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Will AAP Forge A New Political Culture In India?

Last updated on: March 29, 2022 22:19 IST
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AAP will have to learn to be patient as such electoral changes do not happen in a hurry, asserts Ramesh Menon.

IMAGE: Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, right, with Governor Banwarilal Purohit, centre, and Aam Aadmi Party National Convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, left, after the oath-taking ceremony in Khatkar Kalan, March 16, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Nobody will ever argue with you if you say India desperately needs a new political culture to have a future and race to the top of the world.

After the recent elections, a lot of speculation was floating around whether the Aam Aadmi Party will be able to forge a new political culture centered around people's aspirations of a new India where good governance and the well-being of its citizens is the prime objective of being in power.

Apart from that, they also long for a corruption-free society devoid of the politics of hatred and other ills that plague society. Ills pushing us deeper into the vortex of being a wounded civilisation.

Why did AAP make such a headway in Indian politics that is so dense to penetrate? After all, it is just around eight years old.

It was idealism. It was the promise of a corruption-free India. It was the desire for good governance.

When activist Kisan Baburao 'Anna' Hazare unleashed the India Against Corruption movement, Arvind Kejriwal was one of his right-hand men. So was Kiran Bedi, Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav, Ashish Khetan, Ashutosh, and many others.

It is another story that none of them are with Kejriwal today.

It was an iconic movement that had suddenly fired up the imagination of the young who did not like the kind of India they were experiencing as so many financial scandals rocked it.

Kejriwal felt that just protesting would not help change the system as one has to get inside it to change it.

He was right.

Today, no one talks of Hazare's movement that was hijacked by the BJP and other right-wing groups at that time to create mass anger against the Congress and throw it out of power.

Once that happened, Hazare was relegated to the dark horizon. And history.

His attempts to re-ignite the agitation when the BJP was in power failed to take off as there was no support. Obviously.

But this itself was an eloquent reminder of how things pan out in India: The principal aim of political parties is to grab power and then do everything it can to stay there. Election after election.

When nearly half the country is literally illiterate, this will continue to happen. No wonder politicians do so little to push education.

A literate population talks during an election. An illiterate one gets swayed with propaganda and sculpted slogans.

Kejriwal pulled off a significant sweep when he won 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi assembly elections in 2015, completely decimating the Congress, which did not win even a single seat despite being previously in power for three consecutive terms under Shiela Dixit.

Despite the Modi wave that had swept the country in 2014, the BJP could win just three seats though Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and his Cabinet ministers aggressively campaigned as Delhi was prestigious to hold despite being a city-State.

Something was happening in India's political arena that could not be brushed off.

In 2020, AAP again won 62 seats in the Delhi elections as voters backed Kejriwal's style of governance that concentrated on essential infrastructure needs, health and education.

Health centres catered to the poorest of the poor with their innovative mohalla clinics.

Government schools were refurbished and got a complete makeover not just cosmetically, but in intent, as teachers did their best to improve the quality of education.

In the seven years that the AAP has been in power in Delhi, it ensured that education gets the largest allocation in its budget.

The spin-off of something like this will take some years to bloom as it is a long-term investment.

The Delhi government recently encouraged students of government schools to start thinking of innovative start-ups and asked corporates to come and fund them.

This is something no government had ever done.

Called Business Blasters, this is the forum where students of classes 11 and 12 propose business ideas while the government helps them give their pitches a shape before presenting them to the corporate world.

IMAGE: Bhagwant Mann and Arvind Kejriwal offer prayers at the Golden Temple. Photograph: ANI Photo

A significant victory for the AAP was in Punjab as it is a full-fledged state, unlike Delhi, where Kejriwal has little power as the lieutenant governor appointed by the central government calls the shots.

It can now concentrate on doing things it wants to demonstrate what a popular government can do in a state to change people's lives.

Voters in Punjab opted for a definitive change giving AAP a landslide victory.

It won 93 out of 117 seats, defeating heavyweights like former chief minister Amarinder Singh, Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, sitting chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi and top Akali Dal leaders.

It was no surprise as previous Congress and Akali governments were embroiled in corruption scandals and poor governance. Both these parties dominated Punjab's political landscape for nearly seven decades.

Crying issues in Punjab were not addressed, like spiralling of agricultural inputs, agrarian crisis destroying families, soil degradation due to excessive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides that led to the spread of cancer, water tables collapsing, and so on.

In its maiden election in Punjab in 2014, AAP won four Lok Sabha seats.

In the 2017 assembly elections, it got 20 seats. But, in the recent one, it won 93.

As AAP had promised to ease the unemployment situation in Punjab during their election rallies, one of the first things that Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann did was to announce the creation of 25,000 jobs.

Out of these, 10,000 would be in the Punjab police, and the rest would be in various government departments.

Around 35,000 contractual government employees would also be regularised.

Mann directed that government offices should not display his photos as is the norm and instead have photographs of Shahid Bhagat Singh and Dr B R Ambedkar.

Mann took oath at the Khatkar Kalan, the village where Bhagat Singh lived, and not the Raj Bhavan as is the tradition.

Nabha's AAP MLA Gurdev Singh Mann announced that he would only accept a salary of one rupee a month and cycled 80 kilometres for his swearing-in.

Symbolically, all this works, but AAP will have to do a lot in Punjab to make voters sit up in other states and rethink their choices in the next election.

In one of his first speeches after taking the oath of office, Mann said that commoners will no more have to make multiple rounds of government offices to get their work done as now the government would go to the villages to meet them. The chief minister said people would now be partners in his government as it would be run from villages and cities.

There are high expectations from AAP in Punjab. The state is saddled with huge debt and the consequences of poor governance of previous regimes who were only interested in short-term electoral gains.

Mann will have to take tough decisions that will not be populist.

Being a border state has its problems. There is cross-border terrorism and also separatists trying to make a point.

As the Congress slides into self-destructive mode losing election after election, AAP is eyeing that space and now wants to make inroads into Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, which will go to the polls in another few months.

AAP will have to learn to be patient as such electoral changes do not happen in a hurry.

Kejriwal would also have to be more flexible as a leader. His authoritarian style made many leaders like Yogendra Yadav, Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan, Ashutosh, Kumar Vishwas and others leave the party.

He has to walk the talk of how AAP is not a mere political party but a revolution to change India's political culture and future.

Ramesh Menon -- author, award-winning journalist, educator, documentary film-maker, corporate trainer -- is the author of Modi Demystified-The Making of a Prime Minister.
You can his earlier columns here.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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