The past few years have been transformational for India and Indians. Country is younger and youth today is more involved in politics than has been in any generation before.
Historically, Indian National Congress or Congress Party is credited for leading India to freedom. They gained loyalists who praised them for their devotion to the country, their initiative in freedom fight and their sacrifice. After few decades, many people by default would just vote for congress believing that they deserved to “rule” or “lead” us. Then there were other parties with their non-congress, usually more fundamentalist ideologies and beliefs which have come and gone. With shifting perspectives, the country is now looking for stronger alternatives.
The generation of congress loyalists from freedom struggle is diminishing. The youth today has grown up with different and some contradictory thoughts. We have not known the reality of freedom struggle and grown up only about half a century after independence. We have heard alternate views on the ‘Father of our nation’, his wrong decisions and personal motivations. We have grown up with more appreciation of shades of grey in people than see them as binomial ‘good or bad’. We have grown up hearing that India needed slight dictatorial leader to begin with to sort out the nation. There are many more voices and debates and viewpoints we have heard.
We are less tolerant of injustice and failings of systems. We are impatient and want to see results. We have traveled the world and compare our systems with other countries. We question and want answers. More than anything we want change.
In 2011, Anna Hazare started movement against corruption and Indian youth raring for change jumped on the bandwagon. charged up from movies like Rang de Basanti, and movements/ revolutions in Middle Eastern countries, took it upon themselves to protest. It was like they found a noble mission in their mundane lives.
Anna’s followers full of media specialists gave him footage and used new age channels like twitter to seek support. Most of Anna’s close brigade was people who believed in the cause, who want to fix the nation and at the same time wanted their personal aspirations met. There sure were exceptions but that’s not what I am talking about over here and they never got popular for their self-sacrificing ways.
Before this starts to look like anti anna or anti AAP, I want to add the disclaimer that I am trying to look at things as objectively as possible. I do have my own set of questions for these protesters, most of who converted into AAP supporters. First major question is that how many of these supporters and activists ever got into the details of the bill they were supporting, understood it and had informed view around what is right and what is not. The whole movement was of blind followers who believed that the person or group driving this has right intent and is knowledgeable enough to provide substantial inputs on correcting the bill. Second more of rhetoric is did they look within themselves on how they have supported corruption on things which could be done without corruption. Examples are getting driving license and passport made, paying full traffic fine versus 20-50 bucks to the traffic cop to get away. Let me say this again that there are always exceptions but they are a small percentage. Yes these things still function without paying extra money, but we as nation encourage corruption instinctively. This fight against corruption was full of contradictions where Indians were willing to pay little extra to get work done faster. We are an impatient country but that is a whole other topic of conversation.
This movement benefited two political experiments in the past few years. One is the Modi experiment by BJP and other is the new party – AAP.
Modi, over a decade back became chief minister and stabilized his stance in Gujrat. He aspired for next bigger thing by becoming prime minister, which to his credit he has achieved. Here are few things that made Modi experiment work.
- Presidential form of elections. His campaign was lead like presidential elections where one person is projected as the top leader. His leadership and strength was highlighted. This goal was aligned to tactical execution of his campaign. Modi’s projection as prime minister included a well-articulated agenda. Modi was revered, epitomized rags to rise story, touched on basic needs of people and customized it according to constituencies he campaigned in.
- Strong core agenda. Youth today is more aware of international scenario and is craving to compete with other countries. Development agenda was highlighted towards this end. He touched the nerve of youth and small town population with issues like unemployment, infrastructure and inflation (a word we would not have understood or cared about few decades back).
- Proof of concept. Any campaign has its set of exaggerations and elimination of what is not so positive. Gujrat model was highlighted and anything done well was exaggerated. Modi’s opposers highlight him as dictatorial only helped his campaign because it just showed that the dictatorial style of governance is needed for development. All good done in Gujrat worked as proof of concept of his style of governance.
BJP projected a leader who showed India vision of brighter future, demonstrated capability to execute in one state and claimed this was scalable across the country.
