Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Repackaging Lohia or Lenin won't get AAP far

More column centimetres and TV talk-time have been consumed in analysing the AAP victory in Delhi.  Probably, there will soon be a slew of book launches chronicling the rise of the common-man’s messiah Arvind Kejriwal.  Predictably – there is already talk of AAP spreading its wings to other parts of the country. Some feel – Mumbai is ripe for picking with a similar “urban revolution” and AAP should seriously target the BMC polls next year – while others think they will be better off prospecting in election bound Bihar and West Bengal.

Personally, I am sceptical of the national scalability of the AAP model   - especially under its present leadership and ideologues. It’s entirely possible, having surprised in Delhi they can always find the magic formula and pull off miracles in other parts of the country too.  However, with its roots in the IAC (India Against Corruption) Movement - AAP’s main plank so far has been anti-corruption (essentially at a petty level) and empowerment of the Aam Aadmi.  Whereas, BJP – under Modi has been playing the development and governance cards (the latter includes eliminating large-scale institutionalised corruption or scams as seen during the UPA regime). In my judgement, the 2 are somewhat different “positioning”, in political marketing terms, which may not hold equal appeal in all places and situations.

In an affluent city-state like Delhi – the concerns are more civic amenities, administration, law and order, petty corruption and cost of living. Development (“Vikas” as it were) though important is not an immediate crying need. People tired of the corrupt old political class wanted a breath of fresh-air. However, the same may not be the case in a state like West Bengal and Bihar – where people are desperately trying to cope with basic challenges of survival. There the crying need is economic development, employment and income generation opportunity - essentially call for a better future and standard of living. Issues like corruption – probably – come one step up on the Maslow hierarchy - when people are struggling to keep the body and soul together.

I found it telling,  in Delhi – the youth swung en-masse towards AAP. Come to think - this is the constituency that had overwhelmingly supported Modi in the Lok Sabha elections.  Throughout  his campaign – Modi was talking to the younger generation and even on the day of voting –  he tweeted urging  young voters to come out in large numbers. Vote they did – but not for his party. I would attribute this to the fact that – the younger generation in Delhi (whether they are locals or have come in from other parts of the country for education or employment) don’t have to worry about their next square meal. They are in Delhi because the city already offers them greater economic opportunity  than other places. Therefore, their concerns are different and of a higher order than their counterparts in Calcutta or Patna – when after completing school or college youngsters have to pack their bags for Delhi, Bombay , and Bangalore for higher education or in search of a job.

Bihar has already seen large-scale social re-engineering thanks to the Lohia-ites, though the jury is still out on whether Caste still prevails over development – in what is arguably the last remaining BIMARU state. But, in Bengal – the so called empowerment of the “proletariat” has no novelty factor.  People have seen a lot of it first under the Left Front and now under the Government of Ma, Mati and Manush. To them AAP will be yet another “peoples’ party” by a new name.  The ordinary Bengali is tired of slogans – they now wish to see delivery of real economic progress, industrialisation and employment – to secure the future of the next generation.

This is not to make a case for the rise of the BJP in West Bengal – especially after Mamata Banerjee has one 2 important by-polls with a thumping majority – quashing rumours of dissension within her party and disenchantment of voters.  It has also shown the Muslims are still unwilling to align with BJP. To make a decisive shift – BJP has to break into the core vote-bank of Trinamool, which won’t be easy.  

But, for AAP - to gain a toe-hold in Bengal or Bihar, it will have to radically reinvent itself. Merely repackaging Lohia or Lenin won’t get them too far.

Article first published in Swarajya: Click here to read