Elections 2014: Sweeping Statements

I reside in a country where I’m not a citizen hence unable to vote, and I’m the citizen of a country where I can vote but where I don’t reside. I have taken absolutely no interest in politics for over 90% of my life and have only recently started following politicians, conversations, critiques, op-eds and hilariously horrible political bigots online. This combination of special circumstances allows me to freely comment on the political landscape of both countries because I have nothing at stake in either of them.

I will cast my perceptive eye on India, which started voting in its sixteenth general election yesterday. This isn’t a thorough, scholarly analysis of any sort. I’m an observer and these are my observations about three major national players who have set the tone of political discourse this past year.

This post is about the Aam Admi Party – Upstarts, attention-seekers, krantikari, showboaters, opportunists, call them what you will, they’ve managed to secure a disproportionately higher share of opinion for a party that will probably win less than five seats. AAP is an offshoot of the Jan Lokpal movement led by the wily Arvind Kejriwal, who left his intellectual mentor Anna Hazare gasping in the dust as he catapulted a ragtag, angry band of anti-corruption activists into a political party with national appeal. It rode to infamy on the backs of disgruntled Indians fed up with the incessant corruption rampant in the UPA administration. As a marketing enthusiast I think Kejriwal is probably the best marketer Indian politics has seen in a while. Single-minded messaging and symbolism (a broom to clean corruption), using the right issues as a platform and a sharp understanding of how to fully utilize a 24 hour news cycle to his advantage. The media have been putty in his hands, lapping up any issue he brings up, no matter how silly.

It was clear during the Jan Lokpal movement that the ideology came from Hazare and Kejriwal gave it legs. He anchored his messages around Hazare’s credibility and brought in supporters like Kiran Bedi who were in line with the movement’s wholesome and honest intent. It was also pretty obvious he was playing the long game. After having denied any political aspiration he promptly did a U-Turn and founded AAP. I have no issues with this particular point, though. It takes guts to fight a system within its rules and he had the courage to do so. Is he ambitious? Of course he is! Who the hell gets into politics just because they want to “do good”?

AAP also showed how to build a grassroots movement that challenged well-entrenched players like the Congress and BJP. Granted, most of the base they’ve tapped into is the urban middle-class and among folks with access to basics like food, water and electricity. His message may not resonate as strongly in rural India where issues tend to be very local, sops are still the preferred modus operandi and there is a high level of disillusionment with the political effectiveness of any party. That said, a third of India is urban and growing at 2.5% every year. a fifth of India has internet – Kejriwal’s preferred weapon of choice. AAP has the potential to cause some serious damage in the coming years.

It was trendy to underestimate AAP and ridicule them. They responded by winning the Delhi assembly elections in Dec 2013. A party formed in November 2012 was now in control of the nation’s capital within a year. They dented a lot of egos and preconceived notions by handing the incumbent Sheila Dixit a massive defeat in which the Congress lost 35 of its 43 seats. That was AAP’s defining moment when they proved themselves a force to reckon with.

Unfortunately, it is also where their story gets derailed.

AAP’s mismanagement of Delhi is the kind of thing you can’t even dream up. This is a good summary of how they systematically bungled or scuttled their chances at governing. Actually, let me amend that – chances at learning governance. This was their first time, it was a great opportunity to learn the ropes. Instead, they went at it in a ham-handed manner, laying bare their inexperience, inflexibility and in some cases, hypocrisy. The worst moment of AAP’s Delhi stint has to be the bigoted actions of “Law” Minister Somnath Bharti (a renowned spammer in the past) when his team attempted to “clean up” an alleged Ugandan drug and prostitution ring. Ordering the police to break in without a warrant, forcing a woman to urinate in public to check for drugs and then misrepresenting a letter from the Ugandan High Commission to justify the raid. Worse, Arvind Kejriwal refused to accept Bharti’s culpability, which resulted in his popularity and credibility taking a nosedive.

Kejriwal compounded matters by upgrading his rhetoric from righteous harangues to sanctimony. When you set impossibly high standards for others, you should be prepared to held to those standards yourself. For example, he alleged that politicians like Narendra Modi were subsisting on the largesse of conglomerates like Adani and zipping around in their helicopters for free in return for sops. He followed that up by taking a private plane ride to attend India Today’s Conclave citing time constraints and that it was paid for by India Today Group, completely ignoring the irony of accusing others of taking free rides.

