On Sunday, the people of France and voters of Delhi made diametrically opposite decisions about men who could have once been separated at birth. While the people of Delhi rejected Arvind Kejriwal and his AAP, the French put Emmanuel Macron, a man who represents the kind of change Kejriwal once promised, at the front of the presidential race.
Ironically, while the Kejriwal era in Indian politics may have ended in India on 23 March, the politics of another aam aadmi, a rank outsider, may have just begun in France. Macron, a 39-year-old centrist, emerged on top after the first round of polls in France featuring 11 candidates. He will now compete with far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who was second in the run-off, in the next round. The contest is being billed as an election that may define the future of not just France but of entire Europe.
Macron has, like Kejriwal once upon a time, emerged as a symbol of rejection of established politicians and the two main political groups — the Socialists and the Republicans--without whose support it was considered impossible to win an election in France. Like the incumbent Congress government in Delhi was wiped out in 2013, the Socialist candidate trailed in the fifth position in the first round.
Six months ago, when Macron launched his campaign, pollsters were not willing to give him even an outside chance. Macron, a former banker, had never held an elected office prior to jumping in the fray for the top job in France. But, his political movement En Marche! (On the Move), slowly caught the fancy of the French voters, pitting him against Le Pen, who represents everything that Macron seems to reject— exit from Eurozone, Donald Trump-like restrictions on immigrants, xenophobia and virulent nationalism.
Like the AAP, Macron's rise began with a massive movement to reach out to people disillusioned by established parties and ideologies. Before he announced his candidature, Macron reached out to thousands of voters to find out what policies and politics they wanted. Sounds familiar, no? Reminds us of the rise of the AAP from the Lokpal movement, Delhi dialogue and the disenchantment with archetypical politics? Unfortunately, its pioneer in India is staring at the end of his political road.
Exit poll after Sunday's municipal elections for Delhi indicates Kejriwal's AAP may be wiped out. Some pollsters suggest it will trail in the third place with just about ten percent seats in the three municipalities. It will be a dramatic reversal of fortunes from 2014 when the AAP won 67 seats in the 70-member Delhi Assembly. Why did Kejriwal fail on a day the French expressed their faith in a brand of politics AAP once promised? The answer is simple: Kejriwal failed to live up to expectations. Now, in deference to the idea that hell hath no fury like a voter scorned, people are seeking revenge.
He promised a style of politics that was to be different from the conventions set by the BJP and the Congress. Ultimately, he became a poor replica of them with his dictatorial politics of opportunism defined by two events: The ouster of colleagues like Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav and his shocking embrace of hardliners in the Punjab elections. Kejriwal promised to clean up not just Delhi but the entire "gutter of politics by stepping into it." Today, he seems part of it, his image stained by unbridled ambition and lack of commitment to the very people who elected him.
It is difficult to be optimistic about Kejriwal's future. Now that he is in free fall, it is likely he will crash to the bottom. After the projected rout in the municipal elections, he will find it difficult to save his government in Delhi. Aware that he has lost popular mandate, the BJP will try everything to dislodge him through every means available to it.
The AAP's strength was its ability to fight on the streets, enlist the common man for its cause. But, the will to protect its last bastion will just evaporate when it realises people have turned against it. Expect a huge flight of workers, activists and established leaders from the AAP if results are close to the projections made by pollsters.
Once he is done and dusted, Kejriwal might look at the events in France wistfully. He may realise how France is doing today what people of Delhi had done a few springs ago — choosing an outsider to take on the incumbent as well as the threat of far right. In the rise of Macron, Kejriwal would see both the triumph of the idea he once represented and his failure to live up to it. From the turn of events in Delhi, it seems Kejriwal will have all the time in the world to rue his own downfall. Like Macron, he too is on the move, but towards oblivion.
Updated Date: Apr 24, 2017 17:50 PM