Before placing AAP in a larger perspective, a quick look at the recent turn of events. The considerable dignity that the Supreme Court has restored to Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP government in Delhi is not going to be digested easily by the BJP, Congress, corporates and the media controlled by them. In other words, the sniping will continue. A myriad spins will be placed on a judgment with multiple loops.
Just consider the situation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s point of view. A Prime Minister who has come to power riding an almighty wave is not just blocked but roundly trounced by a rank newcomer in the capital of the country of which he (Mr Modi) would like to project himself as undisputed leader. Likewise, former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, keeping a gaze on a fourth term as Congress chief minister, is wiped out without a trace. Naturally, the two would mount their arsenal against him. A common enemy, like common pain, is always a great adhesive.
Even with the cannons trained on them, the AAP has not just miraculously survived but has created an impression on pundits, not always generous with praise, in fields like education, health, water and power supply. Now that AAP is armed with the Supreme Court judgment, what good works might it not initiate to enhance its electoral invincibility? This would be even more worrying for the established parties? What might the establishment do now?
When the AAP burst upon the scene with 67 out of 70 seats in 2015, I had described it as part of a global anti-establishment wave, circumscribed by Indian conditions. I have just returned from Rome where the ruling class has been dethroned by AAP lookalikes. The “Kejriwal phenomenon” came up for occasional mention with journalists.
More recently, the stunning victory of a 28-year-old Latino bartender in New York over a 10-term Democratic lawmaker also bears resemblance. The winner in New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was, in her last job, mixing cocktails in a Manhattan bar, sometimes on 18-hour shifts to help avoid foreclosure of her mother’s property. But more meaningful for her career was her stint as Bernie Sanders’ campaigner during the 2016 elections. Little wonder she stands on a similar, Leftist platform, demanding universal healthcare, ending tuition fees at public colleges and abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Mr Kejriwal is less ideological but shares a great deal of the New Yorker’s agenda.
Ms Alexandria’s victory places her in line as the youngest woman in Congress after the November elections. This could well be the thin end of the wedge, gradually opening up spaces for younger and more radical candidates. Buoyed by the SC judgment, the AAP would also acquire similar potential if it proceeds to repeat its 2015 performance in the next elections. Political formations, which have been half-hearted so far, might then find it a matter of necessity to warm up to it.
After all, a considerable segment of the Democratic Party in the US, which refrained from radicalism during the 2016 campaign, appears to have sensed the ground realities, almost anticipating the New York result. Democrats like Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren signed onto Bernie Sanders bill for universal healthcare, something they had avoided two years ago when Sanders first introduced the bill.
The New York outcome has clearly set the cat among the pigeons in establishment circles and not just in the US. Another resounding punch has been administered on the global establishment’s chin: Andrez Manuel Lopez Obrador nicknamed AMLO, registered a sensational victory in the Mexican elections on Sunday. He is by reputation as radical as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
During my travels, I noticed a welcoming warmth to this turn in world affairs in progressive circles in Europe — in the higher echelons of Britain’s Labour Party too.
Recently, I attended a meeting in support of Democracy and Human Rights in Mexico organised in the House of Commons by Laura Alvarez Corbyn, the Labour leader’s Mexican wife. Jeremy Corbyn sat through the meeting, signaling his support for progressive causes.
Is there any evidence of established political parties in India learning lessons from the AAP’s rise? Also, is the Democratic Party in the US learning lessons from real life? Until the New York result, there was no evidence of any change of heart in the party’s higher reaches. In fact, a year ago, a Fox News poll establishing Bernie Sanders’ exceptional popularity was largely ignored. The poll showed Sanders a +28 rating above all the US politicians on both ends of the political spectrum. Trust The Guardian, London, being the only newspaper to pick up the issue. The paper’s Trevor Timm wrote: “One would think with numbers like that, Democratic politicians would be falling all over themselves to be associated with Mr Sanders, especially considering the party as a whole is more unpopular than the Republicans and even Mr Trump right now. Yet instead of embracing his message, the establishment wing of the party continues to resist him at almost every turn, and they seem insistent that they don’t have to change their ways to gain back the support of huge swathes of the country.”
On current showing, the British establishment demonstrates greater suppleness. A few months ago the Economist welcomed Mr Corbyn, a socialist in the Michael Foot mould, as Britain’s next Prime Minister. That the Economist, a pillar of the Western establishment, should acquiesce in Mr Corbyn’s impending premiership could not have been honeyed music to such of the Blairites in the Labour party, as Lord Peter Mandelson who is committed to “undermining Corbyn”. This kind of cussedness is counterproductive and this becomes clear when a Labour backbencher retorts: “Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister implementing policies that actually benefit the people terrifies the establishment. It is no surprise that British Labour politician Mandelson has found space in his busy schedule on an oligarch’s yacht to attempt to undermine Jeremy.”
I have skimmed the surface of anti-establishment shifts and settlements in electoral democracies everywhere with one purpose: to gauge the AAP’s national potential, now freed as it is by the SC. What strategies will the establishment devise to throttle it?