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Editorial. Satya Pal Singh. March VIII. XIX


Kejriwal: Mercurially impulsive

and waning clout


Satya Pal Singh-fnbworld  By Satya Pal Singh


Narender Modi-fnbworld




  Arvind Kejriwal-fnbworldAB Vajpayee-fnbworld




AAP and violent elections?-fnbworld


Is Aam Aadmi Party a spent force today? A non-descript political formation, until it rose to capture power in Delhi last November, is seen to be losing its shine. Several uneasy questions are being raised now as the new party enters the poll fray at the national level. The latest is: Whether the Capital's 49-day flop is comfortable indulging in violence and ominously missing its orderly 'aam aadmi' tracks? Is this enormously youthful party, an offshoot of a massive anti-corruption movement, struggling to cope up with the multiple pressures and challenges of the parliamentary election, the most enervating of them being the absence of a level-playing field? At the same time, a view significantly persists that by virtue of its transparency plank, AAP still remains a darling of the urban middle class, even though this segment witnessed the party burning its fingers from very close quarters in Delhi.

These questions need to be viewed critically and their possible answers scrutinized through the prism of accruals from the past and the present. The driving force behind the party, Arvind Kejriwal, a shrewd but mercurially impulsive man with propensity to play risky games, is apparently in dilemma finding it hard to create the kind of wave across India, as he and his associates had generated in Delhi a few months back, mainly on the platform against corruption and promises of a steady and people-friendly governance to be ordained by the masses. But strangely enough, the AAP rallies are still drawing spirited crowds across north India    


On a day when poll-time model code of conduct came into force, Kejriwal went to Gujarat to "expose state CM and the BJP's PM nominee Narendra Modi." He led a road show in a town, with a good number of young enthusiasts and over a dozen vehicles in his convoy, allegedly without permission from authorities. He was temporarily detained by the police and he cancelled his four-day tour of the state. The anguished AAP leaders and volunteers accused Modi of harassing the party cavalcade. The detention caused ripples across north India, triggering violence between frenzied AAP volunteers and BJP supporters in Delhi, Lucknow, Jhansi, Kanpur, Allahabad and a few other places, in which scores of enthusiasts were injured on both sides, and FIRs were lodged. Some senior AAP leaders were arrested in Delhi and elsewhere. This has sent out grim portents as the poll battle is yet to intensify. And the AAP naturally gets flak for the clashes more than does the BJP. The Election Commission has served a notice on the party for breaking the conduct code and indulging in violence and hooliganism.

The AAP leadership already had earned a bad name in Delhi for being "unruly, indisciplined, impulsive and disorderly." The party might have lost a sizeable support base due to Kejriwal's alleged "erratic" attitude. AAP leaders may have some good causes to fight for, but miserably flop in handling them. For instance, the then Law Minister Somnath Bharti displayed in a Delhi colony his zest for a cause, pushing his crusade against the vice of basely venal practices indulged in by foreign women and alleged police inaction thereon.


The Minister sought to raid the "vice den" following the neighbours' persistent complaints. But when Bharti wanted the police to act in a mid-night soup, the latter allegedly misbehaved and refused to act. So strong was the nexus of the wrong-doers that the Minister had to face embarrassment and was later grilled by so-called keepers of human rights. Since an inexperienced Minister failed to handle the problem with care and circumspection, his action was widely decried. For something which otherwise could have won him accolades, drew him into disrepute. Why? Did he act in compliance with administrative and legal norms? But his act, in plain terms, was people-friendly and praiseworthy. This incident precisely demonstrates how the leaders' persistent naivety is spoiling the party's fortunes. 

The latest incidents of violence further slur the party's image. Besides, the leadership is visibly hard-pressed to come up with a decent number of clean, winnable candidates, even though Kejriwal had once declared the party's resolve to field 300 candidates for the LS poll. Where are those electable entities? The Delhi fiasco put a sudden stop to the stream of eminent people joining the party. Above that, the party hardly has financial resources to contest a full-scale poll; the daily inflow of donations too is coming down sharply. Against the party's target to collect Rs 200 crores for the poll, just Rs 11 crores have come to its coffers so far.

