Sensational television media has been heavily critical of AAP’s performance. Never before in Indian history has the media so closely scrutinized a State Government’s performance in just one-month of its coming to power. In this regard, the US has a high expectation of delivery, but only for the first 100 days of the President.
One major criticism I have heard over the last few weeks regarding AAP’s performance in Delhi is, “itna drama kyun kar rahe hain?”(Why are they doing so much drama?) Another version of this grievance is, “Why is AAP expending so much energy on Lok Sabha elections? They should focus on governing Delhi.”Â Unfortunately, TV media does not present nuanced analysis of the latest political developments. In my humble opinion, there are several explanations that address these criticisms. I will present three. The first focuses on the nature of politics, the second on India’s constitutional structure, and the third on the dynamics of Delhi’s government.
The following phrase encapsulates the first explanation: politics is performance. An artist’s goal is to connect with the audience and help them see the familiar in a different perspective and buy into the artist’s worldview. For this, the message must be clear, and the strongest connections are established when the art elicits an emotional response. The same is true of politics, people, and politicians. Yogendra Yadav, AAP’s intellectual powerhouse, responding to public criticism over AAP’s activist antics expressed his gratitude at the fact that the 24/7 TV news cycle did not exist during India’s independence movement. He makes the point that Gandhi was the greatest nautanki (stage man) of them all. He would have faced considerable opposition from his people, especially over his salt march, choice of clothing, and eating habits. How does holding salt in your hand help free India form British oppression? Why do you wear such humble clothing when you can afford much more? Stop acting like a child and not eating every time someone does not agree with you. There is a system and a way of doing things. Despite his privileged background and status in society, Gandhi dressed as an aam aadmi (common man). Gandhi understood that an overwhelming majority of people are not interested in the nitty-gritty strategy and back office work of politics. Most importantly, he recognized that symbolic action captures the imagination of the media and can change the world.
The second reason requires understanding India’s constitutional structure and Centre-State relations. Unlike the US, where 13 separate colonies decided to band together and create a Confederate system first, which later evolved into a Federal system in which States retained considerable power, India consisted of a Centre that reluctantly adopted Federalism in order to safeguard territorial integrity, facilitate effective administration, and appease linguistic loyalties. Thus, while India has a Federal structure, the Centre is considerably more powerful than the States. Delhi is even weaker as it recently became a full-fledged State. Forming a minority Government in Delhi would never allow AAP to effectively bring about the transformation it seeks. The Congress and BJP had too many mechanisms to stifle AAP’s initiatives from the Centre and from within the Delhi Legislative Assembly. Put simply, if AAP wants to have any substantial impact on India’s political system, then it has to establish itself as a national party rather than a regional entity. As the most prominent member of AAP, Kejriwal needs to actively participate in the national campaign.
Thirdly, while AAP may come across as impatient, anarchist, or radical, I contend that they had to engage in unconventional politics because it was the only way to swiftly expose the amount of collusion between the BJP and Congress. Working quietly within the system was not possible given the constitutional, political, and time restraints on the minority government, nor did it make political sense. The coordinated and grossly unacceptable behaviour of BJP and Congress MLAs on February 13th and 14th is what AAP wished to display to all of India. It shows, without a shadow of a doubt that while the two national parties may contest against each other for power, they work together to extract money from the system and enrich themselves. Collusion and extractive politics transpires quietly. The press and the public complain from their armchairs every time a scam is exposed, but their moral amnesia prevents them for appreciating the Herculean level of corruption permeating India. So should AAP have continued to patiently submit a letter and follow parliamentary procedures? Kejriwal’s decision to resign was not a hurried, immature emotional response. Such politically sensitive decisions are reached within AAP’s Political Affairs Committee.
What happens next depends on whether AAP effectively conveys its message to the public as well as within the party. I have interacted with several AAP volunteers who were against Kejriwal’s decision to resign. They feel cheated, as if all the time, money, and efforts to get AAP candidates elected in Delhi was a waste. I connected with their emotional reaction, but I pray that they appreciate the political realities and understand that these steps are in the best interest of addressing the unacceptable level of corruption in India. I have the same message for Delhi voters who may feel that their vote was wasted. It was not. Your vote has enabled the impossible sea of change that was vital in the run up to Lok Sabha 2014.