Millennium Post

Change in the political game

Aam aadmi has suddenly become the toast of the country. It was the celebrated cartoonist
R K Laxman who popularised the aam aadmi concept. Through his funny cartoons he connected the common man to the happenings of the country and these were highly appreciated by the public.

 Then the Congress party came up with the slogan, Congress ke haath, aam aadmi ke saath, combining its election symbol with the mango man before the 2004 polls. This clicked and eclipsed the multicrore ‘India Shining’ campaign of the NDA-led by Vajpayee. Last year Kejriwal borrowed it from the Congress and formed his Aam Aadmi Party. He became one of Delhi’s youngest chief minister overthrowing the Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government converting a civil society movement into a political organisation. He had targeted individual voters and the social media instead of going for mammoth rallies. It is uncertain what fate awaits the AAP in future when it goes national, but it has definitely unnerved India’s established political parties. The success of the AAP has resulted in the mainstream political parties trying to change their style of functioning and even their electoral strategies. At last they have now realised that people are fed up with the political class because of their indifference to the problems of the common man and the huge corruption. The irony is that instead of reinventing themselves they are only trying to ape the AAP.

Will this work? Is that desirable? No doubt the stance of AAP against VIP culture and the trappings of power have found resonance among the public. Promoting transparency in electoral politics and processes, embracing anti-graft attitude and approach – all are newfound phenomena. People are looking for an alternative corruption-free system of governance. However, if shunning ostentatious living is going to get votes then West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is firm in the saddle as she continues to wear cotton sarees, Hawaii slippers and lives in a two-room quarter in Kolkata. Her predecessor Buddhadev Bhattachraya should not have lost or Mayawati with her flashy diamonds would not have ruled UP four times. In short, copying AAP may not work for the BJP, Congress and other parties. When BJP came to power in 1998 and started behaving like the B team of Congress, it did not succeed.

The Congress had a kneejerk reaction to the AAP success. Its vice-president Rahul Gandhi went public in declaring that the 128 year-old Congress should learn lessons from the AAP. Like Kejriwal, he too is seeking ideas for the Congress manifesto and experimenting US style of primaries for choosing candidates. Rahul has directed all Congress chief ministers to enact and implement Lokayukta legislations in their respective states. Another example of the AAP effect is that the Uttarakhand government is launching a helpline for complaints against illegal mining. While these measures are indeed welcome, the established parties should have done all these long time ago but it is better late than never.

As for the BJP, Modi had come down from his high pedestal changing his ‘I, me, myself’ attitude to calling himself an aam aadmi. Not long ago, Modi was riding roughshod over the Congress, looking confidently towards victory in 2014. Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje has cut down on her security and is living in her own house instead of the official residence. The worried BJP at the instance of the RSS is now trying to change its electoral strategy and has decided to go back to the traditional way of campaigning. But these are only cosmetic changes.

The national and even regional parties have been in government as the Congress had ruled the country for many years and the BJP for six years. The AAP has a long way to go in learning the art of governance and how to manage the various forces pulling the party indifferent directions. Do the national parties want to travel the same populist line for the electoral benefits? Where will that take the country?

The only option for Congress and BJP is to reinvent themselves to be in step with the changing times. If the Congress thinks that projecting Rahul Gandhi as the PM candidate alone will change the situation, the party is in a fool’s paradise. The agenda should be more innovative. There should be transparent fund collection and membership drive. Just talking about the MGNREGA, Food Security Act will not attract the voters. What the party lacks is communication skills and accessibility of its leaders. Putting spin- doctors before the cameras also will not work. The BJP too should stop building a personality cult around Modi and put the controversial issues like the Article 370, common civil code and Ram mandir on the back burner, as there are no takers for these today. Chief ministers like Shiv Raj Singh Chauhan and Raman Singh and Modi have shown them the way.

While the national parties are getting ready to copy the AAP style of electioneering, regional parties are busy maximising their seats to bid for power in case of a hung Parliament. The lesson to learn for political parties is one size does not fit all. In a country of one billion plus, each party has to find its space instead of aping AAP.

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