By Mehernaz Patel:
There is no doubt that the Aam Aadmi Party’s regime in Delhi started off with a joyous wave which then sunk to the murkiest depths of petty pandering, as only a good political scandal can. The ousting of Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Anand Kumar and Ajit Jha from the party’s National Executive filled plenty of newspaper pages and occupied a sizable chunk of prime time news as fingers were pointed just about everywhere and the Bhushan-Yadav duo even released a letter defending their actions, for the sake of their volunteers.
The party was then heavily criticized for repaying their volunteers in such a manner, putting their future as the ruling party of Delhi at stake. Even Congress chief Maken went on to put in his two cents and label them as the “ladne-dharne wali party”. Yet, their recent report card stands dignified and goes beyond the sheer weekly-soap style entertainment the media rung out of them.
Ever since their coming to power in Delhi, the AAP has been busy on a number of projects. A notable one being their initiation to encourage the suggestions of the public in preparing a participatory budget. The suggestions would be filtered through Mohalla Sabhas, the most innovative ideas warranting discussion in the cabinet. To challenge the popular notion of Delhi being notoriously unsafe for women, Convenor Kejriwal’s office issued a letter to Delhi Police Commissioner BS Bassi, seeking to install CCTV cameras across the city, specifically “dark spots” and police stations. A great move considering the lack of accountability prevalent in the police force relating to matters of gender and sexual violence. The cost, as specified in the letter, was one the government was more than willing to bear.
Even DCM Manish Sisodia gave the party a fairly well deserved pat on the back as he commemorated two of their best achievements in a month of their election – their subsidies on power and the provision of up to 20,000 litres of water per month free of cost to all households. These, in addition to limits set on swine flu test prices, a hike in minimum wage to Rs. 9048 per month, and the setting up of a corruption helpline, ensure their current success in governing the capital city.
Considering what most of us get done in a month-or even two, their recent status as media fodder couldn’t possibly be held against them. Or could it? To what degree would the representation of a political power in mainstream media affect the public’s view of their calibre?
Perhaps we could compare the AAP’s recent debacle with one as old as memory goes, and even more shamelessly entertaining – the Lewinsky scandal during President Clinton’s term in the USA. After his initial denial of the incident and Hillary Clinton’s appearance on the news in support of her husband, his approval ratings which were earlier at 60 went up to 10%. This entire time, Clinton maintained a sharp focus on policy and eventually retired as one of the more favourably looked at Presidents in US history. This judgment based on political substance and prior assessments is termed as “politics of substance”. An idea proposed by John Zaller, a professor of political science at the University of California, it counteracts a lot of the notions of the media as the so called fourth branch of government and the all-powerful sway it holds on public opinion. Here, we as a population do not necessarily believe what the press presents to us at the time of political turmoil, this “substance” in question moves public opinion to the bottom-line of whether a politician is effective in working toward the welfare of his constituency.
This means that Clinton’s approval would reflect an approval of his policies, not his character. This adds up if we consider that Clinton’s term saw some of the lowest crime rates, a peaceful nation and the best economy the US had seen in 25 years. Basically the whiter version of acche din.
So what would such a concept mean for AAP?
Similarly, despite all the flak the AAP got and continues to face due to its split with core members like Yadav and Bhushan, their performance will be the judge of their effectiveness and not the version narrated by the media. A version we are collectively beginning to agree is being overtly sensationalized by everyone without apology in order to compete with old rivals and the time-based nature of new media.
This brand of news has resulted not only in blowing details completely out of proportion, but has also ushered in the era of paid news as well as the memory of the public consciousness being whittled down to a few days at best. Swine flu who?
Yet, despite our collective amnesia when it comes to the faux pas du jour, national memory always favours those leaders who do their jobs well. An outcome that the AAP is clearly vying for and one we’d hope they achieve.