Five years of AAP in Delhi: Without corruption as agenda, Arvind Kejriwal's party has lost its political narrative
AAP seems to have lost its political narrative because of the lack of fuel for its anti-corruption movement in the absence of any major scams.
A haze of dust drifted from the Ram Leela Maidan as thousands of Aam Admi Party volunteers gathered to celebrate five years of the party on Sunday. Some strolled aimlessly on the ground, some were seen bingeing on puri-halwa which was distributed for free and a good number of them listened attentively to the leaders who addressed the crowd from an open-air dais.
What was clear was that footfall in the celebration was far lesser than that of any event held in the initial days of AAP, which was seen by many as a sign of party's waning popularity.
"Many wanted to the see the change happening faster. But soon after the party rose to power in Delhi in 2015, the state government’s jurisdiction over the Anti-Corruption Bureau was taken away. The government became toothless. This has frustrated many volunteers,” said Dr Vaishnav Singh, an AAP volunteer.
The physician from Bihar, who is in his late twenties, joined the party four years ago with lakhs of others hoping to eliminate corruption and regional disparity. They made AAP what it is today, building it from the pedestal of India Against Corruption movement led by activist Anna Hazare.
In fact, volunteers, like Singh, were seen as the driving force behind the party. Though upbeat about the party’s journey so far, many AAP volunteers seem confused about how to expand the base of the party to other states. When asked whether or not their dreams have been fulfilled, a sense of loss of narrative was evident in the replies of the volunteers who spoke to Firstpost.
"To fulfil these dreams the party needs to be in power in a good number of states. But when I think of raising issues in my home state Bihar, hardly anyone listens because many there still do not have access to newspaper and television and are unaware of the burning issues plaguing the nation,” he said.
His words resounded with that of Yogendra Yadav, one of the founders of the AAP who parted ways with it after a tussle with the leadership and formed another party Swaraj India in 2016. Soon after he resigned from the party, journalists had asked him whether or not the AAP had any political ideology? Yadav had then said, "Forget about ideology, the party does not even have a national vision to extend itself beyond Delhi."
Given the diversity of India, it was felt that the AAP needed a clearly envisioned ideology on which a political narrative could be built weaving the issues of various states in it. Corruption was not the only major issue faced by Indians. In fact, there were many issues which required to be taken up by the party under the light of a clearly devised political vision.
The consequence of lack of a vision for the nation became evident as soon as the Delhi government’s lack of power to fight corruption came under public glare, once it came to power for the second time in 2015. For it was left with no alternative to focus on other than the daily tug of war with the Centre or the Lieutenant-Governor.
Manish Gupta, an AAP volunteer from Dwarka who attended the celebration, believes that the first AAP government that was formed in 2013 and lasted for only 49 days was more powerful than the present one. "Snatching away the powers of the Delhi government actually began only after the party came to power for the second time in 2015. Now, the situation is so grave that the Delhi government cannot even transfer a corrupt official to another office," he said.
Even Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal seemed to cherish the memories of his first government in Delhi as more successful as during a meeting on Sunday, he said, "What memorable days those were. Even traffic police stopped taking bribes."
As the party got crippled in Delhi due to the power tussle, volunteers are faced with the difficult questions — what next?
How the aspirations of the party will be fulfilled at a time when expanding to other states seems a far away goal. Despite these limitations, many volunteers see a political plank in the ‘achievements’ of AAP government in the health and education sector.
"The Mohalla clinics providing free basic health care and the modern schools built by AAP government has put the party in the national spotlight and I think this will give us an edge over other parties in other states too,” said Gupta.
Sabeer Hussain, a middle-aged volunteer from Prem Nagar, said, "Earlier many government schools in Delhi did not have an adequate number of blackboards, but now these schools have been designed with all modern teaching amenities. I hope these achievements will help us expand base in other states."
Even the AAP leadership seemed to be enthusiastic about Mohalla Clinics and schools. "The real strength of the AAP lies in the Mohalla Clinics and schools," said buoyant Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia. But the drag the party is facing in taking itself to other states was felt in Kejriwal's words, when he rather than appealing to vote for AAP candidates in upcoming Gujarat election, appealed the people of Gujarat to vote for any candidate who can defeat BJP. "It is not necessary to vote for AAP candidate. I appeal to the people of Gujarat to vote for the strongest candidates against the ones fielded by BJP. It is time to defeat BJP," he said.
These words were seen as his reconciliation with the failure to carry the AAP story to other states.
What seems to have confused the AAP is the lack of fuel to keep the flames of anti-corruption movement burning in the absence of any major scams.
A number of scams, which surfaced during the UPA regime, resulted in the Hazare-led India Against Corruption movement from which the AAP sprung. But the party is having a hard time only focussing on corruption as their agenda.
No wonder Kejriwal made only a passing remark about corruption in his speech on Sunday. "...there is still corruption in the central government. The media, which is in hands in glove with the government is concealing it," claimed Gaurav Jain, a volunteer from Rohini. When asked whether he could mention any specific allegation of corruption, he said, “ I am not speaking about anything specific but corruption is there.”
Dr Singh seemed to be less confused and said that the issue of corruption is not dead as the cases of scams which happened during the UPA regime still continue. “We need to ensure that culprits are punished,” he said.
Even rise of Hindu nationalism seems to have obfuscated the AAP about how to deal with it, as none of the volunteers could answer how they want it to be dealt with. Kejriwal was seen bashing Pakistan while speaking of safeguarding the secular fabric of the nation. "The people who are helping Pakistan by dividing Hinds and Muslims are nothing but ISI agents," he said.
Being the leader of a party which wants to be seen as a secular one, strong words condemning religious intolerance was expected of him, especially at a time when communal violence has raised his ugly head. But nothing more was said.
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