“This is nothing short of a miracle,” Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal declared from the dais on the Ramlila Grounds here on Saturday after he took the oath of office as Delhi Chief Minister.
Indeed, the spectacular debut of his party and the even more spectacular response from the multitude who thronged the venue have put all other parties —national and regional — on notice for the coming Lok Sabha elections.
Exactly two years ago, the entire political class was under siege from a riveting anti-corruption movement emanating from the Ramlila Grounds. Again in the last week of December 2012, the government was paralysed by a sudden explosion of people’s wrath over the rape and murder of Nirbhaya in Delhi. On December 28, 2011, the UPA regime was under tremendous pressure to get the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011, through. It got the Bill through the Lok Sabha, but chose to beat a retreat in the Rajya Sabha as it realised that the Opposition would succeed in pushing its amendments.
It was only appropriate that Mr. Kejriwal began his new journey into politics from the same Ramlila Grounds from where India Against Corruption (IAC) declared war on corruption and the corrupt, which to everyone’s dismay encompassed a vast majority of politicians. The open challenge he and his colleagues Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi posed to “corrupt politicians” left the aam aadmi agog and Union Ministers seething. But obviously it struck a chord with the people.
Frustrated by unemployment and diminishing opportunities, ever-increasing prices of everyday commodities, the government’s tilt towards the private sector and MNCs in its rush to increase growth rate, total disconnect with people and, above all, corruption in high places and bribery in daily life made men, women and youth relate to IAC as never before. On the other hand, the coming-on-board of leaders of people’s movements, including Medha Patkar, Rajagopalan and Rajinder Singh was a statement the government failed to read.
As people continued to back the anti-corruption agitation on social media, and through walk-pasts at India Gate and assemblies at Jantar Mantar, for the first time in April 2011, the Centre conceded the demand for a law against corruption with the participation of the lead agitators. Some say the government yielded ground, keeping in mind the public protests at Tehrir Square in Cairo in January 2011 for a change in leadership. Whatever the reason, a joint drafting committee was set up with the then Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, as chairman and the former Law Minister, Shanti Bhushan, as co-chair. The talks broke down as the government decided to take its own version of the draft Bill to the Cabinet.
IAC returned in full steam in August on the Ramlila Grounds with Anna Hazare, on a fast-unto-death, playing the Pied Piper. The government called a special session and gave three assurances to make Mr. Hazare give up the fast; but the Bill, opposed by several parties, was nowhere in sight. Somewhere along the way IAC energy got dissipated.
Then came the parting of ways between Mr. Hazare and Mr. Kejriwal, who announced the launch of the AAP on October 2, 2012. “We tried everything, and now we will enter politics to fight from within,” Mr. Kejriwal said. “Our paths may be different from now, but our goal is the same,” declared Mr. Hazare, who shuns electoral politics. Both believe in decentralisation of political power and finances.
From a handful of Team Kejriwal, the AAP burst on the Delhi election scene with a bang earlier this month. In a carefully developed strategy, Mr. Kejriwal decided to concentrate all his party’s energies in the national capital. Leading from the front, he took on none other than the three-time Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit, and shocked everyone by winning the seat with a handsome margin. The party won 28 of the 70 seats.
Looking forward, Mr. Kejriwal has now given a call to all “honest bureaucrats” and politicians “stifled in their own party” to join the revolution for restoring power to people. Formation of mohalla samitis, which will have financial powers, is something that has electrified the aam aadmi. “He has changed the face of politics from caste- and religion-based to issue-based. Now, even we have a voice,” said a participant in the swearing-in.