An experiment has come to an end. This was Arvind Kejriwal’s experiment in politics. He believed that as the democratically elected chief minister of Delhi he could function by disregarding some of the fundamental features of the Indian Constitution and the democratic processes. He proposed to do this by involving the people of Delhi directly in governance. He also argued that there was nothing wrong in presenting a bill in the legislature even when the bill did not have the requisite approval of the lieutenant governor of Delhi. He also endorsed the action of a self-styled vigilante group led by one of his ministers against a group of foreigners. Mr Kejriwal sat on a dharna against police officers, disturbed public life and threatened to disrupt the Republic Day parade. He also staged a janata durbar to listen to and record the grievances of the people of Delhi; but he had to withdraw the theatre after one fruitless day. These were some of Mr Kejriwal’s “achievements” through which he tried to subvert the democratic process. The irony of it was that he did all this in the name of upholding democracy.
The popularity of Mr Kejriwal and his political formation, the Aam Aadmi Party, and its electoral success in the Delhi polls were symptoms of a growing urban discontent against the existing political parties and aspects of the political system. The urban population was tired of the arrogance of power, the deliberate indifference to the everyday woes that the people encountered and the growing corruption within the political class. Mr Kejriwal’s movement — it was first a movement before it had a formal entity as a political party — had its origins within Anna Hazare’s crusade against corruption. Mr Kejriwal appealed directly to the people to be masters of their own destiny and not to depend on politicians whom he saw as either inept or corrupt, and in many cases, both. There can be no doubt that his appeal touched a chord in the hearts of sections of the people of Delhi and in parts of other cities. Mr Kejriwal proved himself to be an effective agitator with a command over the sense of theatre. He promised to the people a slew of populist measures without considering their implications.
Perhaps Mr Kejriwal’s biggest miscalculation was that he did not reckon with the profound difference between being an agitator and being in government. He himself revealed this when, under stress, he described himself as an anarchist. He paid scant regard to processes of governance and of democratic polity. In his remarkable 49 days in power, he achieved precious little. He muddled his way from one mess to another. Mr Kejriwal’s experiment in Delhi has come to an abrupt end largely because of his lack of farsightedness. But what his movement, which still retains its popular charge, has done is to open up a new space in Indian politics. It is a space that the existing political parties can only ignore at their own peril. Vox populi may not be vox dei but it is a powerful and, on occasion, an overwhelming force. Mr Kejriwal has departed but the force he unleashed is here to stay.