It was just a few months ago when there was an air of everything having been settled. A corruption-ridden second-term government of Congress (I) was out of touch with the people’s issues and aspirations. And a “saviour” had descended from Gujarat –– whose public image was curated by his party’s slick PR machine to appear starkly different from Rahul Gandhi. It was but a matter of time. Much is still quite settled. But the air has cleared a bit and the saviour does not appear as divine anymore. The man from Gujarat still is way ahead in the battle. However, the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has ensured that at the end, the winner of the battle can claim political power, legislative power, administrative power and even the power to subvert habeas corpus and other things sacred to human dignity, but it cannot claim ethical and moral power with full-throated confidence.
Touted initially as an “electronic media creation” that would vanish as soon as the cameras turned elsewhere, the AAP has continued to punch way above its popular weight even after much of corporate media turned hostile overnight over the party’s decision to deny the Walmarts of the world to set up shop in Delhi. This party, which cannot claim numerical parity with either of the two behemoths of India’s political scene, has been able to go from strength to strength with these two in the game of political agenda-setting. This is partly due to the base it has been able to create for itself in crucial urban sectors that are close to the Hindi-Hindustan idiom and style. Anything Hindi-Hindustan centric is able to claim top slot in the “national” agenda –– such is the nature of politics in this republic. But that is not all. The AAP has been able to edge past its rivals in the universe of political morals and ethics by disclosing the hitherto undisclosable party-fund donor lists, naming the hitherto unnamable individuals and families who hold the political system in an unholy grip. The subcontinent has a special place for this sort of thing. Even if silenced by fear or state violence, people in the subcontinent have shown that they have respect for those who speak truth to power. Which is precisely why other agendas for respect garnering have to be generated –– “strong” leadership, teaching “them” a lesson and content-less slogans of the “India first” type. Such respect-generation is coupled with hope-production by false promises for job-creation and material prosperity that will be ushered in by the same corporates who help fund advertisements of the “strongman” in newspapers, TV channels, cell phones and websites.
Arvind Kejriwal, ex-chief minister of Delhi and AAP’s public face, will be challenging Narendrabhai Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat and BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, in Benares (Varanasi) in the 2014 parliamentary elections. This holy city, which is also the site of a mosque that Aurangzeb Alamgir built after destroying the erstwhile Vishwanath temple, is all set for a David versus Goliath battle. And Goliath will win. When Kejriwal entered Benares for his inaugural political rally, he was pelted with rotten eggs and black ink was thrown at him. The kickback that is given by the saviour’s favourite banias (caste) in exchange for mining rights, ports, agricultural lands, tax breaks, mega-subsidies and natural resources finds its way into the aviation fuel of the campaign helicopter, the liquor consumed by the black ink and egg throwers and the danda that holds the jhanda. Kejriwal is astute enough to know that the publicity from the Battle of Benares will help people know about the political agenda of a credible opposition to the BJP when the Congress (I) is in retreat. An atheist turned believer, he can publicly pull off a call upon non-sectarian divine powers to intervene on the side of the aam aadmi. Call them publicity stunts, call them what you will, but the egg and ink smeared-Kejriwal has ensured that in spite of a chhappan inch chest, immaculately clean dresses and Har Har chants, the winner this time cannot rise above the fray. The ironman may stand tall but his rusty core will not be hidden either. That is serious political currency for the AAP, which really is preparing for the election after the one in 2014.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2014.