Aam Aadmi Party was born of hope. The Lokpal movement of 2011, led by Anna Hazare, was a watershed event in India’s recent history. A diminutive mild mannered 70 something former soldier and social worker, Anna caught the nation’s imagination and inspired following like only Mahatma Gandhi had before him. It was half-way into the second tenure of UPA government, and each new day brought with it news of another scam, each bigger than the last. Amounting to digits so big that an ordinary citizen had trouble figuring out the number of zeroes in it. Things came to such a ridiculous level that one union minister while refuting allegations of corruption against another argued that the amount involved (71 Lakhs) was too small for a minister. To add to people’s despair, there didn’t seem to be any viable alternative in sight. Leadership of the principle opposition party BJP was ageing and ineffectual, apparently incapable of providing strongly taking on the government even when issues were handed to it on a platter every day.
So when Anna began a fast undo death in Delhi against the rampant corruption, people came out and joined him in thousands in a groundswell of active support. These were ordinary people – office goers, teachers, lawyers, students. People who had probably never actively participated in politics beyond casting their votes, if even that. When Arvind Kejriwal, who was seen as one of the primary lieutenants of Anna, announced the formation of a political party for the Aam Aadmi, or the common man, he got instantaneous support of Anna’s huge follower base. This, even though Anna himself was not in favour of formation of a political party, preferring to keep his movement away from electoral politics. Maybe this was because he had the wisdom to foresee what would eventually happen.
Aam Aadmi party emerged as a symbol of hope amidst the depths of despair. The ideals and principles that Kejriwal lay down for the party seemed to be just what the country needed. He promised politics with a difference – away from the trappings that the people have come to associate with it. He promised clean, transparent governance delivered by ordinary people who wanted to make a difference. So when AAP decided to contest Delhi assembly elections, people across the country, imaginations fired by a vision of change, came forward to offer support, resources, money and even their time towards furthering the cause. This phenomenon led to victory in the polls. Numbers didn’t allow AAP to form a stable government, and despite several U-turns by Kejriwal, the people of Delhi returned them with a mind boggling majority in the consequent re-elections.
But almost two years down the line, there is an overwhelming sense of disappointment amongst the people who had believed in the vision shown to them by Kejriwal. Although it’s still early days to conclusively evaluate the government on results, the sense people are getting are that the government has been delivering excuses instead of performance, passing on the blame to interference from the central government. What’s worse is that the promised ‘politics with a difference’ is not visible. Party leaders have been quick in adopting the trappings of power despite prior promises of remaining as ‘Aam Aadmi’. High personal expenses (As per an RTI reply, the expenditure by the six cabinet ministers on tea and snacks has been Rs 1 Crore in 18 months, with Rs 47.29 Crores being spent at the CM’s office and residence alone), nepotism and frequent foreign jaunts.
What is even more disappointing is the way the party and government resources are being used to build the personality cult of Kejriwal himself. Till a crackdown by the courts, the Delhi government was regularly placing advertisements in regional newspapers across the country, particularly in states where the party is in the fray for the upcoming assembly elections. The arbitrary announcement of a monetary grant of Rs 1 Crore to the kin of Subedar Garewal who committed suicide recently in protest against OROP, despite the fact that he wasn’t even a resident of Delhi, is another example of the ‘outward’ focus of the Delhi government. What shocked people even more was the vehemence with which Kejriwal has opposed the demonetisation move by the government. Since he has come to power on the primary plank of anti-corruption and clean politics, he and his party should have been the first to welcome some definitive action on this for the first time. However his opposition to it raises suspicion whether it has affected the party’s plans in the forthcoming elections in Punjab. Another reason for his pique could be the huge political advantage that BJP and the PM personally has got from this resolute action.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that all the actions and resources of the party and the Delhi government seem to be geared towards fulfilling the Prime Ministerial ambitions of Kejriwal. While ambition in itself isn’t bad, but the manner in which the hopes of millions of voters who elected him as CM are being trodden upon for its sake is. If the people of Punjab and Goa cast their votes for AAP, they must be clear that they’re doing so to just another political party, and the only difference it has to offer is the lack of administrative experience and acumen that the Delhi experience has shown. However, if the inputs from the ground in Punjab are to be believed, AAP has lost the edge it had over the other two parties / coalitions it had just a few months ago.
It would be a pity if this hope dies a premature death with the AAP joining the ranks of other political parties instead of being the party with a difference it started out to be. And that is on its way towards happing, primarily because of Arvind Kejriwal and a handful of key members – while the party still has a large base of professionals and common people who still believe in that dream. Ideally, there should be an internal cleansing in the party, with this second rung who still believe in the core ideology, purging the party of people like Arvind Kejriwal and keeping the hope alive.
Full Disclosure – the author was a founder member of AAP, having joined the party at its launch at Jantar Mantar on 26 Nov 2012. The photographs in this post are from that event. He parted ways from the party when Arvind Kejriwal resigned as Delhi CM and decided to fight parliamentary elections.