Pros and cons of AAP’s rise
The first fallout of the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) spectacular victory in Delhi will be a renewed focus on sleaze in public life. This issue was the mainstay of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement, from where the AAP had emerged. Arvind Kejriwal built his reputation as a crusader against bribery and underhand deals.
Kejriwal is bound to fight the forces of corruption, since his party presented itself as an anti-graft entity. The Delhi chief minister must be aware that his successes in the winter of 2013-14 and 2015 has been the result of a belief among the aam aadmi (common people) that only Kejriwal has the courage of conviction in the political establishment to nail the guilty. Moreover, this belief is based on the real-life experience of ordinary people, who witnessed a decline in petty acts of corruption when Kejriwal was chief minister for those 49 days. By castigating corporate bigwigs, with a touch of insolence, Kejriwal showed that his party is not dependent on covert funding by big business.
Unsurprisingly, this positives virtue is a double-edged sword because the AAP intends to turn the existing system on its head. For example, the issue of party finance is fraught with the possibility of economic and political turmoil. There have been others like him too. VP Singh in the late 1980s advised the electorate not to vote for those members of his party, whose reputation was tainted by corruption.
The shortness Singh’s tenure as prime minister is a reminder to Kejriwal that he cannot be in too much of a hurry to mould the system in his image. A note of caution is all the more necessary because of his instinctive rebelliousness.
Kejriwal, however, is not willing to let sleeping dogs lie. He has once again raised the demand for full statehood. It is also obvious that once he becomes chief minister, Kejriwal will return to his earlier theme of providing free water and lower power tariffs. There is little doubt that all these measures will earn him plaudits from the underclass. The financial viability of these schemes, however, will have to be addressed by the AAP-led government.
It may be necessary to recall the Congress’ fate in the wake of its indulgence in reckless populism - subsidised food, virtual doles for rural labourers who built nothing substantial, and no examinations for students till Class VIII.
What that experiment showed was that people were not interested in freebies, in as much as a thriving economy which provides jobs. Considering that capitalism has won the battle against socialism, with a buoyant private sector becoming the engine of growth at the expense of the moribund public sector, Kejriwal will be making a mistake if he targets the business community in matters of electricity prices. His pugnacity in this respect was evident by acts of cutting power lines, when he was still an agitator, and his decision to cut rates without waiting for an audit of power companies.
The AAP’s impatience was also seen in the directives its 49-day government gave to the police. One of its ministers asked the police to act against suspected immoral activities in an area with a sizeable African presence. To avoid such pitfalls, the new ruling party’s first objective will have to be to ascertain what can be achieved without turning over the apple cart. It need not be afraid that its decision to hasten slowly will be interpreted as temporising. The average voter is perceptive enough to understand the AAP’s circumspection.
It is also possible that once the AAP demonstrates that it intends to reform the system and not uproot it, other parties will join its efforts, albeit reluctantly. The business class may also respond by being more transparent and less profit-minded. The party will be aided in this exercise by the fact that corporate houses will not have to make under-the-table payments to politicians, at least not as much as before.
From such cooperation with others in the political field, the AAP has a great opportunity to translate its dream into reality. The party’s huge popularity cannot but compel other parties and the corporate sector to accede to its game plan. One can only hope that the AAP will not throw it all away by its intemperance and self-righteousness.