Despite these infirmities, the AAP has remarkably tapped into public anger against corruption and crony capitalism. Kejriwal's temerity to take on billionaire Mukesh Ambani and the likes of  Union Minister Veerappa Moily and many others does him credit and will bring him votes too. He will surely cut into votes of both the BJP and the Congress, but to what extent, only time will tell. Even though Kejriwal's unconventional style of governance is loved by masses, he has to project some reservations on this mode, with modifications which may not see him staging dharnas and obstructing traffic on the roads while in power. He is honest, bold, genuinely a leader of the masses, but his penchant to court controversies takes precedence in his style of functioning, something that keeps weakening his clout.  

So much excruciating pain the AAP leadership suffered during its 49-day stint in Delhi that perhaps had no parallel in our recent political history, except at the time BJP experienced it in the mid-nineties when Atal Behari vajpayee resigned after being 13 days in power at the Centre. One could understand Vajpayee's anguish, which was perhaps more agonizing than Kejriwal's, whose frustration on his govt's failure to introduce the Jan Lokpal Bill, the core of his mainframe agenda, sunk deep into his psyche. Vajpayee had then quit the PM's office having lost much of clout, facing an uncertain political climate after Narasimha Rao lived down a mixed tenure of glory and ignominy. Vajpayee might have suffered embarrassment, but enjoyed internal elation having boldly resisted the temptation of horse-trading. Kejriwal, too, suffered fiasco, but emerged unscathed from the company of a tricky partner.

Without rubbing skin with the pollsters and their rhythmic predictions, it will be safe to argue that the meteoric rise of AAP, through its fast and smart gamble in Delhi, will have its unfailing impact during these polls beyond the Capital. It gave jitters to both BJP and the Congress in the assembly poll and has left a trail of mixed feelings among the voters, especially the fence-sitters or those who vouch for neither of the two national parties. But the way Kejriwal has taken on them, conveying to the electorate a clear message that they are all, including the so-called Third Front leaders, part of the "collusive politics" that plays into the hands of corrupt big business, commission-seeking middlemen, and ever remain open to horse-trading to make fast buck for themselves and their proteges. Jammed under its endemic inadequacies, it appears, AAP may garner close to  25 seats in the 16th Lok Sabha, but it would surely play a spoiler for front-running Modi, especially in the urban areas. 

With too many sides bidding for power as the nation goes to polls in a short while from now, people have great responsibility of choosing a party they think is better-placed to govern and in their considered view, is a lesser evil. Among all the stakeholders, from NDA, UPA to Third Front, AAP is the only party in this election that has made it clear that it will have no truck with any other party or groups. Yet, it can't be written off as playing a significant role in the formation of a government at the Centre. It may not only do well in Delhi, but will have significant impact in other states too. Its pan-India vote share may well exceed those of any other party, except the BJP and the Congress. 

But before the people set out to vote, they must churn their thoughts well, with a mind tranquil and in form, whether they would like to have a stable regime at the Centre. If our voters are ready to recall the trail of traumas of the past, when successive coalition governments played havoc with the system, presiding over poor governance, policy paralysis and multiple administrative ills, with the corrupt taking the centre-stage, then perhaps they would realize how important it is to vote for a stable govt. The system of coalition governance has been and will remain a bane for our democracy, progress and prosperity. 

But the pulls within the political spectrum indicate that even if NDA makes a mark under the "Modi wave", it will most likely stop far short of majority. Thus the path remains clearly open to an entrenched coalition politics.  The AAP may or may not participate in the next government but its presence in Parliament will have a welcome impact on legislative functioning. The party, symbolically representing transparency in public life, yet stays a vital force; it's no more a dead-pan!


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