Millennium Post

Path of power is full of thorns

It may be recalled that 1967 was the year when the Congress suffered  major jolts as power passed into the hands of its opponents – the Left in West Bengal and Kerala and the Samyukta Vidhayak Dals (SVD) in UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.

Like the AAP at present, the communists who became the rulers in West Bengal were novices in the game of politics. However, they were propelled into power by the widespread dissatisfaction with the Congress which, then as now, was seen as corrupt and indifferent to the plight of the poor.

The communists, in contrast, were perceived as knights in shining armour – as the AAP leaders are regarded now – steeped in idealism and personal integrity. Not surprisingly, just as the AAP has been hesitant about living in large houses and riding official cars, the newly-elected ministers in West Bengal in 1967 decided to dispense with air-conditioners in their Writers Building offices because they symbolised luxury.

In a way, they were in their political adolescence, imbued with a romantic notion of representing the ordinary people and engaged in transforming the decaying system for their benefit. There is little doubt that to many in the state at the time – both sympathisers and critics of the Left – their entry into the corridors of power was seen as the harbinger of a new dawn. The patrician demeanour of Jyoti Basu made him a widely admired figure just as Arvind Kejriwal is a hero today with his common touch. However, few would have guessed in 1967 that when Basu would retire in the year 2000, his name, meaning light, would be mockingly referred to during power cuts and that, in another decade, the Left would be unceremoniously thrown out of power. Moreover, the Congress would return in a new avatar.

It is too early to say whether the AAP will experience similar ups and downs. But, the impermanence of high-mindedness is a matter of empirical evidence. Virtually all the parties have been victims of a slide down the greasy pole with many of their leaders earning infamy for their venality and even criminality.

The reasons for the decline are known. While the trappings of office lead to personal expenditure exceeding legitimate earnings, thereby forcing a recourse to black money, the ever expanding requirement for party funds necessitate the pursuit of a similar route to augment incomes. The so-called moneybags, the less scrupulous among businessmen, are also ever ready to be of help in the hope that the ruling politicians will turn a blind eye to any cutting of corners during project implementations.

How long the AAP can avoid these pitfalls cannot be anticipated, but the way in which it is expanding carries warning signs. The fact that a party which is seen to have a bright future will attract many to join it is understandable. It is also possible that a sizeable number of the new entrants will be drawn by the party’s idealism and are idealistic themselves.

At the same time, many will also be fair weather friends who will expect to make hay while the sun is shining. That politics can lead to a quick accumulation of wealth has become such a part of general perception that a career in the profession can attract people like moths to a flame.

The AAP cannot but be aware of this downside of its popularity as more and more people flock to its banners. As a result, it isn’t only its nominees for the parliamentary and assembly elections who will have to be vetted with care, but also the thousands who will want to work for it during the campaigns. Since not all of them will be lily-white in character, the problem with the AAP’s emphasis on probity is that even a minor slip by some of them can give an opportunity to its adversaries to sneer at its sanctimoniousness. Yet, a flawless scrutiny of the applicants will be nearly impossible.

The AAP, therefore, has to find ways to avert the risk of going downhill as the Congress, the BJP, the communists and others have done.

A stain on its present pristine pure image is not its only problem. While uprightness is the party’s trademark where politics is concerned, there are signs that its economics is dicey with an emphasis on populism which ignores resource constraints. As long as utopians are at the helm, the party may convince itself that distributing largesse is the purpose of governance. But, the induction of well-known personalities from the banking, information technology, aviation and other sectors may lead to reality check about its methods. This, in turn, can lead to charges of deviation from ideals.

In time, the idealists will probably realise that their journey from the agitational mode under Anna Hazare to a spell of anarchism such as the tearing up of electricity bills and finally winning an election was the easy part.


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