What propelled the Aam Aadmi Party to power in 2013 and then again in 2015 was the fact that their campaign was based on one single agenda – that the party, led by Arvind Kejriwal, was against corruption. The story the party weaved was that Kejriwal was incorruptible, allowing him incredible and almost unprecedented electoral success.
This aura of ‘incorruptibility’, however, is also turning out to be the party’s Achilles’ heel. Every accusation hurled at Kejriwal and his party, whether by rebel AAP leaders like Kapil Mishra or the BJP, is aimed at puncturing the very thing that made AAP so different from other political parties.
Now, with Kapil Mishra making accusations, many without conclusive evidence while going on a hunger strike which is punctuated by carefully planned theatrics, most in AAP are in no position to appreciate the irony of the situation. After all, it was Kejriwal who had taken centre stage in July 2012 when the erstwhile ‘Team Anna’ went on an indefinite hunger strike, described as a ‘Do or Die protest’ targeting Congress leaders, including President Pranab Mukherjee and former prime minister Manmohan Singh.
Kejriwal and Anna Hazare, at the time, had put a veil on Pranab Mukherjee’s portrait which had been placed behind the hunger strike venue, claiming that “the government had put a veil on him by making him the President of the country”. Never before had such accusations been made against a President of the country, the Congress had maintained, while dubbing the protest “anarchist”.
While the tag of a political anarchist remained with Kejriwal, the party soon found out that governance was a far different game than being in the Opposition. Party leaders admit that their three-year-long government has, at every step, had difficulty negotiating the “interference from the BJP-centre” and problems which result from their relative inexperience.
But, Mishra’s accusations – all of which importantly maintain that Kejriwal was either directly involved in corruption or turned a blind eye to ongoing corruption within the party – serves to undo the one thing that binds the party together. In the absence of an ideological framework, such as the right-wing ideology of the BJP or the communist ideology of the Left Front, the AAP only has the mythology of Kejriwal and his incorruptibility.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the unprecedented show of strength that a hitherto bickering AAP displayed when Mishra first made his accusations a week ago. From a situation where AAP looked poised to break up, with at least 30-odd MLAs allegedly on the fence looking to join Kumar Vishwas, to a situation where all party MLAs and friend-turned-foe Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan supported AAP. As a source close to Yadav put it, “Without Arvind, we are nothing. We don’t wish him well. But if AAP is destroyed, with it goes the hope of a platform which is outside the BJP and the Congress. If AAP disintegrates, so will the idea of a third front.”
AAP has alleged that Mishra’s accusations are baseless, reiterations of what the BJP has said in the past. But as far as the BJP is concerned, it simply doesn’t matter. The damage, done by these accusations, is far more vicious than an actual investigation, admitted one BJP leader. “Once you prosecute, the bubble bursts. Politics, after all, is a game of perception,” he said.