Millennium Post

Playing the cat and mouse game

Playing the cat and mouse game
As the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) continues to apply street-level tactics of activism to governance in both word and deed – calling Delhi’s Lt. Governor a Congress agent and threatening to go to ‘any extent’ to enact its version of the Lokpal law – the Congress must be watching with bated breath to see how long the fledgling party’s roller-coaster ride will last.

The 128-year-old party is well aware that the AAP’s capers can further erode the Congress’s already low credibility since it continues to support the ruling party in the Delhi assembly despite its antics. If the latter continues its threats to constitutional norms, then the Congress will have no option but to withdraw support.

However, fine calculations are involved in determining how long to prop up the AAP. The Congress probably wants to do so till as close to the general election as possible in the hope that the AAP will cut into the BJP’s base of  support. Yet, if the AAP’s unorthodoxy begins to put off its supporters, as seems to be the case already where the middle class and the intelligentsia, including some in the AAP’s own ranks, are concerned, then the Congress will have no option but to pull the plug.

However, the timing is crucial in this game of cat and mouse. The Congress cannot wait too long in case the AAP damages its own prospects so much that it will no longer pose much of a threat to the BJP. Obviously, such calculations where the AAP will undermine the BJP just enough to frustrate Narendra Modi’s prospects, but not strangle its own self, are an extremely difficult exercise.

Besides, the Congress cannot act in haste lest it is seen to have been unnerved by the AAP’s pursuit of the Jan Lokpal bill and its unconventional methods such as asking all citizens to turn into informers via their mobiles. If the Arvind Kejriwal government falls because of the Congress’s withdrawal of support, then the AAP can tell the electorate before the next election that the Congress did not want the Lokpal law to be enacted.

There is one aspect, however, about which the Congress can feel reassured. It is that the AAP is not expected to pose a long-term threat, as it feared in the days immediately after the announcement of the Delhi election results in early December. At that time, the belief was that the AAP will not only demolish the Congress in Delhi with some help from the BJP, but it will also make considerable inroads into its support base in neighbouring states like Haryana and U.P. and even in states with large urban constituencies such as Maharashtra.

Now, however, it is clear that the AAP’s aggressive populism and disregard for the rulebook along with a stubborn refusal to take account of the intricacies of technical issues like power generation have stalled its forward march. It still has supporters among the disadvantaged sections which have long been at the receiving end of police high-handedness and bureaucratic apathy.

But, the backing of the subalterns alone will not enable it to achieve the kind of spectacular results which it did in Delhi by reducing the Congress to the position of an ‘also ran’. The Delhi outcome was largely due to the widespread support the AAP received from the middle class, which has been the mainstay of the anti-corruption plank till the time of Anna Hazare’s campaign.

This support may enable the AAP to enter parliament, but given the slowly spreading disillusionment among the middle class, it can only be expected to win 20-odd seats in the Lok Sabha. It will thereby join the ranks of the regional parties, whose main contribution to the national scene is to add to the political confusion on the national scene without their so-called Third Front coalescing into a real alternative to the Congress and the BJP. The AAP’s entry into the motley group carries the possibility of making it even more wobbly because its holier-than-thou attitude will make it look down on parties like the Samajwadi Party and Trinamool Congress which have a reputation for harbouring anti-social elements. To be fair, the AAP has remained relatively taint-free in this respect notwithstanding its propensity for vigilantism.

Even then, the party is likely to continue being an oddball because of its left-of-centre economics and right-of-centre sociology, which makes it regard the Taliban-style diktats of the khap panchayats as being influenced by local sentiments. The AAP’s expected debut in Haryana politics is evidently behind its soft approach towards the Jat-dominated local bodies. What this tactic shows is that it is learning the values of vote banks.

Since the Congress is at present too demoralised to gain from the AAP’s missteps, the main beneficiary in Delhi and elsewhere will be the BJP with its present focus on development rather than on Hindutva. It will also have the muscle and decibel strength provided by the RSS cadres at its service.

IPA
Amulya Ganguli

Amulya Ganguli

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