Ask the majority of the supporters of AAP why they back the young political outfit and you’ll get answers that include words like change, positivity, progress, clean, liberal etc..
Most people who support the party do so for two reasons – 1) they are sick of the existing political set-up and parties, and 2) they think AAP is not like the existing parties, and is a new type of party — a new kind of movement.
After all, it was Arvind Kejriwal who had famously, and repeatedly, declared: “We are not here to do politics. We are here to change India.”
So it is with dismay that some of the earliest supporters have watched recent ‘campaign efforts’ by the party on Facebook.
THE LEADERSHIP CULT
One of the most disturbing trends seen since the thumping victory of the Modi-focused campaign has been a similar leader-oriented approach in AAP.
While BJP focused entirely on Modi in its campaign, AAP is now focusing more and more on the personality of Arvind Kejriwal thinking, one assumes, that a similar ‘leader effect’ will benefit the party.
While ‘Bhrastachar Mitao’ would have been a common refrain in many of AAP’s earlier campaigns, this time, it is ‘Paanch Aur Sal, Kejriwal’, ‘Kejriwal Phir Se’ and so on. In fact, you can almost hear ‘Abki Bar Modi Sarkar’ in the new campaign’s attempt to seek ‘Paanch Aur Sal, Kejiiwal’.
Modi’s emphatic victory in the general elections seems to have disorientated the young outfit so much that it seems to have forgotten its roots and decided to adopt a ‘Modified’ strategy.
But the attempt is sure to misfire for the following reasons:
1) Most backers of the party are people who are disgusted by the traditional method of conducting politics. They belong to one of two classes a) Young idealists, such as students and, b) People whose lives have been turned to living hell by corruption, such as street vendors and auto-drivers.
Neither of these two groups have any personal attachment for Kejriwal. This is unlike in the case of Modi, who, for his supporters, was a personal Hindu icon, a protector of Hindu society. Their loyalty is more personal, more instinctive, defensive.
People who vote for AAP are voting for change, and not for Kejriwal. They want to be free from the greedy, grasping hands of the corrupt officials who oppress them everyday, they want to see law and order restored to its proper place, they want to seen an end to the cynical politics of appeasement and vote banks.
By projecting Kejriwal over and above the core message of the party (restoration of law and order), the AAP runs the very real risk of losing the initial connect it had with the harried masses.
Moreover, AAP is not just about Kejriwal, it has a plethora of intelligent, inspiring leaders like Yogendra Yadav, who risk being underutilized by the current ‘Modified’ strategy of single-man campaigning.
Another worrying trend has been that the Aam Aadmi Party is starting to exhibit the very trait that most of its educated young supporters most hate about mainstream parties – the politics of opportunism or the tendency to make cheap political capital out of everything.
If the BJP government has suggested something, it must be bad and must be opposed. The first reaction of any opposition is to oppose, principles be damned.
A prime example is the current imbroglio over godman Rampal. Since the BJP-led Haryana government is in a tight-spot, attack it, make cheap political capital out of a sensitive situation.
With a headline that reminds you of Times Now, AAP’s poster said: “BJP’s Khattar Govt. shames Haryana, fails governance test!” under a picture of police forcbily removing pro-Baba protesters. Frankly, what would AAP have done? Held a dharna?
This is the kind of negative politics that the young, educated generation identifies with traditional parties, and which the AAP was supposed to rise above.
By giving in to the same pugilistic instincts as other outfits, the AAP is sending a message to its supporters that it is no different — that power, or even the mere whiff of it, is starting to corrupt it.
Kejirwal needs to be reminded of his own statement – AAP is not here to do politics, but to change politics.
AAP’s politics should not be about kicking someone just because he is down. It should be about articulating a principle and determining your stance on events on that basis.
The point was not lost on some of AAP’s FB page commenters. “Police is trying to get to him without hurting public while they get attacked by goons and you are playing politics on this,” said a commenter on the Khattar poster. There was another who expressed dismay at the ‘negative politics’ portrayed in the poster and announced that he was ‘unliking’ the AAP page.
A HIGHER STANDARD
Just like the BJP represents the aspirations of the traditionalists and conservatives, the AAP represents the aspirations of the young, westernized middle class of India. It also represents the wishes of those suffering everyday from governmental corruption, but this class is not as vocal as the former.
The leader-oriented, aggressive campaign strategy that has served to consolidate the Hindutva supporters of the BJP may not work with a liberal, questioning urban middle class.
In fact, does AAP even need to build up a personality cult? It already has a core issue that has not lost its relevance.
It just needs to project its message, and be consistent in doing so. AAP’s shortcoming is not that it is averse to change or modernity, but quite the opposite – it has been seen as a party lacking in consistency.
Opportunistic flip-flops and an apparent lack of (consistent) ideology are the areas that need attention — not replacing issues with personalities.
Indeed, when AAP decided to resign from power the last time, it was not because of any high ideals or principles, but because the party had lost sight of its original goal, and was dragged down by other parties into a game of oneupmanship and image management. After having decided to form the government with Congress’ support, AAP felt uneasy about the impact of the move on its image, prompting it to leave the battlefield halfway.
Like other political parties, it had started worrying more about itself than about achieving what it has promised to deliver – a government that made people’s lives easier.
This time too, AAP is being dragged down to the level of its competitors, and the party leadership seems to be oblivious of this change. Will the party realize the change and change course? Only time will tell.