I am terrified – and optimistic – for India’s future
For India, 2014 starts on a note of optimism. A fledgling new party, the Aam Aadmi Party, AAP, or common peoples party, flaunting an anti-corruption campaign, decency, and other values not commonly associated with politics, inspired India’s middle classes to come out on the streets to protest against rampant, pervasive corruption. Although most people approved of and felt inspired by the movement, few gave the party much chance against our two mammoth political power centres. The Congress (India’s oldest and for four decades only strong party) and the BJP or Bharatiya Janata Party.
The AAP has shaken the powers-that-are – Congress and BJP – to the core. In the Delhi Legislative Assembly election held on 4 December 2013, AAP won 28 seats to BJP's 32. For a decade now, secularists have watched in horror the steady ascendance to power of the BJP, a party that openly demands that India give up its constitutionally defined secular identity to become a Hindu state. Initially, this demand did not threaten me as a minority Christian woman. But post-2002, after the state-led massacre of over 2,000 hapless Muslims in Gujarat, I am definitely terrified for India’s future.
An India, my India, of Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Muslims as well as majority Hindus, with Narendra Modi as PM will not be the country whose freedom our grandparents fought for and won 67 years ago. In the words of our unfailingly polite and mild-mannered Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, we cannot have as the next PM a man who oversaw the genocide in Gujarat. ‘If by strong prime minister,’ said Dr Singh, ‘you mean you preside over the massacre of innocent citizens in the streets of Ahmedabad – if that is the measure of strength – I do not believe it is the sort of strength this country needs.’
Yet, India appeared poised for a BJP take-over. Everyone expected it. The Delhi victory of the AAP in December was as unexpected as it is unprecedented. It has given us hope. Most people want change and if the main criticism of the AAP is that they are 'idealists' not realists, then surely there is hope.
The parties of the Left are doing a rant about how the AAP is middle-class and lacking a mass base. This is probably true. But the fact is, the party has won an election with no money, no corporate backing and a spotlessly, clean image. Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP leader, is a man with fire in the belly. Not a charismatic sort, he has nevertheless inspired millions of apolitical people to back him with small money and big time. His party has won purely thanks to tireless, door-to-door campaigning by legions of volunteers – young people, middle-aged people, women and old people. His critics disparagingly dismiss it as lacking a larger vision. But no-one can deny that the change feels good. Suddenly our little princeling politicians are aspiring to cut short their motorcades, down-size their privileges, giving up palatial bungalows. They are scrambling for the ‘common’ touch. It’s hilarious. And the nation loves it.
The predictions, predictably, are gloomy. There’s idealism but no experience. True. Nevertheless, with the party’s unexpected victory, experienced bureaucrats, policy-makers and civil servants are flocking to it, eager for change, for a chance to build a clean India. Perhaps the fledgling party will have teething problems, perhaps chaos will reign for a while. But Arvind Kejriwal and his team deserve our ‘salaams’ and support. May they succeed in their mission and bring hope and idealism back into a disillusioned, tired nation. May the force be with them.