Political Speak: Besides AAP & Delhi….

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a new entrant and yet another political party in the vibrant Indian Democracy got a rousing welcome from Delhi’s electorate in the recently declared results. AAP clocked 28 Seats of the 70 member legislative assembly. Delhi’s electorate delivered an encouraging verdict to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with a tally of 32 seats as it emerged as the single largest party (although short of 4 seats to make a simple majority in the assembly & form it’s Government). Effectively, 60%+ (of 66% registered voters who turned up to vote on December 4, 2013) voted for AAP and BJP! The incumbent government of Congress Party received about 24% of Delhi’s votes although it could only manage 8 seats. I was going through some high level statistics of elections in India and it presented an underlying inference that electorate is capable of identifying goodness in all political parties. For example, in Delhi, while BJP lead with 32 of 70 seats and 33.3% votes, AAP came second with 28 of 70 seats and 29.7% votes. Congress which only mustered 8 of 70 seats also got 24.7% votes. I presume this is pretty much the case in most (if not all) elections. And I make this particular reference to a plausible underlying inference from elections (vote share %) for a reason. Let’s get to that in a little while. A question for commentators or even political party strategists and for media is to make more sense of these vote shares. That’s an opportunity that awaits those of us who are curious to make sense of seemingly regular and random occurrences in general.

The success of AAP party in its first ever election has been much discussed, seemingly endlessly, in the media. Maybe, it truly deserves. Perhaps, someday, some of these seasoned journalists and commentators could reflect and let the larger world know the reasons for which they felt it deserves to be so discussed. Delhi is a city/Union Territory and assumes importance as India’s capital. Almost all national TV and Print News companies have their head-office in New Delhi and this surely makes Delhi a tad more important in priority. If you want to share if there are any other winners in elections who may have upset established candidates or parties, feel free to fill the details. I will be glad to collate it and publish them all sometime soon.

Let me draw you to a similar performance by a new entrant to the political scene – AINR Congress of Puducherry (Union Territory) a few years ago. This new party emerged as top party decimating other established political parties in its first ever election (in fact, AINR Congress party contested the elections just about 2 months after it was formed) (see How NR Congress stole the show in Puducherry). The incumbent Chief Minister of Puducherry is the founder-President of AINR Congress; he has been active in the established political system till he founded a new party just as AAP’ rank and file were with established peoples’ movements till they joined together to float a political party. In the interest of balanced discourse, it warrants to point out that AINR Congress in Puducherry is a little different in the sense that Mr. Rangasamy who split from Congress Party had proven credentials in politics of governance. He was an ex-CM and people cutting across all segments seem to unequivocally endorse the fact that he did use the power in ways which impressed Puducherry’s electorate. One similarity though is that both the victories can be attributed to one-man… the Leader. Just as AAP in Delhi, AINR Congress in Puducherry too fielded many first time candidates who took on established parties and individuals. Is it because Puducherry happened to be a tiny beach-town in South India (far-away from Delhi), it did not deserve to be highlighted as much in the media? No qualms whatsoever! This is just an attempt to put this in perspective and on-record. I am sure, in this large democracy (per EC’s List of Political Parties and Election Symbols main notification dated 18 January 2013  there are 6 National Parties, 54 State parties, 1392 Registered unrecognized parties!) there are many examples of new entrant candidates and parties taking on established candidates and parties successfully. Each such instance is a source of an interesting lesson on the state of political symphony in India – often a tryst between sentiment, chemistry and arithmetic.

Mr. Arvind Kejriwal along with other members of Team Anna did instill confidence. It seemed like the version of idealism and genuine goodness postulated and professed by the team stood a chance of success in public life and politics in general. And then it came to changing the way politics is practiced – Lets review that dispassionately – AAP also played its politics with a rally taking off from a protest strike , gained popularity by campaigning while burning  electricity bills; promised the sky to ordinary citizens on the street and retracted from a promise on twitter; made sweeping allegations while itself standing on a different plane avoiding the nature of scrutiny and the sort of conduct in light of allegations they expect from others. A comparative poll promises made by political parties gives some insight. Just as any election campaign attempts, the central idea was to sell a hope – one that is comparatively better than those of others contestants by evoking emotions (preferably using accurate and non misleading information). Hope is a powerful virtue and concept. Selling hope wrapped in an idea got commoditized in this election season just as in any election. And it is not to say that it is necessarily wrong; merely a leveler. Every political party aspires and attempts the same. So in that sense, AAP or BJP or INC or any other political party are same. That to me is the under-rated power of a vibrant democracy. A matter that deserves to be reinforced here is that when we want to succeed, I think the journey towards such a success is far more important than the destination itself. At the point of accomplishment, at the milestone, it is the journey that people remember and talk about. It’s the journey that determines how one responds to success. And in this journey that AAP has embarked upon, it seems the road has been no different from that of any other political parties’. We need to see how it goes on from here-on because a lot has been spoken about desired change. Now is the time to show it in action terms.

In that sense, while Team Anna  (including Mr. Arvind Kejriwal & others) were really impressive with the honest, fact-driven (no incoherent ideas or questionable actions) and unflinching openness in the way they approached (examples of testimonial efforts being: prompt reportage of discussions with Government representatives, plans, decisions taken, and reasons for these decisions), I found it diametrically opposite to see AAP’s Mr. Kejriwal make strange allegations on biased media coverage. In spite of all that the media (print or electronic) facilitated for him and his party, making this comment on the eve of elections seemed to be in bad taste and manipulative. It was a specific allegation that 1400 Crore rupees were made available to all or some news outlets (not sure by whom) to paint AAP in negative light just before the Delhi elections (read Rs. 1,400 crore given to media houses to defame us, says Arvind Kejriwal). Now, if this allegation is to be taken seriously, someone can turn around to question (and raise doubts on) the current platitudes the media is painting for AAP as well, no? AAP promised new political culture, remember!

