When a ‘no one’ became someone

‘He came, he saw, he conquered.’ Such proverbial expressions rarely come true. But this time people realised the aptness of this timeless expression when a ‘no one’ to the Indian politics – Arvind Kejariwal, became ‘someone’ to reckon with. The debut of this newcomer into the murky Indian politics is more melodramatic than commonly experienced. Surely to form the government Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party have neither the numbers nor the mandate to align with those they denounced as corrupt and insincere. But, in a unique spectacle of a maturing democracy the ideological correctness has become a heavy counter-weight to the slimy number game. Considering their maiden foray into electoral politics people may not have given absolute majority to AAP to form a government; but they have not given the mandate to BJP or Congress either to come in their way of fighting corruption, put political propriety in place and give people a government which is for the aam aadmi.

One is reminded of a famous poetic line doing rounds during the JP movement of the seventies: Ek aadmi ne utha rakha hai aam aadmi ka sawal (a lone man is championing the cause of the common man). It was a tribute to the grand old man Jay Prakash Narayan. Four decades later, it seems to have become relevant once again. Corruption was at the top of the agenda of JP movement too which was directed against the Congress [mis] rule. ‘Total revolution’ was one of its main objectives. However, the total outcome of that utopian total revolution was only the routing of Congress from power for some time, not elimination of corruption from politics and high places as much.

Ironically, very soon those who boasted of carrying JP’s mantel of total revolution in Bihar, UP and elsewhere, were found in the thick of corruption charges. Corruption in the post-liberalisation era is now much bigger in terms of scale and ambit of operation. The common man is aghast, perplexed and hit even harder than before. So in the fight against corruption if AAP has given some hope, this hope must be given a chance.

Surely cleansing the rot is a tough call for the political parties which over the years have become the victim of their own devious and dubious politics. It needed a new experiment by a new formation from outside the political domain; a more credible, more convincing and more approachable one to the common man, and there Kejariwal’s people-centric experiment succeeded.

While the Congress remained obsessed with proving BJP and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi downright communal and fascist, BJP spent its entire energy in the campaign of creating a Congress-free India. Both grossly overlooked the common man’s simple agenda of good, corruption free, people friendly and approachable governance. So when both Congress and BJP were concentrating on huge electoral catchments through rallies, Kejariwal and his team was engaging the common man one on one. The biggies had forgotten the basics of mass politics and paid for it. No doubt, it’s also a victory of the politics of mass contact over the politics through mass media.

Despite the surmounting appeal of Narendra Modi who has emerged from a regional to a national leader and political icon, known for his firmness, administrative acumen and enviable record of development, BJP couldn’t contain the appeal of AAP. Perhaps there are subtle messages that BJP should take home. Unlike Kejariwal, Narendra Modi in his present avatar now carries an aura which can mesmerise people but it also makes him somewhat inaccessible to a common man. He’s not an approachable next door Swayamsevak anymore. Rahul is yet to articulate his vision for the nation and development. Modi sells the dream of development but doesn’t show the roadmap to ensure how its benefits can reach the common man. The issue of development subsumes the basic process and etiquette of governance. And if corruption, nepotism, administrative inaccessibility, display of power and arrogance, flashing red beacons (lal batti), SPG cover, Z Plus security etc. become painful reminder of the ever rising distance between the common man and the government, it’s time for the political class to get rid of them. So far Kejariwal doesn’t carry the aura of Rahul Gandhi, Sheila Dikshit, Narendra Modi or their like. So he gels with the common man and empathises with their common mundane concerns – water, electricity, corruption to name a few.

To remain with the common man, he decides to shun all the symbols of power, authority and privileges which have added to his popularity. Such symbolic gestures are expected to put a heavy pressure on his rivals in different political parties and perhaps force them rethink the purpose and propriety of being in public life. After all, real popularity in public life comes from accessibility and engagement not from distance and arrogance.

Iqubal the famous poet once described democracy in his oft quoted couplet: jamhooriyat ek tarje hukumat hai jismein insan ko ginte hain, taula nahin karte (democracy is a form of government in which we count the number of people, we don’t weigh their worth).

We liked his practical wisdom. But with this new experience we’re now inclined to think that in the democratic process sincerity of purpose and good intentions may at times outweigh the brutal force of number. Call it the AAP experience.

The author is an academic and socio-political commentator
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