The past fortnight in India has been a tumultuous one; one in which the Aam Aadmi Party has hogged the airwaves with its populist, ‘Robin Hood’ style approach to politics and its self-styled anarchic protest. The party has managed to divide opinion, but, in doing so, it has arrested the attention of a city, and perhaps an entire country’s, people. So much so that the President, unfortunately and wrongly to my mind, has been drawn into the melee, using his address to the nation on the eve of Republic Day to remind it that “populist anarchy cannot be a substitute for good governance.” Perhaps nothing less, or more for that matter, should have been expected from President Mukherjee’s speech; after all, it is the Government in power that scripts it, and the President, as mandated by the constitution, is not allowed to air his personal views. But, specifics aside, in drawing the concepts of populism and anarchy together in his speech, the President has revealed the deep sense of fear that has been engendered in the ruling elite by the AAP’s unconventional ways; a fear strong enough to make the error of dismissing the collective anger of its vote-casting citizens as anarchy, and associating, by contrast, the dismal rule of the UPA to order and good governance.
In viewing Arvind Kejriwal’s decision to protest outside the Rail Bhavan as anarchism are we not confining ourselves to the narrow margins of dictionary definitions? In a country rife with pluralism, perhaps no movement or concept can claim or be bracketed under confining textbook neologisms. The movement outside the Rail Bhavan was started by the Chief Minister, but gained its momentum from the people who supported it. It was both populist in its sentiment, and anarchic in its decision to eschew the niceties of privileged politics. The violence that followed was on account of a people’s repressed anger, and, the policing of it reflected the genuine fear of those opposing it. Perhaps one term that has failed to make it into the discussions surrounding AAP in the last couple of weeks is ‘radical.’ A term that has moved above and beyond its 18th Century associations to Kejriwal’s contemporary movement against governmental high handedness.
In the weeks since he has taken charge at the helm of affairs, Kejriwal has managed to divide opinion to either extremes of the spectrum. However, no matter which end one is on, the impact that this nascent entrant to politics has made on public consciousness is undeniable. The Aam Aadmi Party has managed to tap into the frustration of everyday functioning in the Indian republic. It has vocalized the sentiment of a weary people, exhausted from the day-to-day battle with corruption at every level of public office, maladministration, and class-based governance. The party’s revolutionary or, rather, radical ways may have raised eyebrows in corridors of power, but have also come as a breath of fresh air in the dank, stale cesspool that has become Indian politics.
However, it is not all perfect. Cleaning up a mess that has proliferated in the years since independence under the guise of good governance is no easy task. The insidious creation of a political divide between the proletariat and the anteroom minority, the hoi polloi, as it were, can be traced back to pre-independence times and will require a mammoth effort to undo. To answer this call for change AAP will need to strategize on a war footing. A few weeks ago, on the invitation of a friend and AAP party worker, I set out for a meeting with the party’s National Executive member, Yogender Yadav, to discuss the possible role that former servicemen can play in the party’s functioning and strategizing. The scene at 41 Hanuman Mandir Lane was much like it is at other political venues, bustling with ticket-seekers, hangers on, journalists and workers alike. A former military man, I found myself bucking at the sight of the milling crowd and immediately thinking that the party was clearly lacking administrative skills, and may proverbially shoot itself in the foot on account of this deficiency. The need for an effective organizational structure was apparent.
The popularity of the party’s politics is irrefutable. But garnering mass support is only half the battle won. The challenge for the party going forward will be in organizing the groundswell of support in meaningful enterprise with the aim of effecting change. By forming government in Delhi, AAP has demonstrated to the proletariat that it is capable of challenging the status quo created by an apathetic bourgeoisie. However, to succeed as Delhi’s government the party will have to organize its rank and file, perhaps by using the military standard as an example. The Khirki extension episode is apt in this regard. That Somnath Bharti responded to the laments of a community is commendable, and his frustration at the non-cooperation of the police is understandable. But, vigilante apprehension, followed up by loose statements and distasteful jibes is unjustifiable. For the party to succeed in its noble agenda, the disciplining of its cadre must be taken into consideration. There are enough and more dissenting voices in its opposition, making the task of maintaining a united and strong front imperative. As a rookie entrant in a stadium of veterans, AAP is already on the back foot. But, as it prepares and trains to meet the challenge, the onus lies on us, a class of individuals desirous of meaningful change, to be patient and supportive, and ultimately hopeful of a worthy outcome.
© Kuldip Sindhu 2014
Maj. Gen. Kuldip Sindhu (VSM) retired from the Indian Army in 2006 after thirty-nine years of military service. A cavalryman, he was commissioned into the prestigious Poona Horse regiment in June of 1967, going on to command 15 Armoured Regiment. Gen. Sindhu has served as India’s Military Attaché to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, and as the Commander of an Infantry brigade in Naushera on the LoC. He was involved in Operation Parakram as the General Officer Commanding of one of India’s two rapid strike divisions at the time. He is now settled in Gurgaon where he spends his time reading and writing, and taking long walks with his Golden Retriever, Sasha.