Monday, January 20, 2014
Sharks and piranhas famously go into a feeding frenzy when they suddenly see an abundance of prey. Turning crazy with rage, they tear into the flesh of anything within biting range. Something similar is happening among opponents of the Aam Aadmi Party. Even liberal intellectuals are in a frenzy to feed on the new party's weaknesses, ignoring the larger picture. AAP is easy prey to all. (Notice that the frenzied feeders avoid difficult prey. Hardly any fulminations against UP's ministers who displayed criminal neglect of Muzaffarnagar riot victims, then went off to Europe for rest and recreation.)
AAP inspires critics to eloquence and literary flourishes. Salman Khurshid, for example, said: "AAP has Jurassic ideas, no serious ideology, and some of the most third-rate people across the country". That was akin to his colleague Manish Tewari's infamous description of Anna Hazare as "corrupt from head to toe". The Congress windbag was forced to tender a written apology to the rural Gandhian. By comparison Narendra Modi is more circumspect in his denunciation of AAP. Referring obviously to the new party's mastery of modern media, he said the country needed more than leaders who made good television.
The funny thing is that what these articulate critics say of AAP actually applies to their own reality. What, pray, is the ideology of the Congress Party, serious or otherwise? Is dynastic fixation an ideology? For that matter, how many leaders can the Congress show who are not corrupt from head to toe? As for Modi, AAP leaders do make good television. But they are nothing before him. As the country's most gifted public speaker today, Modi is excellent television.
Beyond the frenzy and the viciousness, the contempt and the spite, two facts remain: First, the AAP has its share of frailties and contradictions which can lead to its collapse one day; second, warts and all, it represents the people's desire to end the diabolic political system that has been holding the country to ransom. The AAP's capacity to rise to people's expectations is tied to the capacity of its leaders to rise above the temptations of power. This is already under strain. Dissensions have split the leadership of the party because some did not get the loaves of office and some had their egos hurt. The party will be hard put to fight these internal schisms which have the potential to cripple it.
There are policy problems as well, like in any other party. Issues like FDI in retail were always controversial and will continue to be so. The Delhi Government's ruling against it was criticised by some and supported by some. This is part of the game. But there is ground for unease when the party puts on its website a broad policy approach like: "People's consent is necessary for future pricing of critical commodities such as gas, diesel, petrol, electricity". People's consent is a wonderful thing, but there are other critical factors, like supply and demand and international fluctuations, that affect the pricing of critical commodities.
The gravest danger facing the AAP is that it can become a victim of its own good intentions. What is popular may not always be practical; what needs to be done may sometimes have to wait until the ground is prepared with care. When such realities are ignored under the pressure of expectations, the cost may prove high. Above all, the Government's survival is dependent on the Congress' support. What happens if the campaign in Haryana, AAP's next electoral target, starts hurting the interests of the "private businessman", Robert Vadra?
AAP's Government in Delhi may or may not last, but its emergence is a declaration that India is changing. The rush of people to join the party tells its own tale, even if many of them may be motivated by the usual ambitions of personal gain. The new India out there is tired of criminality and corruption in public life -- and knows that the entrenched parties that caused the rot are incapable of ending it. If AAP goes, the new India will invent another AAP.