The stunning victory at the Delhi Assembly elections of a motley group of hitherto mostly unknown people getting together to form the Aam Aadmi Party, the common man’s party, (AAP) has shaken the very foundations of Indian politics. With the basic manifesto of a fight against pervasive corruption and political chicanery it emerged as the second largest party spectacularly demolishing the ruling Indian National Congress. Having ruled over Delhi for 15 long years the Congress took power for granted and had become arrogant and supercilious. All that was crushed by the unexpected rout at the hustings.
Barging into the political arena with a bang the AAP shook the established political class out of its wits. Going to the people from door to door and mohalla to mohalla (neighbourhood to neighbourhood) it set up a new standard of operating procedure that even the established mainstream parties have noticed and admired. The party brought into play the people’s choices in the democratic process. Shunning power, it even went to the people for advice whether it should govern with support from outside of Congressmen whom it called corrupt. With total disenchantment with the established political set up, people opted for AAP even if with the outside support of the corrupt.
Hitherto, the people were in a democracy but were practically out of it. They went through the motions of electing their representatives to the legislatures for making laws and enforce them with equity but the elected assumed the roles of the feudal lords of yore – becoming in effect ‘rulers’ and not people’s representatives. Over time they became a set of powerful and influential few who appropriated for themselves perks and privileges of office at the cost of people’s welfare. Pervasive poverty and illiteracy accompanied by the “mai-baap” (paternalistic) syndrome helped in perpetuating the iniquitous order. No wonder, today the elected political class has become one of the richest segments which uses power and influence for its own advantage occasionally doling out sops to the masses.
Comfortably ensconced in their cocoon the leaders became unaware of the ground realities. Keeping themselves away from the masses they lost touch with the people so much so that when Rahul Gandhi, the Congress Vice President, happened to say after the severe reverses at the hands of the “new-kid-on-the-block” that he desired to emulate the AAP model and to “engage with the people” it was taken as a profound statement – so profound that sycophantic noises were made in the Party to suck up to him. The “dynastic” party leaders, in their persistent efforts to take care of themselves, had clean forgotten that a political party in a democracy is a mouthpiece of its supportive people and has, therefore, to always remain “engaged” with them. In their wheeling and dealing for power and pelf the party leaders had overlooked the fact that they were where they were because of the people. Democracy, plainly, had been made to stand on its head.
There is a flip side of it too. Even the people had got used to the feudal ways of the ruling parties. Common man would never see ministers from close quarters unless it was for a sham “mass contact” mission the eventual result of which would be mostly a cipher. So, when Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the third-time chief minister of the state of Madhya Pradesh, passed by in his car with windows rolled down after his recent victory at the hustings it became news. A photograph appeared of Chauhan peeping out of his car window and waving at people. Today “news” is something which surprises people, being something out of the ordinary.
It was, obviously, an extraordinary sight as even ministers, leave alone chief ministers, of the various states in the country are hardly ever seen with the glasses, generally heavily tinted, of their car windows rolled down. They, especially chief ministers, travel in that Indian symbol of power, the traditional Ambassador manufactured by Hindustan Motors and made bullet-proof for them, accompanied by a cavalcade of several vehicles, mostly of the SUV-type, and zip through the city streets that are blocked to all other traffic – vehicular or pedestrian – for their quick, uninterrupted and safe passage. People hardly ever see their faces as they keep a safe distance from the common man.
That, after the swearing-in ceremony, Shivraj Singh Chauhan waded into the assembled crowd in Bhopal’s Jamboree Maidan too made the news. The newspapers duly reported the very unusual event. It is another matter that a few decades ago on being elected the leader of the legislative assembly the chief ministers used to be sworn-in in the hallowed precincts of the governor’s house. Apparently, that was not felt to be democratic enough.
The whole thing has now been taken outdoors to grounds like the Jamboree Maidan where special arrangements are made over a period of a week or so to provide a garishly decorated podium at considerable costs to the public. All this is done not only for the main protagonists like the governor and the chief minister and his ministers to be sworn-in but also for the party bigwigs and sundry chiefs of various political parties that are considered friendly or are potential allies in forming governments in this era of coalitions. Several kinds of arrangements, from public address systems, marquees to tentage, transport, refreshments and drinking water, are also made for the foot-soldiers of the party and the people. It is apparently, a massive public function where the main actors are confined to the podium and the people are kept at bay, amply and securely barricaded. But, Shivraj broke that all and hence the news item.
Sourcing of funds for this massive show of popularity as also political strength is somewhat blurred as much of it is covered under the head of “security” for the governor and other political biggies. The buck, therefore, necessarily has to stop at the public treasury.
There is an element of hypocrisy in the entire exercise. While for most of the term the chief minister or his ministers are hardly ever visible to the people or are hardly ever available to them, the swearing-in to hold the public office and to uphold the Constitution is conducted in their (people’s) rather distant presence. For most of the five-year term they behave like maharajas of yore, keeping shut in their bungalows or offices or bullet-proof vehicles, guarded 24-hours by Kalashnikov-wielding commandoes and yet they try, at great public cost, to flaunt their democratic pretentions.
The advent of the AAP is likely to change that all and people may, henceforth, get their due importance since the raw politicos have proved that “engaging with people” has its own dividends. Under their substantial presence in Delhi no attempt at the usual horse-trading was made by the BJP which missed being in power by the skin of its teeth.
AAP’s victory, therefore, is a game-changer. Indian democracy now appears to be on the mend. Not only the hitherto apolitical common man has participated in the political process in a big way its representatives, the AAP, seemingly, have ushered in a new political paradigm – an era of cleaner and people-centric politics in the country.
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|Allen L. Jasson|