India is a country where human icons get venerated and those questioning them despised. Among the traditions bequeathed by the Congress party of the freedom struggle days was the reality of decisions being centralised in a single individual, Mahatma Gandhi. As Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose or Sardar Vallabbhai Patel discovered, if any steps were taken contrary to the “inner voice” of the Mahatma, he would quickly move to get that rescinded, the way in which Netaji was forced to surrender the presidentship of the Congress or the Sardar had to step aside to allow Jawaharlal Nehru to take over as the first Prime Minister of independent India, despite the former’s overwhelming backing for the post within the party. Later, Nehru behaved in a similar manner, for example, in the matter of Purushottam Das Tandon, whom he disliked and reduced to a nullity within the Congress leadership. In such a situation, it would have been foolhardy to challenge the Mahatma or later Nehru, and few did, although there were situations when the Mahatma’s or Panditji’s decisions may not have been optimal. Clearly, the Aam Aadmi Party’s most powerful leader, Arvind Kejriwal, has steeped himself in the history of the Congress during the days of the Mahatma, for he appears to seek to create for his party a model similar to that in the Congress even in recent times, of having an “infallible” leader whom to question would be an act of heresy and base treachery.
This columnist has run into Kejriwal only twice, once in a seminar organised by Transparency, and the other at a function held in the Vivekananda International Foundation, and hence cannot claim expertise on the ideology or competence of the Chief Minister of Delhi. However, it would be safe to say that both Kejriwal as well as his party would be the beneficiaries were there to be a culture within which views contrary to those of his and those who think like him get expressed, especially in a context where a few course corrections may indeed be needed. From the outside at least, Kejriwal’s Man Friday, Manish Sisodia, seems to be in the Ram Manohar Lohia mode, admirable in some ways but not a perfect fit for the 21st century. Sisodia seems to believe, for example, that lapsing into the English language would be an act of betrayal of the “aam aadmi“, never mind that almost all such individuals — including in UP and Bihar — would like their children to learn and to speak perfect English, if only politicians would ensure that state-run educational institutions assure such a result. Those unfortunates (from the South or the Northeast) who do not know Hindi would have to rely on sign language to communicate with Sisodia, given his reluctance to ever speak English despite knowing it well, despite the fact that Delhi is as much their city (being the national capital) as it is Deputy CM Sisodia’s. A 21st century vision would have among its centrepieces fluency in the international link language, and rather than seek to snuff it out the way Karpoori Thakur managed to do in Bihar in the 1960s (with consequences which are apparent to this day), what is needed is to shun the prejudices of the past and accept the imperatives of the present, by ensuring that government schools are facilitated to give the same level and quality of education as private schools do.
That there has been such blowback from the way in which Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav have been turfed out of the highest deliberative body of the AAP is a sign of health, no matter what it does to the blood pressure readings of Kejriwal loyalists. Across the country, there are millions —mostly young, but others older — who see in the AAP a future ruling party for the country. However, for such a vision to get actualised, what needs to be avoided is for Arvind Kejriwal to create an aura of infallibility for himself and his group within the AAP. Thus far, and it is certainly early days, it must be admitted that Chief Minister Kejriwal has been acquitting himself well in his current job. The AAP ministry is handling its responsibilities without fuss and with efficiency. What it needs is to avoid adopting the models of the past, whether they be that of the Congress or the erstwhile Socialist Party. The collective leadership of the AAP needs to create a paradigm which fits the needs of the present. The voter is watching as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to fulfil his promise of breaking down the colonial governance structure inherited from the past and replacing it with one where the government is (like oxygen) invisible and invigorating rather than intrusive and enervating ( like smog). Should Modi fail to do so, and should the AAP remain true to its first principles, across the country this fledgling force could in 2019 script as big a shock nationally as it did in the Delhi Assembly polls on 10 February this year. What the AAP needs is for a nationwide and open election of office-bearers, so that the will of its cadres prevails rather than the wishes of what seems from media reports to be a Delhi-centric collection of confidants of “Big Boss” Kejriwal. Such a concentration of power within the Lutyens’ zone rather than getting dispersed across the country at large has been the bane of the BJP as well as the Congress. If it infects the AAP as well, that party will lose the ability to ensure hope for change across the country, leaving the next Lok Sabha to be a mosaic of regional groups, should the BJP not succeed in transforming the country during the coming four years more effectively than it has succeeded in doing since 26 May 2014.