Arvind Kejriwal is not the first crusader against corruption that India has produced. Nor is he the first person to plunge into politics with the promise to change the country. The only difference is that in a year’s time his outfit, the Aam Aadmi Party, has managed to storm to power while others failed in their objectives.
Kejriwal’s advantage is that he made Delhi his karmabhoomi (area of operation) while many others, who were perhaps more dedicated than him, toiled throughout their lives in far-off places, thereby failing to attract the media’s attention. Not just the national media but their efforts to fight corruption and other evils hardly got any coverage even in the local press.
Another advantage with Kejriwal is that he has adopted a simple and populist approach without subscribing to a rigid ideological position. In contrast, most other advocates for change have sworn by communism, socialism or any other ideology, which are unpopular with the corporate media in particular.
Kejriwal and his team confined their campaign to their struggle against corruption. They also talked about the other problems plaguing the citizens of Delhi and promised tax-free water and a reduction in the cost of electricity. Other campaigners against corruption, however, talked of total revolution or a big change in the system. They would give a call to fight against poverty, inequality and crony capitalism and champion land reforms.
Their approach alarmed the industry as well as the feudal forces. But the AAP did not create many enemies in the process of its struggle. Besides, it is difficult for ordinary citizens to understand radical philosophies and ideas because they suspect that they are unimplementable. In this era, when most people would prefer the short-cut to success, ordinary people are not prepared to wait for a revolution to solve their problems.
Whether the AAP phenomenon will succeed outside Delhi or not is a different proposition. But there is no denying the fact that none other than Anna Hazare failed to attract the people’s support when he launched the same agitation in Mumbai. The AAP dexterously exploited the space for the third alternative in Delhi that does exist in many states of the country. Incidentally, the campaign under the banner of India Against Corruption failed to mobilize the masses in the same way in other cities — not to speak of rural areas — as it could not confront the social and other contradictions within the society. Delhi is a metropolitan city with a huge urban population. Hence it faces a different set of problems. The nature of social stratification in Delhi is different from the one in rural India. There is a huge migrant population, but the dynamics of caste and class division are somewhat different.
Contrast it with, say, Bihar’s caste-ridden politics. Bhogendra Jha, the CPI MP, abandoned his family, took in party members as family-members, and dedicated his entire life to working among the downtrodden. Yet even he was looked at with suspicion by some at the height of the Mandal movement because of his Brahmin surname. A similar example is that of Karpoori Thakur, a socialist icon and former chief minister. He was never fully accepted by the upper caste elite because of his backward caste identity.
Kejriwal is a bit lucky in the sense that he emerged in Delhi at a time when neither Mandal nor Mandir is dividing the nation. In a tailor-made political turf, the AAP’s experiment has become an instant hit. Within a matter of months, the AAP is in a position to form the government. But its longevity can surely be questioned.