This post has been a long time pending in my drafts. It is time to post this or will be too late as Dec 4 Delhi elections are fast approaching.
Whenever friends have asked me about Aam Aadmi Party, I’ve remained ambiguous, evasive, and changed topics at the first available opportunity. The reason for not taking a firm stand on AAP is that I couldn’t make up my mind. While their foremost agenda of anti-corruption is mind-numbingly seductive, I was still trying to evaluate their vote-grabbing methods. I have some clarity now after having observed the various political moves of Kejriwal and co. over the last two months.
Before I go into great depth, let me share some anecdotal reference points, all from the last month or so:
- Rushing to the defense of Tehelka:
- Calling Anna’s Jan Lokpal movement a “Hindu-majority movement”: https://twitter.com/shagilg/status/405696568558239744/
“After Anna Hazare‘s movement it was very important for the party to come out of the shadows of the Jan Lokpal movement. It was a Hindu majority movement because of Anna. After forming the party it was a major work for Arvind to reach out to Muslims,” says Yadav. “He distributed a public letter among the Muslim voters in Delhi and that letter is the reason that we got the Election Commission notice for addressing communal and religious issues.”
- Claiming to have found nothing about the credentials of a Maulana he met “accidentally” for 2 hours solely for votes:
- Throwing out fancy numbers without any legal backing in order to defame opponents:
- Using intemperate language, with no action being taken despite the moral leadership:
- Being economical with truth to exaggerate self-credentials and holier-than-thou attitude:
And none of the above examples have anything to do with the recent MediaSarkar sting operation involving AAP leaders Shazia Ilmi and Kumar Vishwas. I believe sting ops are a unhealthy trend for democracy, endanger free media, destroy ethical investigative journalism, and have written that here: https://vikrams3.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/paid-media-and-sting-operations/
So it is not the sting op (that AAP supposedly gloated EC gave a clean chit when EC shot that claim down) that has influenced me to think negatively about AAP. Agree, these could be just one-off examples, and they don’t reflect AAP’s ideology or governing principle. But my fear is that I see a pattern here that I cannot ignore. I have made an honest effort observing every move of Kejriwal and his other leaders. My verdict: they do not inspire confidence in me to take the country, even Delhi, forward. Their cause of anti-corruption is healthy and relevant, but their means of:
- using votebank appeasement tactics, and addressing voters’ concerns by their religion and caste (e.g. issuing community-specific appeals, forming religious and caste-based associations, raising doubts in the minds of a community about a courageous martyr police officer against a court verdict etc.)
- sanctimonious posture that everyone not with them is a crook (e.g. blatant disregard to the facts about prevention of corruption among public officials at the lowest levels in Gujarat just to posture as anti-BJP)
- blatant disrespect for judiciary: leveling random allegations against political opponents without showing any evidence or pursuing cases legally (e.g. whatever happened to Nitin Gadkari whose image was tarnished to counterbalance allegations against Robert Vadra so as to pose as equidistant from Congress and BJP)
- stealing credit undeservedly for achievements and sacrifice of others, e.g.:
– Dr. Subramanian Swamy who fought 2G cases in SC and sent DMK leaders and crony businessmen to jail was served a round of invectives
– IAS Ashok Khemka who is moving from pillar to post for having exposed Vadra land deals wasn’t acknowledged
– Baba Ramdev who brought black money economy to national attention was called names
– Anna Hazare whose fasts led to a revolution that is AAP today was snubbed
– made a guest appearance at anti-rape protests in Delhi to steal the thunder from what was a spontaneous unorganized agitation
– BJP leadership of Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj who stood every which way to the sentiment of Jan Lokpal during those passionate debates in Lok Sabha were tagged with Congress! (more on that below) etc.
