He has created the buzz, now what? Arvind Kejriwal has had a dream run thus far, basking in media attention and public sympathy. But like all good things this has to end sometime. He cannot continue living in a world where hype overwhelms substance all the time. He cannot have people getting excited over sensational disclosures forever. At some point Kejriwal would need to make the transition from buzz to reality.
This is about time he started the process. The law of diminishing returns has started kicking in already. The media, his most reliable buoy so far, have started asking uncomfortable questions; the political class has started realising he is not as big a threat as he is being made out to be; and worse his motive behind leveling allegations without the promise to take them forward to a logical end is being seen with increasing suspicion. It is evident that his ‘shock and awe’ tactic is losing traction.
Had he been just an anti-corruption crusader, he could have continued with his tactic and still drawn applause. Now that he is a politician too, he needs to think on his feet. His current popularity rests on many unstable elements: the media, the fickle urban middle class and the belief that the political class will be on the defensive forever. Moreover, he simply cannot build a political party on the assumption that corruption as a singular plank would deliver the results for him. It’s time he moved on to something more substantive.
Since the time Kejriwal decided he would dabble in politics, he has got many things right. He has successfully moved out of the big shadow of Anna Hazare and established himself as a distinct brand. It’s a big achievement since Anna was perceived to be the sole moral force around which the civil society movement revolved. The parting of ways has not diminished Kejriwal. Also, he has kept his core support group intact, besides managing to hog the media limelight and creating elbowroom for himself in the already crowded political space, in Delhi at least.
Let’s come to the big question: he has not withered away, but now what? Can he continue the way he is without touching base with reality — the potential voter, to be more exact? There has been enough criticism on his lack of vision, most of it justified. Guerilla tactic always has a small uncomplicated focus but fitting it into a broader political worldview requires great sagacity.
Kejriwal has been impressive in what he has done so far but his skills fusing several strands of ideas into a vision framework has been suspect. From what we have seen of him is he is a good destroyer but not a good preserver or creator.
In phase two Kejriwal has to prove that he is more than his destructive abilities, which is not always carry a negative connotation, he can think creative too. On this will rest his success at finding real voters and committed followers. The enthusiastic college-goers may vanish once the thrill is over and the intellectuals in their drawing rooms may change channels once they don’t find new stimulation out of corruption of the biggies. It is possible many of his supporters will jump ship once they realise the new party has little chance of winning seats.
The present lot may not constitute the real voters or followers of his party. He simply has to work upon a solid, inclusive social agenda to find a base. The plank of corruption won’t win seats for him; it will just set him apart from others. Since the Delhi elections are not too far away, Kejriwal and his colleagues need to get down to real work immediately and formulate a game plan.
Kejriwal’s real challenge has not begun yet. He is playing on a turf he is familiar with, catering to a population he can relate to or who can relate to him and speaking the language of the people who are on a similar mental wave length. The real vote base — and any chance of political success — lies beyond this set of people.
He should touch terra firma quickly or he will end up being a mere rabble-rouser, a man who was all buzz, no substance.