I simply had to write something on this. Now, we have a political party that officially began more as a single-issue (advocacy?) group in India! One may have seen a number of testimonial parties, which do not ‘compromise’ on certain issues even in the face of Coalition Dharma, and some fairly fickle Netajis –subtlety intended —who have gone from bandwagon to bandwagon as per their convenience and the political weather. But now we have our very own Indian Bloc Québécois! Our very own Single-Issue Party (SIP)!
It all began with a spontaneous, mass fervor to eradicate the cancer of corruption in our country. At the helm was a frail, old man going by the name of Anna Hazare, who considered the Gandhian idea of fasting for penance and to put one’s point across effectively as the most potent weapon in his arsenal. With vacillating politicians adding to the din, with their promises and aggression at various points of time, it was truly a one-of-its-kind movement, maybe only matched by the Total Revolution of Jayprakash Narayan. Mellowed down drafts of the Lok-Pal Bill were passed in the Parliament. The dramatic arrival of the new-age Gandhi, the people’s Messiah – Anna, and the revulsion among the victimized masses towards corruption justified continuation of the fight for a stronger ombudsman for the political class. For a movement that had drawn heavily on media-support and endorsement from the numbers at their rallies, a sudden lull after the initial excitement presented a dilemma for Anna’s team: a dilemma regarding the ways of carrying on the movement. One faction, led by the fire-brand Arvind Kejriwal and the soft-spoken Prashant Bhushan, felt that one needed to make oneself heard among the politicians by entering the electoral fray and getting their MPs (I remember someone saying “Don’t count your chicken before they have hatched”…!) to debate the topic in the Sansad. Who can blame them? In a country where certain governments pass bills that face public opposition (though I admit that at times quite a few of them are for the greater good) purely on the basis of their numbers in the legislative Houses, one can only believe that political arithmetic is all that matters. But then there was Anna, who strongly felt that entering the system that one was fighting to change was not a wise decision.
Lately, in an interview, he mentioned that “Arvind is ambitious” and his ambition may have got better of him. The point may be a contentious one, but it certainly raises questions about the intentions of certain ‘civil society’ activists. I may have to retract my words if AAP turns out to be hugely successful and in a fairy-tale ending ends up forming the government at the center but it’s not as much this particular case but the aspects of having a potent civil-society representation, truly of the people, working besides the political circles, and the idea of a single-issue party in a country like India that I am trying to debate.
Firstly, with the ideological borders of political outfits blurring in their bid to capture power and to woo various vote-banks, certain political statures may be detrimental for the people. At such times, one needs an element of the democratic system, which is not bound by law as the judiciary or by viewership as the media (the fourth pillar?), and the most viable and obvious choice is that of civil-society activists, who are clear in their mind and strong in their conviction. In the present case, Arvind Kejriwal’s attempt at gaining a political clout may not be for the wrong reasons, but it surely sets a precedent that does not bode well for activists in the future. People may always receive activist groups with skepticism from now on, never sure if they are working for political parties or maybe aspiring to be one! Even Anna’s movement was met with a sarcastic snide from Digvijay Singh, who felt that Anna was working for the RSS. Was it a judgment based on the fact that both Anna and RSS shared a common area of operation (the Nagpur belt and greater Maharashtra) for many years or was the comment given just for checking Anna’s strikes? Only Mr. Singh knows for sure.
Secondly, I am a little skeptical of having single-issue parties in our country. I am sure that with the acumen and expertise of people like Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan, AAP will have more than just ‘fight-against-corruption’ as their campaign slogan for GE’14 but it is a fact beyond denying that AAP started as a movement for fighting corruption and drew the people’s attention by advocating the need of a Lokpal. In a country that has the social-fabric and diverse economic problems of India, I am not too sure about the prospects of AAP. It’s all good and fine with the importance given to you, the people, the AAP, and the idyllic ‘fight-for-corruption’ jingle, usually associated with “Mein Anna Hu”, playing at the back of your mind on voting day. But would you seriously support a faction whose sole purpose of coming into existence was fight against corruption? And the sad and bad part is that if AAP does answer this pertinent question in the people’s mind with alternate posturing, wouldn’t it be just an unjustified escape from an existentialist dilemma?
Thirdly, isn’t Kejriwal’s position just softening poor old Anna’s stance? Isn’t it depriving Anna of the high grounds he commanded by staying away from the present form of politics that he so despises? Isn’t it just a lose-all-ways situation? Can Kejriwal really rely on his projections and present himself as the true messiah of the fight against corruption? For me, Kejriwal’s somersault has affected a two-fold damage. As said, it weakens Anna’s position. Now Digvijay Singh can gloat about ‘predicting’ that Anna had always been driven by politically motivated accomplices. On the other hand, Kejriwal’s stance and his imminent electoral loss will make his image go down quite a few notches in public perception. One simply cannot deny the fact that Kejriwal is not as magnetic a character as Anna is. He was never the crowd-puller but the tactician and second-in-command in the Anna Hazare movement. He is smart. He is young, and, by the age-old stereotype, a tad bit rash. He should have seen well than unceremoniously quitting the Anna bandwagon.
A point that I believe is relevant, given the recent activities of AAP, is that of the desi Wikileaks drama that they have started. Although I am in no way downsizing the magnanimity and gravity of the issue of corruption in any way, I would like to point out the conspicuous political tint that the whole issue has assumed after the emergence of AAP. Targeting Robert Vadra and Nitin Gadkari for their misdeeds is absolutely fine, but by targeting only certain selected individuals and political factions, and adding to their ‘exposure‘ judgmental terms, and using all this khichdi for political mileage, Kejriwal & Co. are possibly presenting the Indian masses an AAP ki Adalat Part II rather than a viable political party for GE’14! The Irish proverb that comes to my mind is that “the fox never found a better messenger than himself“. Although I am not saying that Kejriwal is a sly schemer at all, but with allegations leveled against members of AAP (obvious side-effects?), AAP simply cannot assume the high moral grounds that Anna & Co. did.
Speaking of single-issue parties, one has a lot of examples in the international arena: like the Dutch Party for the Animals, which espouses to mainly represent the issue of animal rights and animal welfare, or the Green Party that I have always felt have had to face hard-times due to the largely bipartisan system of the United States. So, from past experience all over the world, one can only say that AAP may have little success in the political scene and this is what troubles me. Why did Kejriwal put his position of strength (at least relatively, for an activist, the Ram-Lila crowds, however thin, are better than disappointing poll results) in jeopardy? Was it really ambition and avarice and all the vices one sadly uses to describe quite a few Gen Y politicians today that led to the formation of AAP?
I only hope that Kejriwal returns to Anna as a prodigal son sooner than later.