BY PRAFUL BIDWAI
Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal recently did something no Indian politician has done to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi. He embarked on an ‘inspection tour’ of Gujarat, talked to ordinary people about their experience of the state’s hyped-up ‘development’, and confronted Modi with more than a dozen questions ranging from corruption, to starvation-level wages for workers, closure of small-scale industries and suicides by 800 farmers.
Kejriwal punctured Modi’s artificially elevated image, and exposed him as a corrupt, venal and cynical politician – “a property dealer” who grabs land from poor farmers and gives it to the Ambanis, Tatas and the Gautam Adani group at throwaway prices. He highlighted the corruption, unemployment, appalling state of education and power shortages prevalent in Gujarat.
The AAP chief continued his broadside against the Krishna-Godavari (KG) gas deal, on which Mukesh Ambani is highly vulnerable, and also asked how Adani could multiply his wealth 12-fold during Modi’s tenure, bypassing environmental, industrial and labour regulations. He accused Modi of transferring a free public hospital built after the 2001 Kutch earthquake to the Adani group, which has now become a for-profit enterprise.
Kejriwal hit Modi hard where it hurts – big-time corporate cronyism. His audacious attack left the BJP speechless – the more so because he and other AAP leaders have recently declared communalism a greater danger than corruption.
True, the AAP is still not zeroing on the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, nor questioning the temporary, dubious respite (misnamed ‘clean chit’) Modi got from a Gujarat court in the Zakia Jafri case. But nor is any other party, including the Congress. Truth to tell, no other party has assailed Big Business’s capture of the political system like the AAP. In the recent past, only the Left parties exposed the collusive KG gas-pricing arrangement, but they did so within a parliamentary framework. The AAP is raising the issue on a broader terrain.
This signifies a shift of strategy. The AAP is no longer solely targeting the Congress-led UPA, as it did earlier. It recognises that the UPA is on the run and the main target must be Modi. This hopefully marks a departure from the trajectory that India’s anti-corruption movements have followed since the 1970s, when they aligned with the Hindu Right against the Congress.
If Kejriwal bases his anti-Modi campaign on solid factual evidence (plenty of which is available), focuses sharply on the absence of rule of law under Modi, and his systematic undermining of institutions in Gujarat, including the judiciary and police, he will inflict far more damage on the BJP than the AAP’s electoral victories possibly can. One must hope that Kejriwal will contest against Modi in Varanasi. Yet, the AAP’s real value must be measured not by the number of Lok Sabha seats it wins – which may not exceed 10-to-15 – and not even by the votes it takes from the BJP, but by its ability to puncture Modi’s superhuman ‘56-inch chest’ image and the charisma manufactured by the corporate-controlled media.
With his credibility, Kejriwal has much to contribute to such image deflation. That’s why he must not make reckless statements accusing the entire media of being funded by Big Business, and threatening to put journalists in jail. Such intemperate statements can only antagonise honest journalists and potential supporters. The AAP has its flaws, including allergy to ideology, lack of emphasis on secularism/communalism, poverty, inequality and gender justice, and absence of a larger political vision.
But the AAP is a product of specific social and political circumstances marked by a long-term decline of the Congress and the non-emergence of a credible centrist or left-leaning alternative. The AAP’s potential capacity to evolve into a progressive left-of-centre force shouldn’t be dismissed – despite its obsession with morality. The AAP can cause a major shift in the outcome of the coming election because of its audacity to take on giant corporations and target Modi as their chosen representative. The election is extremely delicately poised: just 30-to-50 of the Lok Sabha’s 542 seats can be a game-changer, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Although the BJP appears set to emerge as the largest party, nobody expects it to win a majority. If it can be stopped at 160-170 seats, Modi will probably be unable to lead a new government. Many potential allies will find him too polarising, and would prefer another leader. But if the BJP reaches the 190-210 mark, Modi could stitch together a bare majority with other parties joining or lending “outside” support to the BJP, including the AIADMK, Telugu Desam or other Andhra/Telangana parties, and a few rag-tag groups.
The BJP’s traditional opponents aren’t well placed to break its momentum. The Congress isn’t putting up a spirited fight. Some of its senior leaders aren’t even willing to contest. The party is in a grim leadership crisis. Sonia Gandhi is withdrawing, but her son cannot replace her; he has neither strategy nor dynamism. The BJP’s principal Cow Belt opponents – Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in UP, and Janata Dal (United) and Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar – are not in good health. Their social bases have become shaky. They are plagued by dissensions and factionalism. They lack imaginative policies.
The SP could lose a good deal of its Muslim support because of the Muzaffarnagar riots. The BSP is unable to extend its base beyond the Jatav Dalits, themselves restive. The JD (U) is on the defensive as the upper castes move away after its split with the BJP. The RJD’s revival is jeopardised by internal strife. More important, the deeper social processes that threw up and sustained these parties – including Dalit aspirations for self-representation, and the Forward March of the Backwards – seem to have all but run out of steam. These parties can no longer generate new energies to trigger an emancipatory social mobilisation. They aren’t fighting the BJP ideologically.
The Left parties, a bulwark against communalism and icons of progressive radicalism, are in poor shape. Traditionally, their electoral politics was based on, and followed, grassroots people’s mobilisations. Now they are groping for an electoral strategy detached from mass mobilisation. Their attempt to put together an 11-party non-Congress-non-BJP national front has come a cropper, with the AIADMK, BJD and SP walking out. Former CPI general secretary AB Bardhan terms this front a “big mistake”. The Left’s 2009 tally of 24 seats in the Lok Sabha is forecast to fall.
The Left faces trouble in its major home states too. Having fared badly in the 2009 West Bengal Lok Sabha election (down from 35 of 42 seats to just 15), and routed in the 2011 assembly election (down from 235 of 294 to just 62 seats) and the local polls since, it’s desperately turning to ‘identity politics’. The CPM, singed by the departure of its ‘Muslim face’ and one of its ablest leaders, Abdul Rezzaq Mollah, is fielding an unprecedented 10 Muslims (of its 32 candidates). But it has no credible strategy to challenge Mamata Bannerjee.
In Kerala, the CPM snatched away the Kollam seat promised to the RSP, which walked out of the Left Democratic Front after 35 years. Worse, a diffident CPM is backing as many as five ‘independent’ candidates, four of them Christians, instead of fighting these seats itself. This doesn’t exude much hope.
-the writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and rights activist based in Delhi
-courtesy: The News International