- resort to tactics such as sting ops / wiretapping when convenient to accuse political rivals (e.g. Prashant Bhushan appearing in press conference with Cobrapost)
The above points give me a break. The most-credible leaders in IAC movement such as Ms. Kiran Bedi, Gen. VK Singh, Justice Santosh Hegde, and Anna Hazare disassociated themselves from AAP as soon as it went political, for unknown reasons. Even if they didn’t want to enter politics, the least they could do was to endorse the credentials of AAP which they never did. At that time, I thought it was incidental, but as I open my eyes to the above facts, their reasoning for staying away is becoming apparent.
I recently came across Ms. Kiran Bedi’s rationale for staying away as early as Aug 2012 when AAP was in infancy. She expressed disappointment in Kejriwal for unfairly bracketing BJP leadership with Congress with an eye on winning elections. I find it worthwhile to quote the article in full.
The aggression of India Against Corruption (IAC) towards the BJP, which was always a “Lokpal ally”, could be linked to compulsions of electoral politics, Kiran Bedi has said.
Pointing out that senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley had shared stage with the IAC during Anna Hazare’s Jantar Mantar fast last December, Bedi told The Indian Express that the organisation’s attacks on the BJP may be linked to its transformation “from a political movement to a political formation” and its pursuit of votes.
Bedi has made her differences over the matter clear, staying away from the protest called by Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday that targeted both the UPA government and BJP.
“I do not know if he (Kejriwal) is doing that (vote bank politics). All I know is that this is what happens when you are trying to appear more neutral than the others. Electoral politics can take you towards competitive politics alongside espousing causes,” Bedi said.
One of the key members of the erstwhile Team Anna — now disbanded by Hazare, who has expressed reservations over the IAC’s decision to enter politics — Bedi said they had found BJP most supportive during their Lokpal campaign.
“When we went to meet political parties after the joint drafting committee (was formed on the Lokpall Bill), the BJP and Left were by far the most receptive. I am still wondering how and when they deserved to be bracketed with the party in power,” she said.
In her statement on Sunday, Bedi had named L K Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari apart from Jaitley as being among the leaders amenable to the IAC’s point of view on Lokpal. On Monday she tweeted:
“Instead of bracketing all in Coalgate, demonstration of yester(day) should have been for PM’s resignation! He has breached trust national trust!”
I am not picking on AAP. Any political party will have ups and downs, good guys and bad guys, strengths and weaknesses. The grace of a political party lies in not just gloating about its self-proclaimed superiority, but also in admitting, countering, and ultimately conquering its ugly underbelly. What makes AAP different is that the leaders claim almost arrogantly that they are the only good guys around. That leads to more scrutiny deservedly so.
The best historical example of Indians consciously evaluating the “staying power” of a party before putting it in-charge of the affairs of the country remains BJP. Its earlier avatar Jan Sangh was formed in 1951 to counter the socialist and outwardly divisive attitude of Congress party. Jan Sangh leaders passionately argued for private enterprise, small government, countered corruption of the ruling party, stood with Indira Gandhi during 1971, aggressively took her on during emergency, and periodically brought to light atrocities inflicted upon silent communities across India. It was nearly 30 years after the formation of Jan Sangh that it first tasted power post-emergency, albeit briefly. It took another 20 long years before Atal Bihari Vajpayee could become PM.
I hope Delhi citizens can try out AAP as an opposition party for 5 years, and evaluate their “staying power” in politics. It is too risky to evaluate their “staying power” by putting them in power right now. If AAP does stay its course especially on moral grounds (that includes not aligning with Congress come-what-may, and not becoming another avatar of Congress-style secularism like SP, BSP, JDU, DMK, the signs of which are already sprouting unfortunately), AAP would deserve to rule not just Delhi but many more states and even the country.
For those who genuinely believe in the change AAP is promising, sorry for the disapproving words about AAP’s tactics. I do support their cause to cleanse Indian politics, which I think unites us in spirit if not in letter.
Good luck to AAP, and more so to “Aam Aadmi” and “Aam Aurat” of Delhi, before the D-Day on Dec 4!