Does it even merit to be a topic of debate at a time when almost every second family in Delhi is hit by vector-borne ailments? In ordinary circumstances, those responsible for public health would make fighting diseases their priority. It does not seem to be the case with the Aam Aadmi Party government in the capital. Health Minister Satyendra Jain has taken upon himself to give chikungunya an innocent face by insisting that it does not kill. If his intention has been to allay fears over the disease and stop people from panicking, it has not come across well. That 15 people have already died – that is only the official number – from chikungunya makes his claim hollow.
If times of such crises call for a mature response aimed at soothing the citizenry’s rattled nerves, the government has been found spectacularly wanting. Instead of accepting that there’s a problem at hand, it started off blaming everyone else but itself for the outbreak of diseases. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Lieutenant Governor should be held responsible for the situation and later his party blamed the media for painting a picture of calamity. The BJP-controlled municipal bodies were made a target for not doing their job properly. It escaped the good sense of the party that the occasion, serious as it is, didn’t call for combativeness and finger-pointing. It only took the party several notches down in public perception.
The absence of several senior functionaries of the government at this juncture – Kejriwal is being treated in Bangalore, his deputy Manish Sisodia is in Finland, Health Minister Jain was in Goa before landing in Delhi four days ago to name a few – made for bad optics. The party managed to turn it into bad politics by launching attacks on rivals. The BJP and the Congress tore into it, asking it to quit if it felt so handicapped to manage governance. The media, a big section of it at least, already at loggerheads with the party had the chance to pounce on its supposed failures. Already in a desperate fight against several diseases, the general public was not amused at the antics.
That brings us to the bigger question – What’s gone wrong with the party? No, we are not talking about the party distancing itself from its original ideals; personality cult overwhelming AAP; it being no different from other political parties; and whatever the political pundits find wrong with it. These are matters of subjective interpretation and may have traction only among limited sets of people who are already prejudiced this way or the other. The intention here is to ask whether the AAP is behaving normally as a political entity.
By all indications, the answer is no. It appears to be gripped by the siege mentality so much that it has started getting indifferent to people. It was evident in its initial response to the diseases. Does anyone remember the images of AAP volunteers fanning out to clean the city’s garbage? Three years ago, these images made the party stand out as different from others and defined its unique selling proposition. From ‘let’s do it together’ to ‘let’s blame others’ has been a big shift for the AAP. For a party that promised to make ordinary people relevant in politics by serving as their voice, the shift can be suicidal. It seems to be getting so blinded by its rage against perceived enemies that it has started losing sight of people who made it a political force.
While there is no denying that the new party has been subject to the harshest of scrutiny and the worst of hounding in the last couple of years, what should worry the AAP is not the action of political rivals but its own acts of indiscretion. Its response to the diseases in Delhi has fallen short of expectation. It should remember that it cannot take people for granted.