The results of the Delhi Assembly Elections in late 2013 saw the country being swept by a wave of euphoria. Nobodies out of nowhere formed the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which thrashed the ruling party out of the one-city State. True, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) won the maximum seats, but AAP was the dark horse that prevented BJP from winning enough seats to form the State Government. It was an impasse. It looked like Delhi was all set to go back to the ballot because Congress and BJP wouldn’t join hands; AAP wouldn’t throw in its lot with either Congress or BJP; and even with all the other remaining seats (barring Congress and AAP) BJP wouldn’t get the necessary majority to form the government.
In this scenario, Congress made an unprecedented move that bespoke of their years in politics: they offered support to AAP to form the State government – to prevent a re-election and a possibility of BJP forming the government in Delhi so close to the legislative elections. The country was electrified by this turn of events. A party just about two year old, formed by “outsiders” (no one from AAP is a political “shehazada” – i.e. no political background or connections), contesting its first ever elections – and going on to form the government! All this only on the basis of its clean image and a proclaimed will to set things right. This was history creating.
Political pundits believed that soon after the Lok Sabha Elections in 2014, Congress would pull the carpet from under AAP’s feet. Whether they would’ve done that or not has become a moot point now since AAP is covering itself with magnificent criticism.
Arvind Kejriwal was an unlikely hero but janta believed in him and threw itself behind and beside him. AAP centres across the country saw people pouring in to become members. A number of celebrities either openly supported it or joined it. On December 28, 2013, Kejriwal took the oath of office to become the Chief Minister of Delhi at Ramlila grounds in the city – and lakhs turned up to be a part of his sweep.
In its campaign, AAP promised a better tomorrow to the city including an end to corruption, free water and reasonably priced electricity. In just over a month of being the government in Delhi, AAP has lost lakhs of its followers. Its report card is in the red. While it did deliver water and electricity – the deliver came with unmentioned and unexpected riders – 10% hike (for water) and full payment for all units consumed if the consumption is beyond that granted (for water and electricity). Additionally, instead of making this possible by addressing the root – the power companies and water utility – Kejriwal made this possible by subsidies. Subsidisation is always an unsustainable, short-term fix it. It is never a solution. So this is seen mostly as a populist stunt.
AAP’s noble idea of holding a daily darbar to address peoples’ issues was also not planned properly and devolved into chaos within minutes. This is now changed to a weekly meeting and people are encouraged to use the internet to register their grievances. This is now being viewed as a gimmick. AAP had also encouraged and exhorted folks to conduct their own sting operations and had promised immediate action against any corruption. This invitation has had few, very few, takers. Most are questioning his dedication to this cause since he hasn’t yet made any move against Sheila Dixit – something that was expected (and maybe even stated) during the election campaign.
However, the greatest censure towards AAP has come from Kejriwal’s attention and headline grabbing stuntbaazi. First was his famous Metro ride. It is said that this token gesture cost the police much more in terms of money and man-hours than a dozen bodyguards would have. The ultimate however was Kejriwal’s agitationist protest for the removal of 5 cops. A protest he quickly ended grabbing an excuse of a face-saver offered to him.
Journalists and even the President have criticised the AAP tactics as gimmickry in place of governance. Chetan Bhagat wrote a column in The Times of India about AAP headlined: The Item Girls of Politics. In this piece, Bhagat quoted figures culled from opinion polls conducted by him on his Facebook fanpage showing the amazing rise and the quicker fall of AAP. The exodus from AAP to BJP is much, much faster than the rush towards AAP was. Business and industry was always anti-AAP. The aam aadmi now feels that AAP is at best suited only for Corporation level – not for State and definitely not for National level.
Has the one month in power called it curtains for AAP – or will they do some introspection; some soul searching and mature to actually become a viable and dependable option in politics? Jaago Kejriwal jaago – India wants a change not a sideshow.
By Sujata Garimella