Meeting a friend in his avatar as a member of the Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party) required cultural adjustment. Where should we meet? Certainly not on the exclusive floors of five star hotels where seasoned politicians seek privacy as do captains of industry. The India International Centre, Habitat, even the India Islamic Centre have the right ambience but they require membership and so cannot qualify as an Aam Aadmi rendezvous. What we, my friend and I, were looking for was the old fashioned Coffee House where teachers, students, journalists, artists, politicians once mingled inexpensively. Shall we look forward to a chain of Aam Aadmi Coffee Houses across the country?
The party, which exploded on the scene with the suddenness of revelation simply does not have the time to stitch together a national organization before the general elections in May 2014. But there is a spontaneous local growth of AAP in the states in the aftermath of the Delhi results.
Should AAP concentrate on 80 Lok Sabha seats or spread itself across 240 in a house of 543? Opinion in the party is divided on this. It already claims some organizational presence across 300 districts. The surge in Delhi had reverberations even in states where its presence was less than rudimentary - Tamil Nadu, for instance, where its helpline crashed because of overloading.
Depending on the demands that Delhi makes on the leadership, the party would like to start working early for state elections in Maharashtra and Haryana due in October. It is particularly well placed in Haryana because some of its better known leaders like Yogendra Yadav live in that state. This is the reason why his name does not figure in AAP Delhi cabinet.
Prashant Bhushan has also kept himself out of government. He can now organize the party’s informal think tank and cast his eye on a wider turf for the general election and beyond.
Delhi, where AAP has arisen, can be a mean city, with deeply entrenched interests. The rapturous applause with which south Delhi and the club set had received the results is giving way to caution, a cunning reserve, eyeing both sides of the street.
This lot have been rattled by AAP. These are also powerful vested interests which will fight tooth and nail for their survival. Every trick in the book, social media, stings and manageable news channels will be used to demoralize AAP.
In sharp contrast, are the tribe made famous by Sangeeta Richard in New York - the domestic workers. They sit huddled in groups in the park near my house along with the autorickshaw drivers who have parked their vehicle outside the Metro station. There is a resolve here to consolidate behind AAP.
A section of the media is already showing its colours. It did not even wait for the swearing in ceremony. It bared its fangs well in advance. At his press conference, Chief Minister designate Arvind Kejriwal promised that AAP will fulfil its promises, “but you must realize that I have no magic wand”. No sooner had Kejriwal uttered “magic wand” than the anchor of a channel interjected. “Look how prompt he is with his excuses.” So the honeymoon period with the media may be short lived.
Corporate interests which control the media have gauged that AAP is not just a flash in the pan. It has national potential and could therefore disrupt larger game plans.
A year ago, the media had hyped up a Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi campaign. Modi rose to the bait but Rahul did not. Somehow, the Confederation of Indian Industry roped him in for an hour’s solo performance in April which did not set the Yamuna on fire. Word went out that he would concentrate on building up the party.
The Dec 8 election results must have disturbed India Inc on several counts. The Congress was sinking; BJP did stand its ground in all four states but there was no discernable Modi magic. Upsetting all calculations, AAP came to power in Delhi within a year of being born.
The scenario is encouraging for regional formations. In this framework, even AAP is a regional force. And yet, unlike the Dravida parties or caste parties in UP and Bihar, AAP is neutral in terms of caste, community and linguistic regionalism. Since it was born in the nation’s capital, it looks much more cosmopolitan and all embracing.
Against this backdrop, what is the future for the Modi versus Rahul format? And, danger of dangers, should snoopgate catch up with Modi, what future for him?
*A senior commentator on diplomatic and political affairs