In deciding to float the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Arvind Kejriwal went against his own stated convictions. When Mr. Kejriwal teamed up with Anna Hazare in April 2011, he did so believing that the movement they had fostered was potent enough to shake up the establishment. For a brief moment, this did look possible.
As the crowds swelled at Jantar Mantar, the venue of Anna’s many fasts, the United Progressive Alliance government caved in and agreed to form a joint committee with Team Anna to examine the Jan Lokpal Bill. The legislation was at the centre of the movement’s fight against corruption.
The ‘no politics’ refrain was very much evident when Mr. Kejriwal spoke to The Hindu in August 2011, at the end of the first phase of the Anna agitation. To a specific question on whether he would get into politics, he said: “No, never. We don’t need to get into the system to fight it. We want to pressure the government and assert our rights as citizens. Everyone who has a dream need not get into politics (It is a long journey ahead: Kejriwal, The Hindu, August 31, 2011).
Yet, as fatigue set in and the crowds thinned out at the rallies, Team Anna found itself crumbling under the government’s relentless attacks on the movement and its refusal to go further on the Jan Lokpal Bill.
Mr. Kejriwal was also ridiculed for fancying himself as a game-changer when he was clearly unwilling to get into politics and change the system from within. He was often asked the question: “If politics is so dirty, why not assume responsibility and clean it from inside instead of grandstanding from a safe distance?”
One year after his insistence that civil-rights activism was more idealistic and therefore better than politics, Mr. Kejriwal announced the formation of a new political party, later named the Aam Aadmi Party. The name itself was a brilliant send-up of the Congress’s aam aadmi (ordinary person) claim. And indeed as the Congress watched in complete disbelief, the AAP not only snatched its main plank but slowly but surely cut into the party’s vote banks in the slum clusters.
Like other parties, the AAP too came with a bagful of promises, among them 700 litres of free water and reduction of power bills by half. But what really swayed voters was the party’s exuberance and perceived idealism. The AAP was like a breath of fresh air in an atmosphere sullied by personal greed, ambition and opportunism. For a lot of voters, used to the cynical calculations of politicians, it was proof of AAP’s earnestness that Mr. Kejriwal did not even consider contesting from a second seat in Delhi. If the AAP had won with Mr. Kejriwal losing his own election, the party would have landed in the messy situation of having to find another Chief Ministerial candidate. In the event, Mr. Kejriwal’s individual victory by a huge margin proves that if he had confidence in himself, so did his voters.
The AAP ran a fantastic campaign and made terrific use of its symbol – the broomstick. For the urban elite, the broom promised a clean up of the system. For the depressed castes and classes, the AAP’s proud embrace of the broom was a message of inclusion that worked wonders.