Time for AAP’s obituary ?

On The spot
Tavleen Singh

The Aam Aadmi Party gave signs this week that it is in meltdown. So is it time to write its obituary? Can we safely say that our newest political party is in serious danger of not surviving till the next general election? Well, as someone who has long said that AAP was a political phenomenon that was created almost entirely by our numerous and very noisy television news channels I am ready to stick my neck out and say that the party is over for Arvind Kejriwal and his band of NGO activists unless they make serious efforts to reinvent AAP as a real political party.
In Benares on the day Narendra Modi came to file his nomination papers Kejriwal first sulked silently under a banyan tree on the Assi Ghat to protest against something nobody remembers any more and then made possibly the most interesting remark he made throughout his campaign. It went unnoticed so I need to remind you what this remark was. When he broke his sulky silence (maun vrat) to speak to the nearest cameras – and there always were cameras where he went – he said that Modi was wrongly making a fuss about not being allowed to go and perform Ganga puja. ‘I have been many times,’ he said ‘and done puja to the Ganga so he could have gone too. But, the reason why the BJP is making such a drama is because they want media attention all day.’
Coming from the master of media attention I found the comment both interesting and amusing. In his short career as a political leader Kejriwal has shown skills at getting media attention that older and more skilled politicians have not begun to understand. His ability to attract media attention was evident right from those early days of Anna Hazare’s hunger strike in Jantar Mantar.  Television channels sensed from day one that an aged social activist fasting to protest against corruption could turn into a TRP bonanza. So from that first warm April morning two years ago when Anna Hazare’s first hunger strike began famous anchors showed up to interview Hazare. It was rumoured that the idea for the hunger strike came from Kejriwal and that he was only using Hazare.
In the next few days it was as if whole studios shifted to Jantar Mantar to conduct their evening panel discussions from Anna’s prone form lying on a white mattress on a makeshift stage. It was because of this publicity blitzkrieg that well-meaning crusaders against corruption started turning up in support of Hazare. In the shortest time people in distant cities were wearing ‘I am Anna’ caps and protesting in the streets so when the government did him the favour of arresting him and sending him to Tihar the protests turned into a revolution.
Kejriwal learned important lessons from this and used them with remarkable skill when he became a politician.  He has been so good at manipulating national networks that jokes abound about how he never sneezes or coughs without first ensuring that there are a few cameras in attendance. He did not have try hard either because not only were our national TV channels more than happy to oblige but in every channel there were journalists who became activists. Some gave up journalism to join AAP.
On that morning last December when results from Delhi indicated that Kejriwal was in a position to become chief minister there was open jubilation on national television. Some anchors became openly partisan and began to speak of  AAP as a political phenomenon. Kejriwal may have been misled by this and could be why he gave up being chief minister to try for bigger things. Hubris led him to contest more than 400 seats. The reason why he could be on his way to history’s garbage was hubris.  He began to believe in the larger than reality image of himself that was projected by national TV reporters.  So much larger than reality that on the day the results of the general election came his picture was right up there next to Modi and Rahul Gandhi.
Kejriwal forgot that he was meant to lead a new kind of political party. Instead of offering radical new policies all that he offered economically were policies that the Congress Party has followed for decades. Politically the only difference he offered was a promise that he would be less tolerant about corruption than other political parties. This claim began to sound hollow when he refused to move out of the government bungalow he continues to occupy in Lutyens Delhi. He claims that supporters pay the rent of Rs 80,000 a month but overlooks the fact that market prices for a huge bungalow on Tilak Marg are ten times that amount. Why has he never spoken up against the practice of using taxpayers money to house elected representatives in luxury in a country that cannot build enough houses for its less privileged citizens?
Now that Kejriwal has time on his hands he should reflect on this question and on many, many others. If he wants to remain in politics he must learn that it is a different business completely to political activism. He must learn that he has to find alternate solutions to India’s vast and tragic problems if he wants to be seen as a different kind of political leader.  He must learn that nothing kills political leaders more certainly than hubris. Under the façade of humility that he affects there have often been signs of a man who fell in love with his own image and if that is not hubris it is hard to think what is. Much responsibility for Kejriwal’s delusions lies with the TV reporters who followed him everywhere so assiduously and reported his speeches and statements as assiduously as they demonized the man who today is India’s Prime Minister despite their best efforts to ensure that this did not happen. The lesson from all this is that television today has the power in India to create political leaders out of hot air for a brief moment but in the end people decide the kind of leaders they want based on what they believe those leaders have done on the ground. By abandoning the voters of Delhi Kejriwal made a mistake that may have ended his political career for good. He ran away from governing Delhi, people said during the campaign, and that means he will not be able to govern India.



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