Given the abject failure of our political class in preventing and/or controlling riots in the national capital, has the time come for the idea of a new politics?
The clutch of recent developments centred round the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the stomach-turning communal rioting in north-east Delhi raises a couple of fundamental questions: Have India’s politics and politicians failed the country? What is the future of politics in the country? The questions are relevant given the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) claim that its victory in the recent Delhi Assembly elections heralds the advent of a new kind of politics in the country — kaam ki rajneeti or the politics of work.
AAP’s work in improving schools, healthcare services in the form of mohalla (neighbourhood) clinics, providing up to 20,000 litres of water free to each household and drastically reducing electricity bills has brought it 62 out of the 70 seats in the Delhi Legislative Assembly. Nevertheless, the conduct of its leaders and legislators during the recent communal riots in Delhi has launched a thousand arguments.
Two things require attention. The first is their claim that they are not responsible for the Delhi Police’s abysmal performance as the force is controlled by the Union Home Ministry. The second is their overwhelmingly perceived absence from the scenes of violence. Both require critical examination.
As to the first claim, the fact is that the Union Home Ministry directly controls the Delhi Police. The question of the latter’s as well as the Delhi Government’s respective roles, however, comes up in the context of preventing and/or controlling violence. While police action is critical in the matter, the fact is that the police act in a social, political and administrative context and the Delhi Government might have been able to compel it to act even though the Union Home Ministry controlled it. The presence of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and AAP Ministers and leaders in troubled areas might, for example, have put policemen on the ground under pressure to act, particularly if the netas had stepped forward and confronted the mobs. Otherwise, the men and women in uniform would have been held responsible if anything had happened to them.
Chief Minister Kejriwal visited the hospitals. He also visited some of the riot- affected areas along with Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia. But that was after the violence had more or less subsided. He had also called for curfew to be imposed and the deployment of the Army besides announcing a slew of measures, including the payment of various amounts of compensation, ranging from Rs 10 lakh to the kin of those killed to Rs 25,000 for each rickshaw destroyed. All this, however, is what any Government is expected to do in the aftermath of a serious communal riot and the AAP Government should have been seriously remiss if it had not. Neither is it the same as visiting affected areas when violence is raging; nor does it make up for failure to do so.
Had they been present, AAP leaders might have confronted the mobs with their followers and halted them in their tracks. If groups of common people in some localities could do it and save lives, homes and places of worship, there is no reason why they could not do so. AAP spokespersons have waxed indignant on television and elsewhere, saying that their MLAs and leaders were very much on the ground, forming peace committees, asking people not to resort to violence, providing relief and solace to the disconsolate and those rendered destitute. Since one does not want to believe that what they were saying was not true, and given that the overwhelming majority of the people seem to hold that AAP leaders were conspicuous by their absence, one can only conclude that they were present but not visible.
This writer can only speculate on how this could have happened. One possibility is that those in the higher echelons of AAPs hierarchy have received pills that make them invisible for pre-determined periods. These might have been originally given to them to inspect unseen the effectiveness of the Government’s delivery systems on facilities provided to the people but were now put to use during the riots. The other possibility is that they have achieved a level of spiritual elevation that enables a person to leave his/her corporal body behind and traverse the cosmos in his/her invisible astral self. Only they did not travel millions of light years in seconds to explore distant galaxies but visit riot-torn areas offering solace in subsonic voices that most people did not hear.
Of course, as invisible as them were leaders of most other political parties. Did they also have the invisibility pill and the capacity for travelling in their astral bodies and speaking subsonically? Whatever the reason, their invisibility shockingly underlines their lack of concern for the people and political inertia. All this leads us to the sentiment whose relevance has not been withered by the years — politicians and political parties in India have failed the people.
This lack of faith in politicians and parties has clearly led to spontaneous protests like the Shaheen Bagh sit-in and meetings, rallies and processions by students’ and citizens against the Citizenship Act. The question is whether the development would prove ephemeral or the protests would coalesce, widen their concerns and transmogrify themselves into a new political formation with a well-defined ideology and programme.
One must go beyond kaam ki rajneeti for this to happen. Work gets done in a political, economic, social and cultural environment and a moral universe. It will not benefit the people if a Government prioritises crony capitalist interests; liberty will not be realised on the ground if sections remain in economic bondage and/or suffer discrimination. One would need a philosophy of freedom based on compassion, humanity and a commitment to liberty, cradling a programme to further social and economic justice and India’s cultural and religious diversity, to realise the goals of the Constitution. Also, one would need money to build up such a political formation. Corporate entities would not provide it; they would bet on parties in power. One would have to depend on crowd-funding, which will not be easy. Finally, the architects of such a movement must have the wisdom to keep their ambitions on hold and weave an intricate tapestry of plural relationships to make a nation-wide political structure possible. But then, as Victor Hugo said, “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.” Has the time come for a new and very different political formation in India?
(The writer is Consultant Editor, The Pioneer, and an author)