Delhi’s recent watershed event has far greater significance than the experts have suggested. The rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) should be seen as the beginning of a new nationwide phenomena, not limited to Delhi. One may think of AAP as Congress 2.0 – having the same base of popular as well as elite supporters, minus only the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
For the past century, certain communities used to combine their political voices under the umbrella of the Congress, until Congress started to meltdown as a revolt against the dynasty. For a while, these ‘homeless’ communities of voters wandered in different directions, experimentally and opportunistically supporting different parties, including the BJP. These forces – which I have termed ‘fragments’ – have now found a new home in AAP. Hence, the Congress has been reinvented into a new legal body called AAP.
Kejriwal wears a Gandhi cap. In the eyes of his support base, he projects a Mohandas Gandhi-type of simple lifestyle, humility and dharmic values. His integrity has been accepted by an immensely broad base in Delhi, and it may be expected to spread elsewhere. It brings together caste groups and minorities by providing them a shared umbrella. It attracts many well-educated and wealthy supporters who prefer this choice on idealistic grounds.
All this actually resembles the old Congress before Sonia Gandhi killed it. The collapse of Congress due to Sonia Gandhi’s misrule and too much family domination is what its support base has rejected, not the ‘big tent’ ideals it once had.
The Congress’s formal structure resisted getting rid of the dynasty and the ethos of corruption it tolerated. So the only way to give a rebirth to the Congress was to migrate its ideological and human assets to a new legal entity – and leave the family behind, holding an empty shell.
Under such a scenario, the BJP’s rise could be a temporary phenomenon resulting from a one-time dividend. There was a time-lag between the two events, and this window became the “BJP era”. The collapse of the old did not instantly give rise to a new entity. During this interim period, the BJP was able to attract many communities and leaders into its fold. It enjoyed success because there was no competing structure with broad appeal.
The implication is that BJP should not imagine that it has a secure, robust base with a long term loyalty to its ideals or leadership. By no means do I suggest that BJP’s domination is over. What I do propose is that a new era of two-party competition might be emerging in which AAP will play a role similar to that once played by Congress.
In the light of this, BJP would need a radical rethinking. It should introspect its own narrative, and whether this (as perceived by the public) is viable in the long run on a national level. I have many specific points in this regard which I shall not share in this brief comment. BJP needs to conduct a detailed re-evaluation of the manner in which it has run the NDA government during the past nine months. Trivialising the Delhi debacle would be another blunder it cannot afford. It would be well advised to honestly and courageously make some major mid-course changes.
(Rajiv Malhotra is the author of the widely-acclaimed Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism and Indra's Net)
Updated Date: Feb 13, 2015 07:28 AM