AAP has positioned itself as a party for New India. The single point agenda that it is associated with so far is corruption-free governance. There is no denial that AAP took advantage of and leveraged hugely successful nationwide campaign movement led by the 75 year old crusader and social reformer Shri Anna Hazare. Anna ji for the first time galvanised country’s citizenry against corruption like no one could ever imagine. The effective use of Information & Communication Technologies, Social Media and the conventional print / electronic media  coverage led to popularizing the campaign across the country as well as among Indians and observers  worldwide.  My personal favorite take-away from the way the campaign emerged was that everyone stopped and took notice of the power of Social Media  and Internet. It also reiterated that funding  for events that show potential to go all the distance was available. It opened up the possibility of depending on people who seemed to be open to volunteer and contribute to what they believed was an  evident issue that impacts or impacted their lives . I am reminded of an article in The Economist (read The new middle classes rise up) that goes about deciphering the underlying causes and success factors of such movements witnessed across the world concurrently.

One of the endearing factors that appealed to cross section of population across the country was that ANNA’s protest was strictly apolitical. So much so, that even representatives of political parties were rudely shunted out to avoid the possibility of the platform being appropriated by ‘shrewd’ politicians. A lot many other adjectives suffixed, prefixed and qualified politicians in general first (perhaps) by those on stage and applauded by those off it. This public anger against politicians may have been to a great extent ingenious and to some extent manufactured. But, it seemed that it was the right thing to do! So, that ensured the platform of was solely meant for Anna and his close team members and notably respected members of the society. Some of these notably respected members may have now either moved away from actively engaging with Annaji or Mr. Kejriwal; some stayed with Annaji; some with Mr. Kejriwal’s political outfit (more on this from wiki).

The question that now begs attention and an answer are as follows:

  • Post election, in an interview Mr. Arvind Kejriwal indicated that there were deplorable tactics adopted by political parties to scuttle his emergence. He also got the anchor / interviewer join ranks with him indicating that even the anchor is aware of such things having been imposed on AAP by other political parties. (The said interview’s edited version is available here. The live unedited version was streamed on TV). Now, in the interest of corruption-free governance, transparent system thinking and openness, can we beg of the political leader and concerned TV media person to disclose what these were and who were responsible, etc? Otherwise, it would be a loosely un-contested narrative to paint rest of all political parties and members in negative light.
  • Election data suggests that even in those constituencies where AAP and BJP have won, some were comfortable victories while some were rather thin margin wins. Now, given this, should not AAP and BJP both bow to people’s verdict and desist from unwarranted comments such as ‘all parties are corrupt’, etc? More so, AAP which now is as good or bad a political outfit as others and the only test of their goodness and greatness is people’s endorsement?
  • AAP’s argument for non-formation of Government: It is entirely in the domain of the political party and its highest decision making body to decide whether to go or not go with an alliance or support to another party. But as a party that respects people’s verdict, it must do so in a befitting manner. By saying both parties are corrupt, they are directly or otherwise alleging that people who have chosen them are hand-in-gloves with these so called ‘corrupt’,  ‘scheming’, ‘manipulative’ politicians. (Again, these qualifying terms / adjectives are drawn from the public utterances of AAP leaders). This is just not fair to those of whom who just cast their vote.
  • AAP will have to lead in realistic ways as to how they propose to bring about a system overhaul. The examples often flagged on (i) why behavior of general public is different when they are within Delhi’s Metro Stations as against outside on the road or (ii) why Indians abroad are well mannered and follow rules but may not do so when in India, etc have been spoken about for a long time now. Let me aid my suggestion with a straightforward question / example- Smoking in public places is an offence punishable under the Law . Still public smoking takes place at-large. Sometimes it is acted upon by the law enforcement agencies while many other Smokers ignore India’s public smoking ban.  What is AAP’s solution to this menace under its proposed overhauled system / governance culture? Having got the privilege to speak on topics relevant to general public from much privileged fora that’s made available to only selected few in the country (in mainstream media), it may be better for any political party including & particularly AAP to articulate tangible suggestions or solution approaches. Needless to reiterate that media will add desired value to the governance culture if specific questions are sought to be reflected upon & answered by those in position of seeing that Laws are implemented and enforced. Before someone thinks it is trivializing the issue, allow me a minute more – if today’s smokers are allowed to smoke in spite of laws and knowledge that public-smoking is an offence, such a behavior could get reinforced and stronger. Extend this behavior of non-conformity to much more painful areas such as abuse against women (including eve-teasing, stalking, etc). So, because AAP speaks so much about systems, processes and basic governance, I wanted to seek clarity of what they mean by this because at least so far I have not come across clear cut and tangible views or ideas. May be they have articulated them somewhere and I may have missed coming across them (in which case, I may be directed to such material).

Disclosure: I am politically non-aligned. I did support Anna’s India Against Corruption movement and find Mr. Kejriwal sensible and responsible. But I also would like to point out that some recent past utterances and inconsistent positions taken / adopted by Mr. Arvind Kejriwal and his party colleagues have caused doubts in their capacity, coherence and commitment. I respect and follow some of the leaders from across the political spectrum.

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