Saturday, February 15, 2014

Political theater: AK and the 48-day fling..

Note: Normally I hardly ever voice my opinion as far as politics is concerned (as can be seen from this blog as well as my FB/twitter posts), however over the past couple of months, as I try to make some sense of the political 'theater' in India via newsroom debates, op-eds in various online portals and the likes, I feel a bit compelled to speak out as we in India head towards what is undisputedly the most important general election in the past few decades, maybe since the post-Emergency elections in 1977. And the events of the past couple of days (first in Parliament and then outside it yesterday) have just forced me to put 'pen to paper' (an anachronism if there was ever one !)

So Arvind Kejriwal has resigned as Delhi chief minister. 48 days earlier, he had taken oath at a very public ceremony at the Ramlila maidan. FB and Twitter timelines were abuzz with fervent respect and admiration for the man (I, too, tweeted that he was the real Indian idol). While I was never an AAP fanboy, I had felt that maybe this (swearing-in) was a very real moment in Indian politics, where a party singularly born out of the need to eradicate corruption in this country had actually got into the system to do exactly that (albeit in a small but politically important state). I looked forward to his governance in Delhi and hoped that, if he is able to deliver on at least half the promises that he made before the elections (in an economically sound manner), maybe he will have a great chance at the national level come 2019. Now, as I went back to the newsroom debates and the FB/Twitter timelines yesterday, it was becoming very apparent that those hopes have been shattered. Sure, English channels, Facebook and Twitter can hardly claim to represent the aam aadmi, but it was maybe a sign that Kejriwal is beginning to lose support amongst the urban youth and middle class (atleast outside Delhi).

There are many ways of interpreting his resignation. Two of the most obvious ones which are widely discussed are that a) he realized that he would not be able to make good his promises to the people of Delhi and needed a way out that would also portray him as a martyr and b) he now has his eyes firmly on the Lok Sabha and sees himself as a genuine national contender. I somehow find the first very hard to believe. He may be called an anarchist, rabble-rouser etc etc, but for sure, Kejriwal is a very smart man. He would have known for sure, even before the Delhi assembly elections, of what he was getting into when he offered subsidized power, free water etc as his pre-poll promises. And having been part of the civil service earlier, he surely knew what it takes to run a government. If he believed he could not do it, then why accept the CM's post (especially when you do not have a majority) ?

The second theory seems slightly plausible. After yesterday's episode and the halo of martyrdom, maybe he believes he will get a sympathy wave come May 2014. But even if one were to believe it, what are the AAP's chances, at best, in the Lok Sabha election ? Not many opinion polls are giving them more than 10 seats. Even if you make it 20 or 25, AAP will still be a marginal player at the national level. And, forget the BJP and Modi, even if there is a cobbled up Third front government, they would think a hundred times before even approaching the AAP for any support, such is the reputation that the AAP has now got. So the chance of the AAP being part of any government are next to nil. In which case, do we see AAP continue with their frequent dharnas and press conferences etc ? But then will it serve any purpose ? As someone pointed out correctly yesterday, how will Kejriwal fight Mukesh Ambani and the likes from Ramlila maidan or Jantar Mantar ? Maybe he wants to put his bets on gaining a majority in the re-election in Delhi. But, even if he does so, the very nature of Delhi (part state-hood) means that he will have to work with whoever is there at the center. And if it is the NDA, as widely expected, then it is going to cause fireworks for sure. 

He would have done well in 2019 basis good governance, in Delhi. But, just maybe, he is in a hurry and is eyeing 2014 instead. His style of governance means that he will require a majority to get things done and, surely, 2014 is too early for it. It is going to be interesting to see where AAP and Arvind Kejriwal move from here.

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