The surprise success of the Aam Aadmi Party in last month’s Delhi Assembly election has, without doubt, caused the older political parties to sit up and take note. Simplicity and honesty seem to have become the new buzzwords in Indian politics. The entire grammar of politics is sought to be rewritten by keeping the aam aadmi at its centre. The Congress Party, the oldest political formation, with a history of both good and bad, in its 129-year existence, is hard put to come to terms with the electoral gale that struck it numb, reducing it to a mere eight seats out of seventy, its lowest ever showing in the nation’s capital. The BJP, on its part, feels robbed of a victory, falling short by a mere five seats, thanks to the stupendous performance of the AAP. With the Congress fearing an early poll for the Delhi Assembly, it cleverly propped up an AAP government in order to ward off the threat of the BJP and the likelihood of a simultaneous poll for the assembly along with the parliamentary polls. The result is that the AAP leaders are now ensconced in ministerial chairs, having formed the government with the very party against whom they had unleashed a most virulent campaign. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal no longer threatens to send his predecessor Shiela Dikshit to jail for alleged corruption during her 15-year stint as Delhi Chief Minister. He no longer talks of investigating the Commonwealth Games and other scams of the Delhi Government. He too knows that it is bad politics to bite the hand that feeds him. Yet, the AAP Government has tried to implement some of its electoral promises, especially in regard to the supply of free water and cheaper electricity. On both these consumer necessities, AAP has partially resiled on its promises by restricting the free water supply to a limited number of consumers and saddling the rest with higher bills and, in the case of power, it has simply left out middle class consumers, who too were feeling the pinch of higher electricity charges. But now that it has got water and power problems out of the way, the challenge for Kejriwal is to change the quality of governance. That is a much bigger task than tinkering with the water and power tariffs. Will he succeed in rooting out the endemic corruption in the transport department of the Delhi Government? Will he ensure that young and old passengers keen to return home are not turned away by autorickshaw drivers who insist on taking fares as per their own convenience? Can he come down on the majority of three-wheelers, which pose a constant traffic hazard by not having any of their lights in place even during the dead of night? The point is that governance is a constant process and it involves unglamourous tasks such as enforcing discipline on wayward citizens as well as government servants. Let us see if AAP will succeed in inculcating a sense of honesty in the citizenry where everyone else seems to have failed. For, it is not that only Kejriwal and Co. should be honest, the important thing is that every citizen should feel obliged to obey the law. It was good to see Kejriwal retreat following a storm of public protest after he had decided to take a five-bedroom bungalow for himself and another five-bedroom bungalow for his office. High expectations raised by AAP can always recoil on its leaders, Kejriwal should remember.
Meanwhile, the success of AAP has inspired a number of concerned citizens all over the country to seek association with the party. In Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune and other places, a number of notables have joined the party. Whether this will lead to a meaningful intervention in the political sphere remains to be seen, especially given that the ground for AAP in the national capital was prepared by the Anna Hazare-led Lokayukta movement three years earlier. Thanks to AAP, the Congress leaders too might have begun to talk of fighting corruption. Unfortunately, that is not displayed by their actions, as proved by the charade on the Adarsh report or the induction of two tainted leaders in the Karnataka Government. It is good AAP’s emphasis on honesty has forced the older political players to be mindful of moral scruples, but the danger lies in AAP itself being sucked into the permissive power system. Kejriwal will lose his relevance should he lower his guard, for AAP members too are cut from the same cloth from which the rest of the political tribe is cut. He is forewarned.