What was dismissed as street fascism in the higher spheres of power barely two years ago has spectacularly elbowed its way up the political front stage in a bid to start a new era in politics. Objective: fight against the arrogance of power, for transparency, sound governance and social justice.
From Jantar Mantar to Delhi Assembly, the determination of ordinary citizens to demand change finally paid off as cheering crowds applauded Aam Aadmi Party leader, Arvind Kerjiwal taking oath in his new post at the head of the capital’s assembly a week ago.
Beyond the borders of the subcontinent, the Anna Hazare India Against Corruption campaign inspired and encouraged similar movements in a number of countries from Africa to Asia. The Gandhian figure rallied millions of people around his campaign in the capital, the towns and villages in a surge of patriotism, chanting Vande Mataram. Swami Ramdev toured the country to sensitize people on issues which impact on their everyday life. The so-called secular press railed against Hindu religious figures meddling in politics, forgetting that swamis are part of composite society. After receiving death threats, the Swami did not give up but cleverly adopted a different strategy of continuing his work without being in the spotlight.
Given the difficult birth of the Lokpal Bill on grounds of its being unconstitutional and being dictated by street protests, Hazare’s close supporters quickly realized that there was no other alternative than climb the bandwagon of politics to bring real change, notwithstanding the latter’s reluctance to step into the realm of politics. The new political party sparked hope in millions of people from various walks of life who were no supporters of Congress or BJP.
The ambition to set up a powerful third party to give a platform to the common man has been achieved. AAP’s sweeping victory at Assembly election is a landmark in Indian politics. Henceforth, the issue of corruption will play a decisive role in elections; people are going to judge parties on corruption. No sensible party can afford to ignore the message. The Indian example will certainly inspire crowds in the Middle East, Africa and Asia who look up to India about peaceful democratic means to make themselves heard. However, what happens in India, which enjoys a long tradition of consultation and talks with its people, deeply entrenched in its panchayat culture, cannot take place overnight in China and in Arab societies.
What is meant by ‘common man’ in today’s India is devoid of the romantic concept embodied in Communism and its offshoots that turned society upside down in its birthplace, poisoned the minds of people, wedged divisions in social categories, sent dissidents and intellectuals to the gulag, and raised the proletariat on a pedestal. It was a fever that spread across the world like fire, broke down societies and disrupted traditional values by pitching people against one another, the young against their elders, pupils against headmasters, workers against landowners, and wrought unspeakable havoc during decades of dictatorial rule set up by the new heroes who claimed to create a new world order.
In India the imported ideology never really caught up. Local political and social tradition gave it a different twist which culminated in Kerala being the world’s first state to freely elect a communist government. The most infected by the far-left ideology were London-educated Bengali youths who surrendered their intelligence to a Party Leader, just as others did to their eternal Lider Maximo in various countries. The imported ideology brainwashed them into gobbling up the foreign concept of secularism, and western education prevented them from grasping the fact that Hinduism is inherently secular in character. At the peak of the Hazare movement, secular journalists were unduly worried about supporters chanting Vande Mataram, and they bristled against the presence of swamis on the protest platforms.
Today’s concept of common men is inclusive of people hailing from all walks of life ranging from the middle-class, IT technicians, manual workers, professionals, executives, labourers, bankers, businessmen and so on. Their common objective is transparency, general uplift of social categories, bridging the huge gaps in salaries, fair distribution of prosperity and promoting brotherhood. In the wake of the sweeping victory which created a paradigm shift in conventional politics, India Inc. is lending support to the new party while a few disillusioned politicians in both Congress and BJP are crossing the floor. Former Indian PM Lal Bahadur Shastri’s grandson has also joined in as well as artists and retired top-ranking figures from different sectors. The motivation of some people is to take potshots at the rising popularity of BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi.
In a true sportsman spirit, actor-turned-politician popularly known as Bihari Babu, Shatrughan Sinha praises AAP for its zero to hero success story and wishes his own party BJP learnt some points from the debutante party which has caught people’s imagination for its honesty and transparency. The party should be given time to perform before passing judgement on its performance, S. Sinha said. He exudes confidence that BJP will perform well in the forthcoming Parliament polls.
The two traditional parties are already in electoral campaign with respective media supporters helping to ferret out whatever might sully and damage the opponent’s reputation. AAP’s rise and the fear of being tainted with corruption charges instil the fear of the devil into corrupt politicians. Priyanka Gandhi’s sudden presence next to brother Rahul on Congress Party’s platform is perceived by opponents as an attempt to boost up Congress’s declining popularity, and desperately gear it towards victory with a view to covering up husband Robert Vadra’s alleged entanglement in corruption charges. Opponents virulently denounce media’s subservient support to the white-skinned Nehru-Gandhi family and the publicity given to the daughter with the grandmother’s look to mesmerize crowds with her fair skin, and perpetuate the feudal reverential attitude towards dynasties.
AAP leader Arvind Kerjiwal has taken the initiative to subsidize electricity to millions of households in Delhi, ordered audit reports on a number of cases, and set up an anti-corruption helpline and invite citizens to denounce corrupt civil servants. AAP lacks ideological moorings, opponents claim. Utopia or not, the party is bound to give sleepless nights to Congress and BJP.
Pro-Congress media people look down on Narendra Modi, pointing out to his beginnings as taxi-driver, his lack of academic credentials and his insufficient knowledge of Indian history. We are not electing a history professor but a prime minister, supporters retort. – No, he started as a tea vendor, Salim, a Mumbai taxi-driver said (probably putting tea vendors lower than taxi-drivers on the social ladder). He is a dangerous man, he added, pointing at all the security measures being set up for a Modi rally. – How? – All the prices are going to rise.
Surprisingly, from what we could gather the answers are not about social harmony but the ultra-liberal economic policy that the BJP candidate is likely to apply at a national level. A few others mentioned the end of democracy. But the same fears were brandished before Sri Atal Behari Vajpayee’s election, and yet, he came out as one of the best Prime Ministers India ever had.
As to Modiji’s modest beginnings, it is all to his credit to have started from scratch without spoonfeeding in a wealthy family. A zero making its up to the top. His track record in a crucial state as Gujarat is looked up to as the recipe for the whole country in the coming years if he becomes the next PM.
A lot of ‘common men’ are not happy with the rising cost of living in the country and are expecting the BJP to solve the issue. Well, it is happening in many countries, prices are going up, you tell them. To be fair, Congress under PM Sri Manmohan Singh has also made major breakthroughs in several sectors and has propped up the country on the road of prosperity. The signs are visible everywhere – better standard of living, better infrastructure, a feel-good factor and less poverty. There is still a lot of investment to be done to empower poor people. India is an outstandingly vibrant democracy with a huge reservoir of dynamism, abilities and enthusiasm to gear it towards better days.
But the common man over there strongly feels that something is wrong about market power dictating prices and cost of living. That’s where the AAP might start to give nightmares to main candidates. How he is going to brace up to avoid pitfalls ‘Shining India’ fell into by alienating the masses, especially farmers, is a major challenge that the national BJP hero is likely to cogitate on throughout his electoral campaign this year.
* Published in print edition on 10 January 2014