And then, they gave up Delhi. Forty-nine days into a disastrous stint of governance, Kejriwal resigned because his cherished Lokpal bill didn’t go through. He chose to give up immense responsibility for a constitutional abomination. This wasn’t idealism, it was opportunism. There’s no question in my mind it was a carefully planned move aimed at freeing up time and resources to effectively battle in the upcoming General Elections.

Another aspect that irks me personally is his constant need to project himself as a martyr and a revolutionary. For example, after a recent incident where he was slapped in public, allegedly by a BJP supporter:

Or perhaps

Perhaps it’s my disappointment at how after giving up Delhi, he stopped being a man of ideals and became just another pretender to the throne. Despite that, his sanctimony hasn’t abated, bringing to mind a wonderful dialogue from “Patton” in which Patton remarks about Montgomery

 I know I’m a prima donna. I admit it. What I can’t stand about Monty is, he won’t admit it.

When his stunts became more outlandish – like turning up unannounced outside Modi’s house, then stating Modi was afraid to meet him – the media coverage shifted from breathless reporting to ridicule. It didn’t take long for Kejriwal to commit what might be his biggest mistake yet – accusing the media of being influenced by vested interests. Another U-Turn that had us yawning. Their campaign is now at a stage where Kejriwal is using Twitter to stir up any baseless controversy possible. In other words, he’s now just another politician.

Despite all the effective self-marketing by Kejriwal, what do AAP really stand for? I don’t think they’re quite sure yet. Their manifesto is a hodgepodge of progressivism (accountable policing, healthcare, education, gender justice), populism (reservations) and insanity (Jan Lokpal, public investment in AYUSH – Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy). Their economic agenda is also poorly spelt out and their opposition to FDI doesn’t bode well either.

Nonetheless, Arvind Kejriwal has singlehandedly challenged the status quo and demonstrated the possibility of a successful political movement guided by transparency, a solid vision, based on progressive values and led by citizens who are conscientious and committed to the idea of a strong nation. He’s gotten us involved, he’s gotten us debating and for a brief moment, elevated politics above the cynicism that shrouds it. For that alone, we should be thankful.

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17 responses to “Elections 2014: Sweeping Statements”

  1. Akshay says :

    “Granted, most of the base they’ve tapped into is the urban middle-class and among folks with access to basics like food, water and electricity. His message may not resonate as strongly in rural India where issues tend to be very local, sops are still the preferred modus operandi and there is a high level of disillusionment with the political effectiveness of any party.”

    I might disagree with this slightly. What I saw as the core support base on the ground (as opposed to what I usually read/watch/hear on the internet) was precisely the ones who did not even have the basic facilities and are disillusioned by the “policies” of any party and want very tangible benefits for their votes. For once, the ones who had not got a voice saw a chance to channel it through AAP.

    Post-election governance mishaps aside, their Delhi campaign was a wonder of sorts and it won the hearts of many (and demonstrably made the big two shake in their boots – we even saw Sonia Gandhi publicly acknowledge that they needed to learn from AAP!).

    What did become apparent as soon as they resigned in Delhi (and post the Somnath-Bharti-brouhaha-induced-donation-cash-crunch), that they will not be able to fight the Lok Sabha elections with such effectiveness. That the candidates they’ll put up will not be the conduits for their constituents’ bottled-up problems (what was tragic that they did not let their own MLAs gain experience in using their position to address the needs of their constituents) and that they were not about local problems anymore – something they touted so much via the Swaraj bill. The common man lost faith.

    I remain an AAP supporter because, in the long term, their stated agenda does matter – but I’ve had to swallow some massive pinches of salt to go with my faith in them.

  2. kida178 says :

    There is a general presupposition that the AAP is clean and beyond all reproach while real-time evidence indicates their actions are agenda-driven, politically motivated and opportunistic. They have also been fielding one criminal candidate after another in various constituencies. Their views/policies (or their lack of them) on national security scares the shit out of me. Kejriwal’s incompetence was in full display in Delhi and has proved to the nation that a bunch of amateurs are going to be no good. The AAP is a proven failure now. Backing it does not make sense to any sane person with an iota of care about the nation’s future. If anything, AAP has sapped all optimism out of the Indian electorate.

