected all classes; be it the bureaucracy; industrial labour; students; or the peasantry. The Government, which is abjectly dependent on the workers for their votes, watches helplessly while productivity plummets to global lows. The noble Indian peasant, as depicted by Munshi Premchand, too has succumbed to this malaise and instead of increasing the yield of his land is content at receiving below-subsistence level handouts from the government.
Are we seeing the return of the phase of anarchy in Indian society as observed by Chaudhuri? Is AAP the vehicle that will usher in this interregnum? Most political observers and media “know-alls” seem to have concluded that Kejriwal is a one-election wonder and AAP will soon be a small footnote in the history of modern India. True, Kejriwal appears to have deviated somewhat from his stated path. There seems to be a scramble among media celebrities to climb on to his bandwagon as he searches around for credible candidates to put up in the general elections. Not all of them have the agenda of serving the aam aadmi. The names we now hear come from privileged backgrounds and the freshness of the Delhi winners has evaporated. Even then Kejriwal had to counter a revolt from a few discontents who wanted a bigger piece of the pie. There is no guarantee that the khaas aadmis like Ashutosh, Ashish Khaitan, Gul Panag, and other such new entrants will be happy serving the aam aadmi without any of their personal agendas or pet likes and dislikes dictating the service. Media and Bollywood celebrities do not constitute the common man in India. In my opinion they are part of the problem that the party needs to address. Kejriwal erred in accepting the hospitality of the media powerhouse, India Today and blotted his canvas indelibly. One can understand if he had taken the offer of a private plane to visit a calamity-affected area, but to do so for attending a “conclave” that we know cannot be matched in its “gratuitous vapidness” by any “palaver of any age or any country” seems inexcusable. Instead of being contrite and admitting that he had made a wrong choice, Kejriwal further exacerbated the folly by asking the Congress and the BJP to account for their private travels. The next morning he was back in Gujarat. This time, I presume, he took a regular commercial flight.
AAP has, perhaps rightly, concluded that it will eventually replace the Congress and become the representative of the centre-left, thereby becoming the BJP’s only challenger at the national level. That explains Kejriwal’s storming of Modi’s bastion, and the continuing barrage of anti-Modi rhetoric. It also explains its apparent softness towards the Congress and the party’s President. It is hoping that with the demise of the Grand Old Party, the core support-base of the Congress will shift its loyalty to AAP. It does not wish to alienate those Congress supporters whose loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhis remains intact despite everything. Its bluster and bombast is a deliberate attempt at trying to look larger and broader than what it actually is. At the moment it is indulging in a desperate gamble by putting up candidates in all Lok Sabha constituencies. There is no time for primaries and mohalla sabhas to select the best candidates for each constituency. That exercise was possible in Delhi and yielded spectacular dividends. Now AAP has to field anyone who comes along with a non-political record. That, at least, ensures that the candidate has no history of malfeasance. Experience and the ability to win, are criteria not really stressed upon. The leadership is hoping to make a significant debut at the national level; not as spectacular as it was in Delhi; but enough to get noted and taken seriously by the country. It is preparing for 2019 and you can be sure that it will not take the pressure off the BJP and Modi.
Though Modi appears to be certain to become the next Prime Minister, the presence of AAP will be a good thing for the country. The BJP as an opposition party has been a complete failure and to that extent it should also be held culpable for the non-performance of Manmohan Singh. Modi will not have that luxury and will have to prove that he is fit for the high office. At the end of his article Nirad Chaudhuri had said that the victory of anarchy in India would only be possible if it did not come in conflict with the agendas of foreign countries. If India goes back to its laissez faire type of inertia and becomes an “area of low political and economic pressure” the outside world is likely to intervene as it has done in the past. Hopefully, with the rise of AAP, that phase may not reoccur and the country may cross the impassable ridge with the twin chariot wheels of Modi and AAP.
By Vijaya Dar