The only way AAP can survive is to dump ‘Humpty Dumpty’ Arvind Kejriwal

12 June-2014, Hasan Suroor: Arvind Kejriwal is the great Humpty Dumpty of Indian politics, a comically pompous figure with a destructive touch of hubris, and to me his fall looks about as final –and fatal –as that of Lewis Carroll ‘s fictional character who moments before his crash was boasting of his authority telling Alice, “When I use a word it just means what I choose it to mean— neither more, nor less”.

The only way AAP can survive is to dump ‘Humpty Dumpty’ Arvind Kejriwal

The only way AAP can survive is to dump 'Humpty Dumpty' Arvind Kejriwal

No amount of spin or gloss can hide the deep fissures in Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the fact it is facing an existential crisis. The party has effectively imploded and the so-called unity efforts after the recent revolt against Kejriwal’s authoritarian leadership are nothing but a desperate attempt to retrieve something from the wreckage. It is only a belated damage control exercise driven by a lot of platitudes but with no real momentum behind it. All it might do is delay the inevitable but, barring a miracle, I don’t see the party regaining its short-lived old glory (remember Dec 2013 and Delhi elections?) which itself, as I wrote at the time, was grossly exaggerated.

The fact is that the seeds of AAP’s current crisis were contained in the very manner in which it was conceived– converted overnight from a noisy street protest group into a political party with no organisation (grassroots or otherwise ) to speak of. It was essentially a one-man band with Kejriwal, surrounded by a small coterie, in charge of everything from the box office and the orchestra to stage lighting and acoustics. Yet, in the heat and passion of Anna Hazare ‘s chaotic anti-corruption movement and amid a middle class clamour for change (just any change) nobody cared to notice that he was the wrong man for the job. What a newly minted party with the ambitious agenda of seeking to revolutionise conventional politics needed was a grafter with a long-term vision both for the party and the country. Instead, what AAP got was a flashy action hero with no ideas and -worse – so obsessed with himself that he couldn’t see beyond his nose. Street smart shoot- and-scoot tactics and clever soundbites may get you prime time TV coverage but they cannot become substitutes for providing the party with a clear direction and sense of purpose . As Hillary Clinton says in her just published memoirs Hard Choices the question for a wannabe leader is not whether they want to be one but “What’s your vision?” and “Can you lead us there?” She, of course, raises the issue in the context of her own leadership ambitions but the point applies to anyone who aspires to lead either a party or a nation. Chanting the mantra of fighting corruption ad nauseum, hurling abuses at rivals, and wishing a “plague on all your houses’’ do not constitute policy, which is what ultimately defines a political party. No wonder, AAP was all at sea when it found itself thrust into power in Delhi. In the absence of a clearly thought- out programme and with no understanding of the complex task of governance, Kejriwal and his inexperienced flock ran around like headless chickens creating one controversy after another that left AAP’s supporters embarrassed and ultimately disillusioned . AAP was in power for barely 48 days and during this period not a day passed when there was no mayhem. The final straw in this farce (written, produced and directed by Kejriwal in which he cast himself as a messiah who had come to set the world to rights) was the self-avowed “anarchist” chief minister’s decision to sit on dharna in the heart of the national capital to demand action against some police personnel. By then it had become clear that AAP was completely out of its depth and was looking for a quick face-saving exit from government. First it tried to provoke the Congress into withdrawing support but when it didn’t oblige Kejriwal invented a wholly specious excuse to resign after accusing the Congress and the BJP of sabotaging his anti-corruption plans by not allowing him to introduce the Delhi Jan Lok Pal Bill. The rest—the disastrous Lok Sabha election results, falling out with the media, infighting, and a spate of high-profile resignations—is history. Given the nature and circumstances of its birth AAP never looked like a long-distance runner. A protest movement was hijacked by Kejriwal and his supporters to launch their political careers while claiming to be pioneering a new kind of politics. This “new politics” was never clearly defined except in the most fuzzy terms which basically boiled down to railing against the existing political establishment without offering a credible alternative agenda. Forget foreign policy or defence. We still have no clue even about its economic policy with Kejriwal in favour of private enterprise ( the party has several respected business figures among its supporters ) while Yogendra Yadav, the party ‘ s real brains and Prashant Bhushan calling for a more active state role in running the economy. All we know is that AAP is against “crony capitalism”. But has any political party declared that it is pro crony capitalism?

Worse, the party has developed a penchant for speaking in different voices with its leading lights (all too eager to have their five minutes of fame in front of TV cameras ) making conflicting statements even on sensitive issues like Kashmir, violence against women, and regressive cultural practices such as khap panchayats. To cut to the chase, AAP never really grew up and remains at its core a protest party. But meanwhile Indian politics and public opinion have changed profoundly and there’s now a new national consensus around Narendra Modi’s BJP leaving little space for even well-established mainstream parties let alone a fledgling protest party. AAP’s moment has passed and it is now well past its sell-by date. Indeed so outdated that even the once fawning Delhites have no appetite for it now and rejected it in general elections . Way back in December was last when AAP’s popularity was at its peak after the Delhi triumph I warned that it could end up as a flash in the pan. I cited the experience of protest parties in Europe to argue that by their very nature they have a limited shelf life. If AAP is to survive it will need to go back to the drawing board and reinvent itself as a serious political player with a coherent policy framework ; a proper organisation; and most importantly a credible and sober leader . Kejriwal and his cronies will have to be sacrificed for the larger good of the party. My money is on Yogendra Yadav. He is widely respected as much for his academic background as for his understanding of political processes and public policy. He will bring the much needed gravitas to a party which seems to have been hijacked by a bunch of not too pleasant street fighters and bullies. In fact, Yadav should seize the moment and force the leadership issue even if it leads to a split . He will be doing AAP and its supporters a favour by hastening the burial of old AAP and facilitating the birth of a new–more ideologically focused and better organised –AAP II. But is he ready to bite the bullet ?

(Input source: FP)