There are no dearth of experts critical of the Aam Aadmi Party and its leaders. Much before Arvind Kejriwal could step into the chief minister’s office, they aired views ranging from scepticism to downright condemnation. No other political party in recent history has faced such scrutiny.
Let’s take the extremely cynical prediction of many commentators that AAP and its top leaders are going to fail. Their criticism basically revolves round a few specious arguments; that they are inexperienced, that they have a skewed vision of the future and that they promise too much.
Inexperience: When a Manmohan Singh or a Narendra Modi assumes office for the first time, few raise this question. Rahul Gandhi as a prime ministerial candidate is not even doubted. And what is their track record? Manmohan Singh has presided over the most scam-ridden government in independent India. Narendra Modi in no way can absolve himself of the responsibility of anti-Muslim carnage under his watch. Questions about their competence or experience are not raised when a Lalu Prasad or Mamata Banerjee , a Beni Prasad or a Sushil Shinde made a union minister. Take Shiela Dikshit. Under her watch, Commonwealth Games’ organisation raised a public stink, women continued to feel insecure as governance evaporated. So much for experience!
Vision: Does Congress or BJP have a vision? Their manifestoes are nothing but platitudes, sloganeering and empty promises. Under Congress and BJP, though relatively briefly, rulers have siphoned off public money. Citizenry has remained outside agenda setting. Crony capitalism has prospered and the majority of Indians have got increasingly marginalized.
Promising too much: Take any of the manifestoes of Congress or BJP. They promise the moon before every election, but can’t enact even a lame Lokpal for 40 years. Let’s not even mention other grandiose promises like removing poverty in five years.
Why, then, a different and exacting standard for AAP or its leaders even before they started?
We don’t need experts to tell us that a sense of doom and frustration had descended on Indians who do back-breaking struggle to make two ends meet. In the name of governance under Congress and BJP, and even the Left parties, ruling party apparatchiks have bossed over people and cornered privileges and obstreperous bureaucrats have bullied citizenry.
Contrast all that to AAP’s record thus far. It has not yet made any pompous claims, other than working toward a truly participatory democracy. On the contrary, it has kept its promises confined to common concerns like easy availability of power and water. Its top leaders shine in probity compared to the mostly tainted Congress and BJP leaders.
AAP has also stood apart with its views and practices, on three major features of a thriving democracy.
Transparency: No other party in independent India has maintained transparency about its working, fund collection and internal decision-making the way AAP has shown thus far. Despite the calumny that AAP faced during Delhi’s election campaign, it remained the most open party, its source of funds regularly uploaded on its website. In a first, the party actually asked people not to donate any further when its collection reached the Rs 20-crore mark. Can any other party claim this feat? We have no clue of who funds BJP, Congress and other political parties, not to talk about how much.
Accountability: Instead of defending any party member leader, AAP promptly set up inquiry committees when vested interests tried to slander Shazia Ilmi or Kumar Viswas when they were accused of favoring money-making deals. The swift inquiry found out that a blackmailer, possibly funded by one of the panicky major parties, tried to entrap the two. In similar situations, Congress and BJP would first close ranks and then defend the accused.
Governance: In a commendable departure, AAP ministers shunned the symbols of power and privilege – the red beacon lights, security cordons and sprawling bungalows – power trappings that have kept the elected representatives inaccessible to common people. For most politicians, politics is a gateway to power to grab money, exert influence and stand apart to be counted among the privileged. All this has made a mockery of our democracy. AAP leaders, in contrast, didn’t rush to power.
In another first, they went back to the people in improvised opinion polls. Only after about one million positive responses came, AAP offered to assume power. In Congress, such decisions are taken by a mother, son and daughter trio and, in BJP, often a triad, and in other parties, just one self-serving head.
AAP has made a remarkably good start. Even if the party fails to hold on to power in Delhi, it would have irrevocably altered Indian political discourse, creating much welcome benchmarks in politics. Would that still be a failure? Surely not.