Impressions travel far in politics. Many Indians seem to think the Aam Aadmi Party could rescue India from corruption. They may; we wouldn’t know until a decade passes. This much we know now: Pictures impact minds. When they distort, they do so thoroughly.
The Aam Aadmi Party is the most digitally savvy political outfit in India, even more so than the BJP. Arvind Kejriwal has smooth social media instincts, more adroit than Narendra Modi. Modi builds on what he has; Kejriwal constructs something out of nothing.
The first impression the AAP has created is that people flock to Kejriwal. This isn’t so. AAP members and volunteers rush to him. The people around Kejriwal in photographs are AAP volunteers and followers principally from Delhi and NRIs.
The unusually long voting schedule this time – nine voting days across six weeks with many days between polling days – allows AAP workers to move from place to place. It is mostly the same group of people everywhere.
The BJP too does this but there is more social media interest in Kejriwal and the AAP because they are new. Kejriwal has sent out strict instructions to the AAP network and Lok Sabha candidates to reach Varanasi the moment the election is done with in their area.
They have reached Varanasi from Delhi in droves. This is brilliant tactics. But it does not mean that Varanasi is enthralled. Not yet. The general public in India is in the process of being acquainted with Kejriwal. He goes to them, in small groups and large. They don’t go to him yet.
The second impression is that AAP workers are solidly grounded and have a clear plan. They don’t. The AAP support base mostly is a mix of youngsters in India whose careers haven’t begun, and NRIs returning to India – in the short or long term – driven by an urge to function in India.
The young have been staying off colleges and workplaces to help the AAP. They cannot and will not do so in the long term. They will need jobs soon. NRIs have money and time assets. But the ones who plan to stay in India longer – or forever – is a fraction. Many NRIs cannot and will not work for or fund the AAP in perpetuity.
None of them have a clue about the nitty-gritty of formulating law and policy, which is the principal job of MPs. Young AAP workers in particular have no idea of what exactly the AAP will do, beyond battling corruption in principle. They don’t know, for instance, where the AAP draws the line on FDI and why.
Unbelievable as it may seem, there are young AAP volunteers who don’t even know how many seats the party won in the Delhi December 2013 election or why it quit government. This is a long way from Left cadres who know exactly what goes on with their parties.
The third impression is that the AAP comprises of economically weak and morally strong leaders. It doesn’t. Every AAP senior is a millionaire, Kejriwal included. You only have to read their declarations of assets.
One of them, the seemingly intellectually challenged Shazia Ilmi, has listed a yacht. She lives in landlocked Delhi where a yacht is as useful as on the Everest. Now she comes up with a fatal prescription for Muslims and worsens it by trying to explain.
The AAP is flooded with funds in a way the Left, for instance, has never been. Even so, AAP supporters cannot continue to bankroll an organisation that only seems to want more. Remember, the party is proud of a banker nominee who helmed an international bank with dodgy work ethics.
The fourth impression is that the AAP lives and works to cleanse India of greed. It doesn’t. The fight against corruption was a primary objective until the party headed the government in Delhi. Things have changed since.
Kejriwal and the AAP quit the Delhi government in a rush because they saw an opportunity to make a big splash in the Lok Sabha election. It was not about a crusade; it was about footprint.
The AAP, led by the artful Kejriwal, latched on to Amethi and Varanasi because it keeps them alive and adds value for the Delhi assembly election, which is the next big political battle. If the AAP loses Delhi, as they might, they lose plenty. A handful of Lok Sabha seats cannot compensate for loss of home.
The Delhi election will propel the AAP into the Haryana and Maharashtra assembly elections, due later this year. The party will be in perpetual election mode, which is a lifetime away from an anti-corruption movement.
Its volunteers cannot and will not have the energy and space to live and die for the AAP, especially as it begins to resemble the parties it hates.
It is not the AAP’s doing that it has been pushed into an electoral whirlpool so early in its life. Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan have led it admirably – with help from sharp youngsters and disgusted NRIs who can’t accept the Congress or the BJP anymore.
But to ascribe magical powers to the AAP is foggy. Credulous friends can be ruinous. The AAP is a terrific aspirant. It is not yet the answer.
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Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi.
Vijay blogs here and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.