The turnout at the rally to launch Aam Aadmi Party at Jantarmantar, held on the 63rd anniversary of the adoption of our constitution, was an indicator of popular sentiment prevailing in the country. That it happened on a day when the major political parties were busy imparting spin to stories justifying corrupt acts by their leaders and minor parties busier making a nuisance of themselves in parliament and state assemblies only underscored the need for an organization like what the AAP promises to be.
The groundswell of popular sentiment at Jantarmantar was quite obvious. In typical political rallies participants are transported by satraps and ambitious wannabes by busloads, each bus prominently displaying the name of the person responsible lest the credit gets missed out. Here, hordes of people reached of their own accord. There was a steady stream of people that lasted right up to late evening. People came, spent some time at the venue, and left. Their excitement and
enthusiasm was palpable. The long lines of people queuing up to sign up as founder members of the party resulted in the organizers running out of registration forms several times, only to be replenish them rapidly.
It is probably an indicator of the strength of the fledgling party that the participants could not be labelled. Rural, urban, rich, poor, middle class, old, young, students, professionals – there was a sprinkling of all. But what ran as a common thread was a sense of hopefulness – the belief that change may be possible, against all odds. It stemmed from the converse sense of hopelessness that everyone has started feeling about the existing political setup.
The great gap between the electors and the elected widens by the day. Politics is viewed as a practice of the special people for the special people by the special people. The ordinary people, or Aam Aadmi, are just incidental – a necessary evil required every five years to keep the wheels of this elitocracy turning. They need to be thrown a bone every once in a while, and the bone can easily be virtual. For the rest of the time, they can be looted, cheated, insulted, abused, lied to and generally taken for granted. Their intelligence is undermined – they are expected to believe that a ten fold increase in net worth of every joe politician is due to good investment decisions, nothing to do with influence wielded or favours traded.
This system has been almost insitutionalized, practiced by every single political party – either by active participation, or by passive inaction. There seems to be a tacit understanding between either ends of the political divide. Each side shouts and screams to derive maximum mileage off the others indiscretions, but when push comes to shove, they look the other way. Wink wink, nudge nudge. And guess who is at the receiving end as a consequence – yours truly, the Aam Aadmi.
Another curious phenomenon is the complete lack of ideological integrity – particularly amongst the minor parties. Apart from hawking their wares on the roadside, they are doing everything else to capitalize the votes of their handful of legislators. So issues of national importance like FDI in retail are decided, not by the stated stance of these bit players, but by what mileage they can extract out of each vote. You also have the curious case of some of these minor parties who consistently remain on the treasury benches, irrespective of who forms the government.
What could the voter do? Come elections, she was faced with a choice between a thief and a dacoit. So the only choice was between whether to cast one’s vote or not. Either way she lost. Hence the disappointment, despair and finally indifference towards the electoral process. Thus the attractiveness of the Anna Hazare movement amongst the populace. And now, when an offshoot of that movement has decided to challenge the devil on its home turf, the response is overwhelming.
The media response to this emergence of a new entity ranged from lukewarm to indifferent. They continued to accord priority to the sycophantic rumblings of the ruling party and the brewing rebellion within the opposition. Oh yes, there was that ten minutes of token coverage for appearance sake, but that was about it.
And the mainstream political parties shrugged it off. One doesn’t really know what’s actually going on in the minds of their strategists and spin doctors. In case they aren’t, one would advise them to be scared – very scared. Because their cozy laissez faire days are about to come to an end. Even if the Aam Aadmi party doesn’t manage to win a single seat in subsequent elections – by its very being, it will force a change in the way the business of politics is being conducted.