Aam Aadmi party took birth from this Anna revolution where some people found opportunity to experiment with their political aspirations. AAP story has had several twist and turns. They had potential which now seems to be diminishing due to regressive thought process and archaic means.
- Agenda of Corruption free India. Kejriwal picked from Anna’s campaign and lead his political agenda front ending a noble cause which people of India believed in. But is corruption really our top concern? What went wrong was that people of India wanted revolutionary change without knowing what they wanted and without inherently believing in the anti-corruption as I have mentioned earlier. As much as we want zero corruption, we are all responsible to encourage it at some level. Corruption bothers us when it is impediment to growth, when it includes large sum of money, when it is without any results and especially when it risks our life (like in case of defense). Added to this the corruption agenda propagated was too wide without any scope and full of personal attack on people who may be corrupt but have contributed to national development in some or other way.
- Changing strategy too often. This was the biggest reason for AAP failure. I agree with AAP supporters that their strategy went wrong. They shifted their strategy way too much and way too often. They started with jan Lokpal bill as their top priority. They were able to win Delhi by huge margin and came across as unprepared to run a state. Instead of shifting their approach to that of governance, they projected themselves as anarchist and activist even while they had authority. Kejriwal and his advisers consumed by arrogant victory assumed that their false humility will work across the nation. The incorrect extrapolation led to mass recruitment and inorganic growth. They happened to bring in people who were in their comfort professional zone with underlying political aspiration or activism without appreciation of ground reality. Their strategy was to bring in strong local people with clean image and let them lead their constituencies on their own. AAP volunteers started dropping out due to lack of support and strong leadership. There have been several shifts in direction which has led to confusion within their own.
- Leaving Delhi. Kejriwal’s worst decision ever was to leave Delhi. It was his platform to build further credibility by making a difference to Delhi. Even if congress would have threatened them to withdraw support soon, they should have gone on god speed to do what they could have. This would have given them time to think through their next steps. They missed the message that many AAP voters in Delhi said that they still wanted to see BJP at national level. If he were able to work his way around and did some good stuff, Kejriwal would have had more time to build stronger national level party and gained some experience.
- Loose campaign. They had less time to campaign and needed strong reach which they could not create. Their Delhi victory of being underdog did not work at national level without credentials. Their win on taking Sheila Dixit head on, did not work on taking Modi head on. They won over Sheila Dixit because there gaps in her governance, whereas Modi had many success stories to tell. They tried to prove Modi’s exaggerated claims by going to Gujrat but they could not build a strong case about it. They would challenge everyone and became regressive in putting everything as either good or bad. The rallies and messaging became anti-Modi as opposed to sharing their own credibility on what they could and would do for the nation. This was loosely drafted and party members looked fatigued doing everything on their own now that they had alienated even media which till sometime back was their biggest support. And Modi at the end of it he was popular, had political and financial backing, decades of experience and strong strategic team supporting him.
- Amateur posturing. Let’s accept that posturing is part of our life and AAP did no wrong in posturing. They just did it in a drama queen way throwing tantrums all over the place. If media said anything nice about people AAP was against then there was generic statement against all media. They would blame and challenge anyone and everyone. They lost several supporters due to this. And now AAP has gone in self-victimization mode. As much as they deny, they like posturing and are quite amateur at it. They play games and claim victim of others game. Political posturing requires some growing up and conviction.
- Common vision and voice. I have mentioned inorganic growth of party and this was perilous. They could not create common vision for the party. They could not provide strong credible team, strong agenda or even strong leadership.
- Latest change in strategy. With multiple shifts in their strategy, they have now settled for Modi’s strategy of projecting one person. Well, this is also similar to what happened in Anna campaign. Kejriwal is being projected as Gandhi, epitomize self-sacrifice and play innocent victim. If they feel that this is how Modi won, then they are again on wrong path. They need to figure it out.
AAP is potential almost lost due to its ambition and immaturity. To revive they require stronger faces for the party, its people’s party and if ‘Kejriwal ki koi aukat nahi hai’ then he should bring in multiple strong people on the top. AAP needs clear agenda, cohesive ideology, strong inclusive leadership and a complete rejuvenation.