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Image crisis hits AAP too early in life

January 28, 2014 13:00 IST

A party of newbies which  had anger as fuel and hope in its own capability to work wonders suddenly finds itself not only in government but put on fast forward by everyone. These are heavy burdens for a fledgeling party, to perform under a microscope. Transparency is what they promised, and they are in a glass house now, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.

Yogendra Yadav has been speaking of four television cameras that followed Somnath Bharati that infamous night when he was raiding the African colony in Khukri Extension in Delhi and apparently, they could also belong to news networks. He says the evidence supporting the law minister’s innocence lay in the footage but why are they not being shown? He kindly asked one anchor, “Have you seen it?”

However, the snippets rule the air and newsmen dog the Aam Aadmi Party leaders with one question: What about the minister’s sacking? And when Bharati starts mouthing street language, and accuses the media of having taken money from Modi -- and quickly withdraws it -- he is seen as a maverick and trouble for the AAP.

Little wonder that in two interviews, Arvind Kejriwal was blunt in saying that they won the elections not because of the media but in spite of them. This doesn’t score brownie points with the media which loves all controversies, major and minor, including those they create. Gullible, they air doctored footage of stings. 

Add to this the Vinod Kumar Binny aspect. The man who wanted to be a minister, a candidate for the Lok Sabha, suddenly raises Cain and is expelled. In turn he opts for a short-lived anshan and tries to bring the force of Anna Hazare on AAP -- ten days to deliver or there would be a larger agitation.

The AAP is truly in a pickle. Overstating their objectives in the campaign and struggling to learn the ropes in government, it is quite ensnared in the delivery process where it may or may not get the entire support of officialdom. The AAP is anti-establishment and anyone who is not a common man, by definition, is against it.

It does not have the luxury of brazenly riding out the storm like the legacy parties, for the AAP is an experiment whose time had come. Having been asked to “show responsibility and form a government” by the Congress, BJP and media, it is now under test, forced to do in weeks what the other parties were never asked to do in an entire term.

The Congress failed to deal with its image issue for the last four years of UPA-II and is now trying to repair it. It allowed the worsening perception of it as being a party steeped in corruption, protective of that malaise, of being concerned only about its cronies, to persist. It has engaged PR firms for huge fees, and no prizes for guessing where that money is coming from.

Rahul Gandhi’s sudden appearance on TV for an interview may not have addressed this sinking image issue after half a decade wasted on half-lies and innuendos and lots of hot air to conjure up an image of a trustworthy party. For this, it may pay the heaviest price, not just the PR bill: loss of office. Opinion polls show as low a number as 81 for it in the next Lok Sabha.

The BJP has managed to sidestep 2002 and emerge an alternative because it has put Narendra Modi’s governance model in the showcase. An aggressive media which softened somewhat only after he became a prime ministerial candidate finds the Samajwadi Party communal. The SP can’t find a place to hide.

But a party of newbies which  had anger as fuel and hope in its own capability to work wonders suddenly finds itself not only in government but put on fast forward by everyone -- rival political parties who are game to use their bites any day, any time. These are heavy burdens for a fledgeling party, to perform under a microscope. Transparency is what they promised, and they are in a glass house now.

This image crisis has hit the AAP too early in its life, the usual 100-day (it is not by the calendar but a metaphor for a period of letting them be) honeymoon has been denied to it. In such circumstances, with Lok Sabha polls only weeks away, it has to deliver on its promises. There is hardly any party which was ever asked to give an account in 30 days.

Binny’s is a standard and tiresome practice of politicians sent out of parties. Only established parties can ride it out. However, since he retains his seat despite his expulsion, he can potentially be a problem in law-making.  His statements may even dry out soon but Bharati’s conduct remains the staple for the media, with social media taking it up seriously.

The AAP is unable to defend itself from charges from Binny and defend Bharati from others, including Binny. The AAP realises the damage to the party is substantial. Misgivings about it have already emerged and are being aired. The sheen can wear off easily. Spokespersons, not all of them of the calibre of Yogendra Yadav, falter and are now scarce in TV studios.

Closure on Bharati’s conduct may be long in coming. That the AAP does not believe in business as usual which is accepted from the legacy parties is lost sight of, mostly by the middle classes who may have wanted to shift from the NOTA option to AAP across the country when their turn to vote comes with the Lok Sabha elections.

There are others on whose tongue the AAP can trip, for instance, its Maharashtra convenor, Anjali Damania, who has said that “our online membership is open to all. Anybody can join AAP. Even Arun Gawli and (Narendra) Modi.”  Those who depend on snippets of news can misunderstand this. Gawli is a notorious don turned politician in Mumbai.

Prashant Bhushan whose personal opinions create a stir is not visible, and the AAP should thank him for that. What the party needs now is not expensive PR consultants like the Congress has hired for Rs 550 crore and the BJP set to do for some Rs 400 crore. The help has to come from within -- its leaders need to put their nose to the grinding stone and avoid self-goals.  And say ‘no comment’ to TV crews.

Mahesh Vijapurkar