Will India finally get its wish list — a Congress party minus the dynasty and a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) minus the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)? Can the staggering win of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi assembly polls and the urban insurrection unleashed by it bring about what many Indians of all persuasions have longed for long?
The Congress party’s humiliation is complete. Sixty one of its 70 candidates lost their security deposits in Delhi, including Ajay Maken, the party’s chief ministerial candidate. Has the time come for the freedom party to heed Mahatma Gandhi’s advice in 1947 to disband the party? Modi and the BJP have also to face up to harsh truths: Can the party cut its moorings to the RSS once and for all and chart a course that is totally devoid of sectarian overtones?
Sadanand Dhume wrote tongue-in-cheek in Foreign Policy that India ought to go for a constitutional monarchy for, after all, it has a royal family in the House of the Nehru-Gandhi. Beneath its biting sarcasm, Dhume’s piece captures the utter irrelevance of a dynasty in modern India. Be that as it may, the Congress party’s slavish dependence on the dynasty stems from the fear that they have none else with a pan-Indian appeal. The AAP’s rise and Modi’s ascent should lay to rest that mindset. Indeed, a family connection would appear to be a positive disadvantage in Modi’s and Arvind Kejriwal’s India.
The AAP’s team is eclectic and a rainbow alliance of high achievers in diverse fields — pen warriors to innovators in fund raising, back room geeks who run the social media campaigns to grandees of yesteryears. Atishi Marlene is 33, a Rhodes Scholar with a St Stephen’s-Oxford background and a spokesperson for the party who is a familiar face on TV. Another is Ragav Chadha, 30, a chartered accountant and a specialist in fundraising. Ankit Lal, 30, is a social media geek and Dilip Pandey, 38, an ex-Hong Kong based IT professional — both work on AAP’s outreach programme. Embedded within this youth set are people like Rajmohan Gandhi and Yogendra Yadav who bring a vast amount of experience to mentor and guide the fledgling AAP. The common thread that holds this polychromatic group is the belief that politics is a vocation to serve and not a career. Almost all of them seem to have responded to a higher calling. Which indeed was Mahatma Gandhi’s creed and the driving philosophy of the Congress in its early days. It drew to itself, men and women of different persuasions and of high calling to serve the nation.
The corruption of this high ideal set in the moment the party fell prey to dynasty: A crippling dependence on the House of Nehru-Gandhi to garner votes during elections. The party’s decline has been constant except for short interludes, but now the rot is cancerous. The body blow it had to endure during the 2015 parliamentary elections was bad enough and there was this feeling that the party may rise once again, as it had in the past, but the cataclysmic results of the Delhi elections put paid to such misplaced optimism. Its tryst with dynasty is at an end!
It will need to reinvent itself and a 130-year-old party may finally have to learn politics from a fledgling two-year-old party. For indeed in the AAP manifesto there is much in common with the Congress’s programmes. In its early days, the Congress was also a rainbow coalition, a mass movement that accommodated diverse interests in the service of the nation. The AAP is the Congress minus the toxic dynasty; a Congress that may have been if it had allowed competence and merit to flourish instead of paying homage to bloodlines.
The drubbing that the BJP and Modi have suffered during the gruelling Delhi elections, though not as devastating as that of the Congress, has been severely demoralising and the sheen of Modi’s apparent invincibility shorn forever. It has given a second wind to the entire opposition. Modi and the BJP will have to rein-in their overweening arrogance and go back to the drawing board and reinvent themselves. If the party is serious about its slogan ‘development for all’ it has to cut its roots from the RSS. Indeed it seems as though the party coined this clever catch phrase simply as an electoral gimmick without thinking it through. In actuality ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ (with all, development for all) in Hindi has such a simple yet metronomic quality to it that it has captured the imagination of the nation. And if the BJP wants to walk the talk on this and other equally compelling agendas it will have cut its umbilical cord to the RSS.
Both the BJP and the Congress are faced with an existential challenge. The upper echelons of both parties are risk averse and, therefore, unwilling to shed their past. But can AAP’s unprecedented faith in the young trigger another insurrection? Will AAP’s rise make the impossible, possible?
Ravi Menon is a Dubai-based writer, working on a series of essays on India and on a public service initiative called India Talks.