    What usually makes most national parties corrupt is their need to rely on corrupt regional parties for support. AAP is never going to come that far, and if they do, it is not going to be without their fair share of compromises. We are already witnessing that they are ready to compromise their ideals, judging by the criminals they are fielding. Yesterday, they have fielded someone from Orissa with 28 criminal cases pending investigation.

  3. Anand Timothy says :

    Nice article! I so wanted AAP to deliver the goods in Delhi. If he does not make any dent in the Lok Sabha election, he will regret that for a long long time. With the Congress going to lose the LS poll for sure, they would not have easily withdrawn support to the short-of-majority government. But as you rightly said AK is a marketing dude. But he should have learnt the ropes and delivered and waited his turn in the next LS election. Nothing beats performance.

  4. idiot asshole says :

    wow that AYUSH is really a thing? who needs murli manohar joshi when the “progressive” party peddles such bullshit. i want to like them, because i fucking hate the right, but they’re making it very hard. I still think they’re the lesser of all the other evils out there.

  5. Laavanya says :

    I think I followed your blog after the post on NRIs and I’m glad I did. This is an interesting piece (although, same stories I’ve heard in a lot of places recently). I never thought Kejriwal would get the majority to be CM; and when he did, I thought he really could bring some change.
    Their manifesto is indeed a hodgepodge; something I think that seems to cater more towards attention-seeking rather than well thought out. (To be fair, I haven’t read the other manifestos).

  6. Nimesh says :

    hahaha.. an asshole trying to pretend neutrality whereas in reality is no one but an asshole who has done and achieved nothing in his life, but ready to criticise someone who sacrificed everything and is trying to change the country. Get well soon “daddysan” or else your sons and daughters will feel ashamed to call you “daddy”.

  7. Himanshu Pal says :

    I think the Somnath’s Case was very much hyped by the Media. Arnab Goswami even went ahead and said that they carried sticks and beat up women, without any proof or evidence. Media criticized and projected this event as a bigger sin than what it was. I don’t blame you, we usually believe what we see on the surface.

    He projects himself as a martyr and a revolutionary and someone who follows Gandhi, the path of non-violence, i don’t have much issues with it, its better than projecting yourself as a messiah of a particular religion. He’s trying to bring some change in the way politics works, so we can call this a revolution and him a revolutionary.

    What AAP really stand for?
    They stand for transparent and corruption free government. That’s all we need for now from them, we can’t expect them to revive the economy, even Modi won’t be able to do that. But i am sure that they’ll try to bring transparency and more accountability in the government.

    • daddysan says :

      Himanshu – those who live by the sword must die by it :) The sword in this case being the media.

      On your point about a good opposition, I certainly hope so. I mention in the post that AAP will be a formidable force in the next general election.

  8. sandeep kumar says :

    “Forty-nine days into a disastrous stint of governance”- I disagree with this statement.With in 49 days ,I think,what they did was commendable.

    And the flight thing-BJP doesn’t come out saying who funded them but with kejriwal the facts are out in the open.I think that’s an invalid point you have made.

    Rest all,I agree.

    • daddysan says :

      Sandeep, I’m not sure what they achieved in 49 days because they didn’t follow through. Subsidized electricity is great for a while but then it starts to get inconvenient because someone’s got to pay for it and they didn’t have the systems in place to reduce theft and enforce compliance with subscribers. That’s my point. They had a lot of great ideas, they didn’t hang around long enough to implement them.

      • Rajiv says :

        Buddy, they didn’t leave. They were forced to leave.
        Please understand AAP was formed because of one thing and that’s Lokpal Bill. Had Congress passed Lokpal or BJP wanting Lokpal to be passed there wouldn’t have been any AAP at all.

        And if yopu expect AAP govt to stay in govt without being able to pass Lokpal, you are wrong or among those who want MLA’s to break promises. And people were already suggesting an unconditional support by Congress was a setting. Staying in power in Delhi would have made the setting argument true.

      • sandeep kumar says :

        They clearly said its only till the audit of power companies is completed.

  9. warringstates says :

    you’re a little stupid :D

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  1. Election 2014: A tale of two silences | Oculus - April 11, 2014

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