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CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

 

FROM THE DIRECTOR'S DESK
SEEMA MUSTAFA | 6 JANUARY, 2014

First they said that the Aam Admi could not function as a political party. It did. Then they said it could not get sufficient candidates for the Delhi elections. It did. Then they said it could not get sufficient workers to form polling booth committees and ensure voters mobilisation. It did. Then they insisted that it should form the government — even though one of them, the BJP had got more seats—in the hope that they could then accuse Aap of being greedy for power. But even this did not happen, as the Aap political strategists clearly outmaneuvered them by consulting the people on this. Then they said that it would not be able to live up to its promises—'Ha ha, let's see if it can deliver," was the refrain. It did. Now they are finally silent, not sure what to say and really what to do.

The 'they' of course are the BJP and the Congress, the two 'national' giants who were slaughtered in the Delhi polls by the little party that seemed to have big ambitions but few resources. But the people became its gigantic resource, to the point where Aap is being able to directly challenge the powerful power discoms, the water mafia, and the corrupt BJP and Congress all at one go. Within days the Kejriwal led government slashed the power tariff by half, announced good shelters for the homeless, and decided to go ahead and give 700 litres of free water to every household. And even while the power companies were frothing in the mouth, the Delhi government approached the CAG who has agreed to undertake a full audit.

The point here is that these new men in old offices have shown in their first few days what can be done if elected representatives are honest and responsive to the people. The BJP and the Congress stalwarts appear old and jaded, looking like prophets of doom waiting for Aap to fall. There is worry too about the Aap promise to investigate corruption, with almost all former legislators of both parties keeping their fingers and toes crossed in the hope that the axe will not fall on them.

Unlike arrogant leaders, Kejriwal and his team do not hesitate to approach the people, to talk to them, to discuss issues, and to keep in touch through regular—almost daily—press conferences. It is a committed team, and given the rapport it has established with all sections of Delhi society, there is no reason to even presume that the new government will not succeed in at least pursuing its agenda with refreshing determination. It might fall in the process, as the Congress might not be able to keep up with the pace and can be expected to withdraw support sooner than later. But all the big strategists of the BJP and the Congress have been unable to put a brake on Aap, finding instead that they are being outmaneuvered at every turn.

So much so that the Congress party, reeling under charges of corruption, scrapped the Rs 3726 crore chopper deal following allegations of kickbacks of Rs 360 crore to senior Indian Air Force officers and others. After Bofors this can be said to be the first deal where kickbacks have been confirmed by the host country, in this case Italy. The Italian police had arrested Finmeccanica chief Giuseppe Orsi in February 2013 on charges of illegal payoffs, with the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation finally pursuing the case, and registering a case against 12 persons including former IAF chief S.P.Tyagi and three of his cousins. The rest of the year little movement was registered on this deal, with Defence Minister A.K.Antony at one stage denying charges of a 'cover up.' However on the first day of the new year, with elections around the corner and fingers pointed at the Congress party for unbridled corruption, the UPA government moved to terminate the deal for 12 VVIP choppers. Of these three have already been delivered.

It is not clear whether the old and rigid political parties of India have learnt any lessons. That the people are simply fed up and want governments that are responsive, sensitive and in tune with their aspirations. The aspirations are not what the Congress or the BJP think these to be, with the old and the familiar clearly being rejected by the voters for the new and the fresh and the promising. This has come as somewhat of a shock to the old parties whose canards and whisper campaign against Aap failed to move the voters away, and while there is some effort to re-strategise , it is difficult clearly for the set leadership to think dramatically out of the box.

A young Muslim voter from a remote eastern Uttar Pradesh constituency telephoned this morning saying excitedly, “the jhadu (AAp symbol) chaps are here, they have opened an office.” Kejriwal and his men are planning to contest 300 seats all over India. It remains to be seen whether they are able to make even a slight dent, as all of India is not Delhi, and the electorate—in particular the rural— more suspicious and less accepting of new parties. A great deal here will depend on how scattered, or otherwise, the constituencies selected by Aap are, and to what extent their local candidates are able to convince the villagers of their utility and their ability to win. Delhi is more secure in its vote, the rural voter is not. But then the Aap team has demonstrated that it cannot be underestimated, and does hold that proverbial rabbit firmly in the hat.