The AAP divided

"He (Modi) should talk on issues and not get into bad mouthing", said Kejriwal. (PTI) Kejriwal has claimed that the Aam Aadmi Party will win a hundred seats in the Lok Sabha elections. (PTI)

Observe the tensions between its elite leadership and subaltern membership

Arvind  Kejriwal is all geared up to play David to Narendra Modi’s Goliath in Varanasi. Even as Kejriwal has claimed that the Aam Aadmi Party will win  a hundred seats in the Lok Sabha elections, the poll projections are near-unanimous in giving it less than five. Despite the Delhi verdict, this is not the sort of Tom and Jerry contest in which the underdog emerges a sure winner.

However impressive or dismal the performance of the AAP might eventually be, it is becoming evident that the broad coalition of social classes that the party had managed to forge has unravelled. Its support base among segments of its middle-class constituency has dwindled, and a very brief honeymoon has ended in disenchantment. This may not matter to the numbers, but it says something potentially significant about the possible longer-term impact of the AAP on Indian politics.

Early signs of this disillusionment became evident with the spectacle of the chief minister sitting on dharna by day and sleeping beside his Wagon R on the street by night. The vigilantism of the midnight raid in Khirki Extension raised questions about the Delhi government’s commitment to upholding the law. Founder-member Madhu Bhaduri quit the AAP, accusing it of being a party with the mentality of a khap panchayat. Despite periodically voicing dissatisfaction with the “self-righteous arrogance” of the leadership, Captain G.R. Gopinath has stayed the course, declaring however that the AAP-effect on the two major parties has already worn off.

Indeed, many supporters of the AAP gave it a long rope, despite being perturbed by the stone pelting, the vandalising of opposition party offices and the frequent tendency to get into street fights. It is another matter that the major political parties have a reserve army of foot soldiers to do such dirty work, from which their top leadership keeps aloof. Compared to them, the AAP still retains some of its freshness and distinctiveness: it remains a solo act without any dynastic baggage, fighting an election with modest resources and without being bankrolled by big industrial houses.

However, whether in spite of or because of the erosion of some of its middle-class support, the AAP may unwittingly be, in the medium to long run, the harbinger of a politics that speaks to the widening class divide in Indian society. The party has emphatically and unabashedly adopted a patois of the street. It has chosen to express itself through a democratic idiom that self-consciously distances itself from the language of parliamentary and TV studio discourse (with all the necessary caveats about these).

There was an earlier moment, in the 1980s, when the political mobilisation of the backward castes made our legislatures much more representative of social diversity. The …continued »