Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Protest to Nowhere - AAP losing focus?

Perception is a major thing in politics. You may not be doing anything constructive or visionary, but even when resorting to sheer populism a political party must be able to create a perception of having done things. After all, in the age of marketing, part of the game is about how you present yourself in the market. The only political party in India that seems to have some semblance of that is BJP, though their lemmings - sorry, I mean speakers - just go berserk on television in an effort to be seen and heard, if only for nonsense.In this context, AAP was a refreshing change. They seem more of a CFP (Camera Friendly Party) since they managed to package their appearance and wording very carefully. Notice the way Arvind Kejriwal and co. tie their mufflers - it reminds you of how a migrant rickshaw puller or resident auto driver of Delhi would cover his ears in the biting winter of Delhi.

Packaging however, is only half the game; substance revealed under pressure and the performance of the product decides the feedback on the product. There are several problems with the way AAP has been governing Delhi. True, they are trying to enact their manifesto; however, the NGO model of governance does not work in the political sphere. It is precisely due to the abdication of it's role in day to day governance that Bangladesh today sees a major disconnect between the political parties' cadre and the welfare of people. Though the NGO model of service delivery has worked significantly well for Bangladesh if one were to go by it's Human Development Indicators (no mean feat at that), political violence in the latest general elections once again demonstrated the fact that since the State does not promise these services, the political constituents are least bothered if people are affected - after all, the votes each party accumulates has nothing to do with the welfare of people at any level. The social vacuum created was appropriated by groups such as Jamaat-e-Islami, whose vigilante justice is responsible for much of the violence there. That was also the reason why accidents such as the infamous garment factory collapse happened last year; with the state conveniently looking away, relying on NGOs to fulfill the service vacuum, negligence creeps in.

Coming closer home, when a Somnath Bharti or a Manish Sisodia talks, or when the AAP's Delhi Chief Minister, instead of focusing on constructive ways to deal with the impasse, decided to come down on the road, a disconnect is highlighted. The NGO model of governance is easier to run, since you manage to incorporate the local people's consent. However, this model often tends to appropriate several glaring ills. The Khirkee Extension episode showed that while Delhi Police is no good, the behaviour of AAP's vigilante groups were nothing but racist. One Ugandan woman has also identified Bharti as amongst the people who instigated the crowds to hound her and beat her up. Having a protest at such a delicate time just goes to show why Mr. Kejriwal is still behaving like a frog in a well. Just imagine - the perception thus created is that the protest is an excuse to cover up the shenanigans of Delhi's inept ministers. Moreover, Mr. Kejriwal had to eventually compromise and climb down from his rhetorical grandstand and accept the fact that the police officials he wanted suspended will go on leave.

Moreover, the loss to the Delhi state exchequer, already being reported to be in a deficit, has been completely ignored. This is important, since all the welfare schemes that Arvind Kejriwal would like to enact as Chief Minister would need money. With a city that already pays up to 30% of taxes on everyday transactions in some form or the other, forcing the city's economy to grind down with usual dharnas will cost money to the State and the people. This will only push away the people from the government, as the ABP News survey noted in high disapproval ratings for the dharna from the very people that Mr Kejriwal said was undertaken. Singular point focus works well in an alley; however Delhi is not one but many alleys, where you have to learn to look at the larger picture. This protest managed to alienate AAP from the people of Delhi in ways even they would not have imagined.

It is true that the police is not under the city government's control. However, one has to understand that the fight for it will have to be fought Constitutionally. The exception of morality in other parties was what differentiated the AAP from other parties; however, instead of seeking a conciliatory approach till all avenues were found closed, the AAP chose to dilute it's own morality with a silly move aimed at non-existent political gains. It speaks volumes of the limitation of the NGO model and the bankruptcy of ideas when a bimbette news anchor comes up with a better idea than the ruling dispensation. There are several ways to control law and order. For instance, why doesn't the Law Minister ensure a few  things:
  1. More number of days of case hearings
  2. Coordination center with legal ministries of neighbouring states to monitor criminals
  3. Empowerment of the Home Guards under the CM?
These are vital steps to start addressing the law and order problem of Delhi. Fighting for your own militia makes no sense. Instead of shouting from the rooftops like Shiela Dixit did, the CM could well look at what he can do with the powers that he has. Stepping out of Constitutional limits should always be the last resort, not the first. While the AAP often invokes Mahatma Gandhi, they tend to forget that Mr Gandhi always used any form of civil disobedience as the last resort.Protests to nowhere achieved nothing in the end; in fact, Mr. Kejriwal has pushed himself and his party into the corner, whereby people will only view them as absolute anarchists. Instead of focusing on governance, AAP has successfully generated the perception that it is a party of loafers who have nothing better to do. Being greenhorns does not give one the license of behaving foolishly. Instead of losing focus, AAP would do good if they could put their noses on the millstones and get back to work, and conceive a larger picture for the city of Delhi, not to become a one agenda party. It would do well to learn from the reasons of the Left Front's failures in India despite its many adherents and recalibrate itself to a low-key performance oriented part, and not just a CFP.

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