The aam aadmi strikes back


Arvind Kejriwal’s new party and the Jan Parishad are filling the vacuum left by the UPA, says Revati Laul

Mango people Arvind Kejriwal greets supporters at the launch of his party
Mango people Arvind Kejriwal greets supporters at the launch of his party Photo: Shailendra Pandey

IF SHAKESPEARE was still churning out plays, he may have cast the UPA in Macbeth— with say, a supremely confident Kapil Sibal sitting in his leather chair in his office, sure of the ground beneath his feet. Sneering at the newly-formed Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). And then, like the curse of Macbeth, at the height of his power, a messenger walks in to inform him: “…anon, methought, the wood began to move.” Soon after which, true to the curse, the woods outside his castle begin to move, heralding Macbeth’s macabre downfall. Enough has been said of the UPA having ceased to govern. But, perhaps, not enough about the groundswell and how there are many ways in which people’s discontent is being mobilised.

Over the past two years, the discontent’s most visible face has been Arvind Kejriwal, now in his new avatar as the AAP’s founder-leader. His critics have remarked how the thousands who turn up at his meetings are an amorphous lot whose loyalties, even in the short run, are questionable. But the fact remains that the milling crowds are always there. One look at his team at any given meeting and you’d know why. The day the AAP was announced, for instance, at least seven people were furiously working on their laptops, on the AAP’s Facebook page and Twitter handles, typing press notes in English and Hindi. Another team handled crowds, and a third, the media.

Away from the cameras, barely one street away from the AAP launch, was another kind of gathering. A collection of 150 grassroots outfits formed what they called a Jan Parishad. The main organiser of this umbrella group was RTI activist Aruna Roy, who was once Kejriwal’s mentor. Alongside her were other people’s leaders such as Ekta Parishad’s PV Rajagopal, who was on India Against Corruption’s core committee. Two ends of a street and two movements — stemming from two different ways of mobilising people.

For those watching, it made for an interesting study in contrasts. The Jan Parishad’s gathering had around 200-300 people, whereas Kejriwal’s had nearly 2,000. The Jan Parishad said their aim was not to entice the media or have a show of strength in Delhi, but to use this space to mobilise and write a common charter — The People’s Manifesto. While AAP’s chief political strategist Yogendra Yadav explained how it is crucial for a movement-turned-party to pay attention to mobilisation at every level, including the media. That it’s no good thinking of the right alternatives if you cannot put pressure on the system for it to bend. That democracy is finally all about numbers and that means using everything in your arsenal, from Facebook to on-ground mobilisation, to gather a critical mass.

Either way, the space vacated by the UPA has allowed grassroots movements to capture the public imagination in ways that mainstream political parties usually occupy. On issues such as governance, land reform, economy, health insurance and education. As Rajagopal put it, it doesn’t matter if the forces coming out of the ground form a political party or stay with grassroots movements. As long as they are both working on the large vacant spaces left blank by the government. Yadav called it a “synergy” of likeminded forces. For those sitting in Delhi or switching on their television sets and doing the math of which set — Arvind’s or the Jan Parishad — are mobilising better, Rajagopal has one effective counter.

“Last year, when I travelled all over India from Kanyakumari to Delhi, covering 80,000 km, I was able to meet and bring together more than 2,000 groups,” he says. “You could see the power of this action when we gathered in Gwalior and the Central government was forced to come and sign an agreement in front of 50,000 people.” Indeed, the march by displaced farmers and tribals to Delhi forced Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh to meet them in Agra and sign on a 10-point charter to draft land reforms.

On both fronts then, the ‘woods’ are moving dramatically inward on the UPA. For people’s movements and parties, there may be no better time than this.

Revati Laul is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka. 
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