We are witnessing a bizarre and tragic spectacle in democratic politics. The BJP is waging an all-out war to finish the AAP. But it may not succeed. The AAP leadership is out on a self-destruction mode. We do not know which comes first, the murder or the suicide. We cannot say which one is worse for democracy.
The BJP leadership had identified the AAP as a potential challenger in 2013. The stunning performance of the new party had captured national imagination and had pushed Narendra Modi, then a prime ministerial aspirant, out from media headlines. They could see that the Congress under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership posed no long-term threat to them, but a new party representing idealism could. Following its victory in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has used every legal and extra-legal power at its command to hunt down the AAP. This violates basic democratic norms of relationship between the ruling party and the opposition. This also violates federal norms of the relationship between the state and the central government. It reminds us of how Indira Gandhi treated opposition parties and opposition-led governments.
There is no doubt that Delhi’s lieutenant governor (LG), Najeeb Jung, has played a role less as a constitutional head and more as an agent of the central government, and often as an arm of the ruling party at the Centre. He obstructed many routine initiatives of the Delhi government. The Delhi police got after every real and imagined crime of AAP legislators like no other state police has done to any ruling party. If the same standards were applied uniformly, dozens of BJP’s own MPs and hundreds of MLAs all over the country should have been in jail. The repeated efforts by the income tax authorities to dig some dirt in AAP accounts reek of witch-hunt, not to mention the sheer hypocrisy of the BJP, held guilty of taking illegal foreign funds in its accounts, pointing fingers at someone else. The committee that recommended Rs 87 crore fine on the AAP for misusing government funds for party propaganda was hardly neutral. And it must be stated that the defamation case filed by Arun Jaitley against Arvind Kejriwal and associates is proceeding at a rather unusual pace. A section of the media is more than happy to amplify this one-sided campaign against the AAP, orchestrated by the ruling party.
Now we are moving into the final act. There are strong indications that the BJP might tighten the noose. The release of the Shunglu Committee report points to the possibility of a series of legal actions. Cancellation of the party office allocation is a small step. It might be followed up with a series of criminal cases against some ministers and key functionaries in the Delhi government. This may coincide with the defeat of the party in a crucial by-election held in the Rajouri Garden constituency in Delhi and a defeat in the MCD elections scheduled for April 23. A disqualification of 21 AAP MLAs by the Election Commission (EC) in the office of profit case is expected any day. If things work out as per the script laid out by the BJP, it might consider dislodging the AAP government in Delhi.
Normally, all this should be enough to induce sympathy and support for this new party, being done in by the ruling giant. This is how the dwindling band of die-hard AAP supporters continues to present the case. But this story of a David taking on a Goliath has few takers now. The AAP was three promises rolled into one – ethical politics, good governance and strong electoral force. For the discerning citizen, it lost the plank of ethical politics long ago, induction of dubious candidates, disregard of the party constitution, unceremonious removal of the party’s own lokpal had already signalled the death of the AAP as a moral project.
The promise of good governance has also been belied completely. While the BJP has worked overtime to highlight the misdeeds of the AAP, the harsh truth is that there are just too many misdeeds waiting to be exposed. It has come out, again and again, that the AAP government does not understand the basic grammar of governance. The Delhi high court judgment has already highlighted how the AAP government violated the constitutional scheme of things for Delhi’s governance. The office of profit case pending before the EC brought out how this government disregarded the law governing the appointment of parliamentary secretaries. Now, the Shunglu Committee, comprising three retired officers (known for their integrity), brings out several instances of brazen disregard of rules and norms that any government is expected to follow. The fact remains that there was a serious discrepancy between the party donation list on the website and the one submitted to the EC. The party has stopped disclosing its donations to the public.
These are not just procedural lapses. The Shunglu Committee brings out instances of favouritism and misuse of office that one normally associates with corrupt regimes. The health minister has appointed his architect daughter to his own department to oversee a health project. The chief minister violates all rules to appoint his close relative first as a resident doctor, then as officer on special duty to the health minister. A number of party workers are handed over plum government posts, often with backdated orders. Add to this the fact that three of the party ministers have had to resign on charges of corruption, forgery and moral turpitude. The fact is that the government grossly misused public money for party propaganda and wanted to pay an obscene amount of money for legal defence in the political battle against Jaitley.
Bereft of its plank of moral politics and good governance, the AAP is now left only with its game of electoral viability. Its claim of being the only party that could take on the BJP was blown up by the Punjab and Goa verdicts. Hence the ridiculous attempt to blame the EVMs for its failure. This also explains the desperate promise of the abolition of house tax for the Delhi municipal corporation elections. The party leadership can see the writing on the wall. We do not know how long the election machine of the AAP may survive the death of the AAP as a moral and political project. We do not know whether it would be murder or suicide. But we do know in either case, it’s not good for democracy.
Yogendra Yadav is a political activist and psephologist, and founder of Swaraj Abhiyan.
By arrangement with The Tribune