Why AAP is bouncing back and Congress faltering
After the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) success in the 2013 Delhi elections, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi had said that there was much to learn from the greenhorn outfit and that his party would do so “in a way you cannot imagine”. More than a year later, when AAP is again expected to fare well in Delhi, there is no sign that the Congress has learnt any lessons.
AAP’s resurgence is all the more surprising because the party went into a decline after its ill-thought resignation from office. The reason for the decline was the party’s misreading of its earlier mandate in Delhi. Consequently, out of the 400-odd parliamentary seats it fought, AAP won only four. In Delhi, the party lost all seven Lok Sabha constituencies to the BJP. AAP suffered other setbacks too, including desertion of some prominent party members from its ranks. After a period of recovery and introspection, the party returned to the battlefield all guns blazing, while the Congress remains in a stupor. The reason behind the recovery of a relative newcomer and the 130-year-old party’s moribund state tells us something about the factors that determine political fortunes.
The obvious difference between the new kid/political entity on the block and the elderly uncle is public perception. While the young entity possesses certain freshness, which evokes a willingness to give him a second chance, notwithstanding the missteps, the grey-haired political contender’s jaded look compounds a rather dismal record of sleaze and non-performance in office.
At the centre of these disparate images is the art of communication. AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal has proved to be a master of effective interaction with the masses. Arguably, he is helped by the fact that his image is still untainted by failures in governance.
Its 49 days in office may take some of the sheen off the rhetoric. For the present, however, it can take advantage of its untested reputation, since it has not yet had the time to renege on its promises. As such, voters are prepared to place their trust in them for the time being.
The century-old party, however, is a poor communicator. While Congress President Sonia Gandhi remains a reader rather than a leader, her second-in-command Rahul gives an impression of being a dilettante, who is just going through the motions. He does not have that “fire in the belly”, as former Congressman Natwar Singh said in his autobiography.
The Congress lacks fresh ideas. Its image in the public mind is of a party with a Soviet-style statist approach to politics with little scope for individual enterprise. It suffers as a result, in comparison with both the AAP and BJP. While the former flaunts its intention to remould the system by weeding out vested interests from politics, the bureaucracy and the private sector, the BJP is bent on unleashing what Manmohan Singh once called the “animal spirits” of the entrepreneurial class, in order to breathe new life into the economy.
Both these approaches have their appeal, though not always to the same section of the populace. AAP’s combative attitude towards the establishment, ensconced in a gated world immune to the travails of the common man, is appreciated by the underprivileged, who are at the receiving end of an insensitive and condescending officialdom.
The party’s purported honesty had also held appeal among the better-off segments till Narendra Modi was able to successfully woo them with the promise of a buoyant economy.
AAP also has the knack of grabbing eyeballs, which is an asset in the time of 24x7 news channels. Earlier, it did so by levelling allegations of corruption against the bigwigs, whether it were politicians or industrialists, much in the manner of what RK Karanjia’s sensationalist tabloid, Blitz, did in the 1960s and ‘70s. Like the latter, AAP occasionally faces defamation cases, but apparently believes that the publicity it generates is adequate compensation.
Now its gimmicks involve cautioning the Election Commission about the possibility of the BJP tampering with the electronic voting machines or inviting the Modi-led government to arrest Kejriwal if the charges of money laundering against AAP are true.
There is little doubt that such belligerence has put the BJP on the defensive. Compared to the virtual cakewalk the BJP had in last year’s parliamentary polls, AAP’s insolence and pugnacity have tended to put the ruling party off balance.
There is a saying that when elephants fight, the grass gets trampled. The Congress is proving to be somewhat like the grass in this context.