The astonishing rise and equally calamitous fall of India’s Aam Admi Party (AAP) in recent months has been the subject of diminishing conversation, in inverse proportion, to the incredible hype that surrounds the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi.
Since AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal abandoned the ‘maidan-e-jung’, that was Delhi ostensibly, because he couldn’t get his beloved Lokpal Bill, or a Bill for a national Ombudsman, passed during his 49 days in power in the Indian capital this January, the spirit seems to have somewhat ebbed from the party. Or, to put it another way, there is so much more criticism about the AAP’s politics, strategies and personalities in the media these days that Kejriwal himself has taken to taunting the messenger, accusing it openly of a pro-Modi bias and promising it a comeuppance sooner than later.
Kejriwal’s accusations must be examined carefully, despite the fact that he has only made them after falling relatively out of favour with the media. When the honeymoon was on, neither side could do anything wrong. The media basked in the glow of a self-determined campaign for the so-called truth, while Kejriwal and the AAP wiped the floor with former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit and the Congress party.
Interestingly, the AAP had already given tickets to fight the elections to interesting people who have made a name for themselves in ‘trying to change the system’. There is Medha Patkar, who has fought against big dams all her life, especially the Narmadasagar Dam in Gujarat, now fighting from Mumbai on an AAP ticket. Soni Sori, who was raped and beaten by security forces in Chhatisgarh for protesting against the pro-state vigilante armies crushing tribal activists, is contesting on an AAP ticket from Bastar, in the heart of tribal India. Meanwhile, Dayamani Barla, tribal rights activist from Jharkhand, who spent 69 days in jail for leading a tribal protest, is also in the electoral fray on an AAP ticket. In East Delhi, none other than Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma and the author of several history books, is contesting on an AAP ticket.
Certainly, the AAP will win a few seats here and there; the truth is that it has been hurt very badly by its whimsical decision to abandon Delhi, thereby exposing the fickleness of its political determination. In contrast, Narendra Modi is being manoeuvred onto centre stage by an enormous media campaign across radio, print and television in all the 14 official Indian languages that is, naturally, being underwritten by Big Business.
Modi, Modi, Modi. Har Har Mahadev/Har Har Modi. The Modifesto instead of the BJP Manifesto. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the mother-lode from which spring outfits like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal as well as the BJP, is believed to be charting out the campaign trail for Modi for the remainder of this election.
Kejriwal says he will do to Varanasi what he did to Delhi, which is unleash its energies. He points out, not wrongly, that if Modi wins both from Varanasi and Vadodara, his seat in Gujarat, he will abandon Varanasi for his home state. Then what will the people of Varanasi do? But the argument isn’t enough to derail the Modi juggernaut.
Enter Ajay Rai, a former muscleman or ‘bahubali’ who has also been a member of several political parties in the past, including the Samajwadi Party and the BJP itself, the latter not once but thrice. He will now fight for the Congress, under the blessings of none other than ‘Beti Priyanka,’ as the rest of Uttar Pradesh refers to Sonia Gandhi’s daughter and Rahul’s sister.
The battle royale is hotting up. The mistake would be to hang everything on the Varanasi contest. On the other hand, however much you would wish it otherwise, neither the AAP nor the pro-Dalit party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, are likely to displace the larger-than-life presence of Narendra Modi across the Indian chessboard.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2014.
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