The return of AAP

History and newspapers have a tendency to side with victors. When a new regime comes into being, it is declared a fait accompli, an inevitability. All that the citizen can do is to accept the normalcy of it. Rumours of dissent, stories of opposition recede from the main pages and the defeated have to recover and reconstruct in anonymity.

One senses this happening with the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party fading into the back pages. One has never felt much sympathy for the Congress as it squandered its advantages, but one always felt empathy for AAP.
AAP smelt of the future, of hope as it was minted in sheer idealism of the time. What made AAP ultra was not the publicised leadership, but a merging of two generations which constituted the rank and file of the party. It had a seasoned generation of veterans, from Admiral Ramdas to Kamal Mitra Chenoy, who played sages, curbing their own ego and seeding the party with insight and balance. It also had a younger generation full of enthusiasm — men and women who learnt their politics, their sense of debate quickly.

Despite this AAP failed, because its leadership was caught both in the throes of bad judgment and endemic narcissism. AAP’s success was heady, setting the stage for irreversible blunders. When Arvind Kejriwal stepped down from the chief minister’s seat, his followers felt betrayed and cheated. They wanted him to show maturity and durability, but he continued playing the knee-jerk dissenter. The trouble was AAP saw itself as a major Opposition when it was only the embryo of a future Opposition. It misread time and collapsed like a pack of cards.

But time heals, time teaches. And the APP leadership has learnt to curb its narcissistic urges. It has realised that to be a democratic party, it has to sustain democratic forces within. It had to understand that gender was a sensitivity, and that its psephological wisdom was hardly immaculate. Any astrologer would have had a better sense of the climate and culture of the politics of Delhi.

AAP had to fumble to realise that mistakes can be redressed, that smartness is no substitute for wisdom. Initially the public was surprised to see a party function almost without any sense of balance. It was as if a gyroscope had gone awry. Even when it had become marginal, AAP pretended to act as if it was at the centre of things. Mr Kejriwal and his troupe took time to realise that they had turned from being immaculate politicians to a bunch of bumbling clowns. But two things redeemed it: The loyalty of its core members and the sense that AAP needed to reinvent itself — it was a public forum performing a public good that our democracy desperately needed.

One felt shivers of hope as Mr Kejriwal apologised for the Delhi debacle. He had realised that he was no longer a media darling. Instead, the media wanted to lampoon him. A sense of realism slowly soaked into the party, and APP leaders saw that the party had lost both magic and charisma. It had to acquire the humility of everydayness. They realised that they had shrunk from being media prophets to roadside commentators. There was a sense that their theory of corruption was knee-jerk, an accountant’s reverie.

As the electoral scene settled down, and the banality of policy decisions took over, AAP realised it had to rediscover itself as a party. What was poignant was that while the AAP leadership was busy with its antics, its enthusiastic followers were desperately pleading for sanity. AAP owes its idealistic following an apology and a self-critical analysis.

The period of recovery is always painful. And reinvention is looked at more critically. Yet, Mr Kejriwal worked at it. He was no longer the children’s crusader, the angry young man. He had to present himself as a mature politician who is easy with himself, relaxed in the presence of dissent, and someone who is able to laugh at himself. He had to make the media feel at home with him, convey that he was the recipe for future success. He was like a part of a once popular serial being re-launched, with the hope that he would kindle something in the political imagination.

There is still hope because AAP is yet to play to its full potential. There is also a deeper reason to bet on AAP. The Bharatiya Janata Party won, but its only achievement was to defeat the Congress. It was AAP that acted like a true startup with fresh ideas of what is the political. Narendra Modi and his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh/BJP combine reflected organisational skill, but it was AAP that ignited hope, conveyed a sense of effervescence and inventiveness. It showed the possibilities of empowerment and at least conducted thought experiments on how policy could be constructed differently. By picking issues like drug abuse in Punjab, it challenged the very tenor of conventional politics. AAP still represents that possibility, that hope, but as a tired hypothesis.

To recover, it has to recollect and reflect. It has to assess itself. It has to accept the normalcy of defeat and go beyond it. Cleaning up after an electoral defeat is a bit like cleaning up after a cyclonic disaster. It is difficult to move from blame and self-pity to reconstruction. Yet, one senses that AAP is moving in that direction.
AAP is now becoming a party with a more comprehensive set of strategies.

But there has to be a harder edge to its expectations. In terms of audience response, there is no urgency for APP. A lot of its future voters will be new, and their attitudes will be different. Like shoppers in a political market, they will demand paisa vasool outings. AAP needs to be back in news with the drama of new issues — that’s how it’ll be at the centre of hope and attention again. AAP needs to work hard, create recipes for normalcy and yet play shaman and trickster again. Democracy needs a sense of surprise, excitement and expectation, and among the current parties only the AAP can provide that.

 

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