The political entrepreneur has learnt his lessons. Expect a humbler, more mature, more pragmatic government in Delhi
Gautam Chikermane | February 16, 2015
The never-seen-before victory of political entrepreneur Arvind Kejriwal and his still wet-behind-the-ears Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is a Phoenix-like rise – unprecedented, unexpected, unimagined. Winning 67 out of 70 seats is a performance that no adjective can capture.
Such a massive mandate has gone beyond all benchmarks that political pundits usually base their analyses on. Kejriwal has been able to convince Delhi voters, across incomes, castes and religions – the traditional differentiators and fragmentors of votes. For the next five years, we will not hear things like “the poor want this” or “this community seeks that”. The AAP has brought them together on a single platform. The poor and the rich, the lower castes and upper, this minority and that majority … all have come together and voted Kejriwal to power.
Two reasons for this coalescing. First, AAP changed its communications stance to one of positive change from the constant whining it did in the general elections in 2014. On that front, it has learnt its lessons from the BJP, and shows how a political enterprise can quickly adapt and move – no different from the flexibility of start-ups.
Second, if leadership is any indication, Kejriwal, who had pegged himself against Narendra Modi in the general elections for the prime minister’s office, had no equal at the state level for the chief minister’s. To this ball of fire, BJP added fuel with its confusion, lack of clarity and a general sense
Give or take a couple of seats, a warm victory is sitting cosily in Kejriwal’s muffler. The mandate AAP2 has received is overwhelming, no doubt. But to presume that he will repeat the errors of AAP1 would be foolhardy. In AAP2, we see a more mature party, a tamer leadership that’s here to stay.
At the end of the day, Kejriwal is a disrupter, an idea I explored in my book, with Soma Banerjee. In ‘The Disrupter: Arvind Kejriwal and the Audacious Rise of the Aam Aadmi’, we explored the mind and soul of this phenomenon that had rocked Delhi in December 2013, when AAP won 28 out of 70 seats and, with the Congress backing, rose to power.
We discuss the key ideas Kejriwal floated – anti-corruption; decentralisation of power and devolution of decision-making; and the right to reject and recall candidates. We also went under the skin of the psychological phenomenon – political entrepreneurship; disruption as a tool for political presence; and the audacity that the aam aadmi (common man) was acquiring, one group after another, one issue at a time.
With this behind, here’s what I forecast ahead: disruption.
I use the word neutrally, not as many AAP volunteers, some of whom have taken a personal dislike for me, do. That is, I see disruption as a practice of breaking down extant structures and presenting new ones. When Kejriwal did this during AAP1, he broke institutional arrangements, no doubt – dharna on Rajpath and midnight vigilantism by Somnath Bharti on the negative side, and rain basera shelters for the homeless and an audit of all schools on the positive side.
But he didn’t have the stamina to last, to endure, to create new structures. Kejriwal was, allegedly, in too much of a hurry. The slap he got in the general elections, where AAP lost 428 out of 432 seats it contested, with 413 of his candidates losing their deposit, must have worked. These losses probably brought the entrepreneur in him back.
What would be different in AAP2 would be the texture of his disruption. Accepting prime minister Modi’s invitation to have tea with him, for instance. I believe Kejriwal has realised that in the case of Delhi, unlike say Maharashtra or Haryana, the state government needs to work closely with the centre. Cooperation between these two governments is the key to delivering governance to Delhi.
Policing, for instance, lies with the centre and midnight raids on women is not the way to tame them. Likewise, in addressing corruption, inefficiency and lethargy of the divided municipal corporation of Delhi that is under the political control of BJP, which won 138 of the 272 wards.
On corruption, both Modi and Kejriwal stand on the same platform. But while Modi’s way of dealing with it is institutional (if policymakers are to be believed, corruption in central ministries has ended), Kejriwal’s is political (get a group of people and do
In AAP2, Kejriwal will have to bank on his negotiating skills rather than organising bodies on streets. He will need to lean on arguments rather than allegations. This will be a difficult path for him, particularly if he has to pull the expectations of his party workers, who may not be as quick as him in changing their stance. We will see him sitting on the negotiating table far more than sleeping on the street.
Kejriwal’s AAP2 will be a humbler, more mature, more pragmatic government – it can’t be any other way since he’s promised to stick it out for full five years. It will also be less confrontational. His disdain for institutions will continue, though he would be more circumspect. The freebies raj will continue through water and electricity but possibly with economic riders attached. Populism too will ride high. But this time, AAP2 will bear the rigours of administration as well.
That said, if you think that the road to Delhi’s governance ahead will be a smooth ride, perish the thought. Disruption will remain the key currency of India’s most successful political entrepreneur. It could even be, to adopt Joseph Schumpeter’s splendid expression, a creative disruption.
Chikermane is the New Media director of Reliance Industries Ltd. Views are personal and do not reflect the views of his employer or his co-author. Twitter: @gchikermane