Millennium Post

Aam Aadmi versus Aam Aadmi

As an aam aadmi, I feel so vindicated by the stellar arrival of the AAP in Delhi’s politics that I am tempted to confine myself to all the happy and hopeful dreams about this new beginning. May their tribe increase, I say, as they offer me an impressive alternative to the Congress and BJP. As a teacher, I am infected by the enthusiasm of my extremely young students for whom the AAP has retrieved a long-jettisoned political idealism. As a secular-minded citizen, I am not much bothered by people who say that Kejriwal supporters in Delhi may vote for Modi in the Lok Sabha Elections, as I can reason that a stronger AAP may again emerge as the alternative everyone’s hoping for, whereas Modi only symbolises the lack of it. Yet, as an aam aadmi struggling to survive against the cynicism of politicians and public alike, I have learned that a healthy dose of skepticism and a firm grip on reality are the two indispensible virtues of the common man. Therefore, even as I hope that the AAP makes it count in the general elections, I am haunted by the challenges it faces.
To prove its critics wrong, the AAP has already hinted at the intention to spread its wings to the neighbouring states. Close observers tell me that there is a growing base for the party in Haryana. HJC poster boy Kuldeep Bishnoi’s latest fantasy of recasting himself in the image of Kejriwal also indicates that the AAP may well be riding a wave of popularity there. In fact, the joke in learned circles seems to be that CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda is thanking his stars that his government was not required to face polls alongside Delhi. Above all, Haryana is Kejriwal’s home-turf and Ashok Khemka is a readymade mascot for the AAP brand of politics. What then may stand in the way of Kejriwal and Co. as they attempt to replicate their well-deserved triumph beyond the borders of Delhi?

While Delhi’s cosmopolitanism and the increasingly urbane sensibility of its citizens helps to somewhat dislocate it from the traditional culture of North India, Haryana and Rajasthan are far more typically representative of this region where repeated cases of violence against women, frequent mob-lynchings of Dalits, the coercive sway of Khap Panchayats and the wide social acceptance of female foeticide present a far more complex picture of a society and its attitude to change than the AAP has been willing to admit so far. The emphasis in AAP’s politics has been on the issue of transparency and honesty in Governance, although in the months leading up to the Assembly Elections in Delhi, it has successfully managed to convey a broader social agenda to the citizens. Even so, the solutions it has proposed in issues like women’s safety, education and health are univocally predicated on responsive governance. The AAP’s ideological narrative of social transformation pits cynical governance against a heady and romantic myth of the disenfranchised common man. Perhaps a hangover of the Anna movement, this ideological narrative is complacent about the deep divisions that exist within the people and, by this implication, precludes the need for social intervention.

The AAP has displayed a remarkable ability to mobilise people across various interest-groups and has appealed to the popular imagination by reigniting the idealism of the anti-Emergency movement. However in many ways it has not registered the manner in which India has changed since the Seventies. Its articulate spokespersons like Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav and Kumar Vishwas have not yet clarified their position on issues like the Food Security Bill, the Women’s Reservation Bill, the sporadic patriarchal and upper-caste backlash against women and Dalits within the NCR and beyond its limits, the rights of the LGBT community, and the increasing exploitation of unorganised migrant labour. Its promise of an inclusive pro-people politics will be kept in the long run only if its views on the emerging realities of the nation can be appealing as well as instructive to the youth. That is a daunting task as today’s youth are easily distracted and disenchanted. While young people are expressing a great desire for change, their expectation of instant results is also conditioned by a culture of impatience. As a sapling outfit, the AAP has been able to channelise this impatience in its attack against the politics of status quo. But in order to build on its gains and realise the promises it has made to its voters, it will be forced to confront the same impatience from a different perspective.

Its greatest challenge lies in being able to affect far-reaching changes in the political culture of North India. That this political culture sustains itself by optimising on and managing the conflicts between different communities, by allowing orthodoxies to prevail and negotiating with unconstitutional bodies like caste-panchayats and mahasabhas or even lending support to them, makes it that much more difficult for the AAP to intervene. Unless it is able to combine a strong drive for social reform with its civil rights initiatives, its novelty will wear off sooner than later. And in taking on the deeply entrenched interests of communities and castes, it will be forced to look at the faultlines of our society – from which the political culture derives – closely. Easier said than done, for the contradictions that make the warp and weft of the social fabric also make the aam aadmi who he is.

The author teaches English at SGTB Khalsa College
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