There is no doubt that the Aam Aadmi Party has seen a meteoric rise in its electoral and political stature in India in a very short span of time. The party had its formal inauguration in November 2012. That makes it even less than four year old.
The AAP owes its genesis to Anna Hazare lead anti-corruption movement of 2011 that was hugely successful. It has galvanized people from the cross sections of society, spread across the nation, especially its urban centres.
There were differences and many activists of the ‘India Against Corruption’ combine that had spearheaded the movement, chose to dissociate from the decision to form a political outfit. Even Anna Hazare was not sure and was non-committal. His approval came very late.
But people saw a point here – in voices of those activists who were of the opinion that a political extension was the next logical step to cleanse the political system. Between May 2011, when the anti-corruption movement was at peak, and November 2012, when the AAP was formally launched, the existing political system had effectively worked to blunt the edge of the movement which was seeing a clear roadblock ahead.
There was no surety on when India would see a massive mobilization next. It could again have been a long round based on apolitical principles of civic society movements before people would feel motivated enough to come to a platform to raise their voice against the existing system. It was added by the inherent flaws in ‘India Against Corruption’ itself. Its activists had started speaking in different voices sending confusing signals to supporters as well as to people who felt proud in taking a principled stand for the movement.
So, there was nothing wrong if some activists thought to fast-track the process of cleaning the system – by adopting political means to fight the existing system – by going political to take on the politicians who had become too routine for voters.
And it was quite an impressive victory.
After its inception in 2012, almost a year after, in December 2013, it emerged as the second largest party in the Delhi assembly polls and went on to form the government with Congress’ support. The government could survive only for 49 days before Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP’s chief architect and Delhi’s chief minister, pulled the plug, shielding behind his Jan Lokpal Bill, that the Congress led central government then had refused to allow.
People went by it since Jan Lokpal was the demand around which the 2011 anti-corruption movement was weaved. But the alternate view was always there that buoyed by his prospects, Arvind Kejriwal thought to exploit his chances on a larger national canvas by going big in the 2014 General Elections. His party fought it nationally but it proved to be an extremely bad miscalculation. His party had a humiliating defeat with record number for forfeitures.
But 2014-15 again proved to a momentous year. Arvind Kejriwal successfully campaigned in 2014, making Delhiites believe that he had not deserted during his first term. His apology act worked and worked miraculously, giving his party an absolute majority of 67 seats in the 70 member Delhi assembly in the February 2015 polls.
But that is the midpoint where the AAP’s fall from grace starts.
Emboldened by the absolute majority, the party decided to shed some of it so common man style tags by comfortably accepting bungalows and big sized official vehicles. During the first tenure, the party had made a big issue of it, asking for flats and simple cars. People thought it was an exercise aimed at concentrating efforts to do some real good ground level politics like checking corruption, making roads better, making Delhi’s power supply round the clock, streamlining its public transportation system and working on Delhi safer for its people.
But when a wave of routine political acts started that were clearly anti-common man, the alternate view, that Kejriwal had deserted Delhi in February 2014 for selfish political motives and that he had just used the 2011 anti-corruption movement to further his political interests, started getting upper hand – and since then it has seen a flurry of developments that put AAP in clear dock.
Its Delhi government sent a proposal for massive salary increase in Delhi’s legislators. It appointed several AAP leaders on positions that were paid from the fund that could have been used for the larger public good. The case where it appointed 21 AAP leaders parliamentary secretaries , fully paid from the public fund, is being heard by the Election Commission of India for violating norms. Delhi had 7 ministers. One was jailed for faking his degrees and educational qualification. One was jailed for accepting bribe. One was jailed for involvement in a sex scandal. Several other MLAs have been embroiled in this or that controversy that a conscious voter would certainly detest. Clearly, there is a difference between hooliganism and anarchy and the acts of the AAP MLAs clearly fall in hooliganism category. Transport Minister Gopal Rai had to resign because of corruption allegations.
Then there are other controversies like the AAP turning into Arvind Kejriwal’s personal fiefdom. Every voice that speaks against Kejriwal, is either expelled from the party, like we saw in case of Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan, two AAP’s founding members, or is crushed and silenced, like we saw in case of Dharamvira Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa, two AAP MPs from Punjab, who have literally been shunted out for speaking against Kejriwal.
And as the party is looking a political spread beyond Delhi, especially in Punjab and Goa, it is dealing with controversies from those places as well because it has sought an organic route to grow in these two states, hijacking leaders and workers from other parties. Many AAP Punjab leaders, who were earlier in other parties, are facing corruption allegations. The party that had made system cleansing its founding principle had to sack its Punjab chief for taking cash for allotting tickets. Then there are allegations of sex scandals from Punjab involving AAP leaders which are doing rounds. And even in Delhi, Sandeep Kumar, the Women and Child Welfare minister, was not the first one facing allegations of criminal acts against women. Another MLA Amanatullah was arrested on allegations of threatening and eve-teasing by a woman. Another Delhi lawmaker and former minister, Somnath Bharti, was sent to jail in a domestic violence case.
Delhi is 18 months old for the AAP and it government is deeply entrenched in controversies associated with the party. Punjab’s battle has got in full throttle and is throwing its share of muck in the cauldron. Let’s see what Goa has to offer as its electoral battle hots up.