For some observers of India’s newest political phenomenon, the events of the past week have only proved that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is an anarchist project. The reality is that India’s youngest political party is an amorphous project. The party, a big tent, has many heads and speaks in different voices. For now, it is a three-faced party.
It is the face of Somnath Bharti, anarchist and vigilante; the face of Captain Gopinath, the self-made Indian and modern free-marketer; the face of Yogendra Yadav, intellectual, sensible and pragmatic. AAP’s leadership, Messrs Kejriwal and his National Executive, must choose which face they want to adopt. Their choice could determine whether, in the years to come, AAP shines or fades away.
This week Arvind Kejriwal opted to don the mask (or should one say mantle) of Somnath Bharti, IIT graduate, lawyer and giant killer of Kiran Walia and Arti Mehra, two stalwart politicians of the Delhi Congress and BJP. Yes, Delhi’s Law Minister who led a mob against some hapless Ugandan women and tried to browbeat the Delhi Police – no masters of virtue themselves – into acting against the women without as much as a warrant. The same man who went to AIIMS to bully doctors. The very man who threatened to spit on the faces of Harish Salve and Arun Jaitley.
It was because the Union Home Ministry refused to suspend the cops who had ‘defied’ Bharti that Kejriwal took to Raisina Hill in a dangerous and unnecessary game of brinksmanship with the Delhi Police. Only the utterly naïve would believe that Kejriwal’s latest dharna was about gaining control of the Delhi Police; if indeed it was why did he give in with the concession of two police officers proceeding on leave?
The fact is that one section of AAP personified by Somnath Bharti genuinely believes only in a politics of vigilantism, blackmail and brinksmanship. In the end, such a politics will only create the same kind of cynicism as the system AAP rages against – the kind which revolts against “the minister is always right” attitude.
Unsurprisingly, Kejriwal’s Bharti-prompted actions evoked disgust from a section of his own party. Captain Gopinath, one time army officer turned serial entrepreneur and now a member of AAP, was not impressed. In its rise, AAP attracted educated self-made professionals like Gopinath, Meera Sanyal and V.Balakrishnan. AAP’s anti-corruption pledge, its humble beginnings (particularly limited money) and its promise of change from mainstream politics made it a magnet for decent people from all walks of life, including India’s hugely successful private sector. It seemed like a party which would prioritise merit over all else; a party that would stand for equal opportunity and a party which would rid India of the worst excesses of the State.
Gopinath and Co may have lived with AAP’s backward-looking policies of populism, which only entrench state control and corruption, as a temporary electoral compulsion. But the spectre of mob rule and street justice may be a bridge too far for this wing of the party. It would be a great loss for Kejriwal and AAP if he were to sideline the views of Gopinath and Co. They could inject some reality into AAP’s economics and enhance the party’s credibility among young and urban voters.
In between the faces of Bharti and Gopinath is the serene Yogendra Yadav, Unlike members of the arrogant Bharti wing, Yadav retains his humility and is willing to admit that the party may be making mistakes. He is the thinking AAPian, in a party inhabited by rampaging do-gooders. At least, he is honest enough to admit that the party doesn’t yet have a comprehensive national policy agenda, not least in the realm of economic policy where he insists that the party cannot revert back to 1970s style socialism.
He is willing to concede that the party may be over-extending in its hurry to establish a national footprint in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014. For the moment, he seems to be the only fountain of pragmatism, introspection and realism in a party heady with its success in Delhi. Kejriwal would do well to heed to Yadav’s wisdom as he plans for the future.
Unfortunately, Kejriwal’s base instincts of an activist-in-a-hurry seem to make him inclined to the Somnath Bharti wing of the party. Kejriwal is probably too smart to plunge whole hog into the mindless anarchism of his fellow IIT graduate. That's why he withdrew his dharna with a seemingly minor concession from Home Minister Sushil Shinde. But as long as Somnath Bharti is the face of AAP Kejriwal wants to project (rather than Gopinath or Yadav), he runs the risk of implosion in rapid time. Perhaps it’s time to change face to save face.