Don’t fritter it away

Published January 27, 2014
New Delhi AAP supporters shout slogans during their 2nd day protest against police near Rail Bhavan. -Photo by PTI
New Delhi AAP supporters shout slogans during their 2nd day protest against police near Rail Bhavan. -Photo by PTI

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), on which so many have pinned so much hope, has disappointed many of its supporters after its Delhi Law Minister Somnath Bharti took the law into his own hands.

Women’s groups and others are outraged at the way Bharti and his associates treated some Ugandan women living in Khirki village during a “raid” conducted in the Law Minister’s constituency.

Much has been written and spoken on Bharti and his antics, which led his leader and Chief Minister to hold a dharna (sit-in) demanding the suspension of the policemen involved.

Unlike some people, I have no problems with an elected Chief Minister sitting on dharna, but the petty demands and the manner in which a sudden compromise was achieved do raise questions about the AAP leadership’s actions.

Let me say that Delhi Chief Minister and AAP leader-in-chief Arvind Kejriwal probably realised that the crowds were not responding to his calls to join them near the Press Club, it was terribly cold and rainy, as well as Republic Day time. (It was the time of the year when rehearsals, dress rehearsals happen for the Republic Day parade to celebrate the day when India gave itself its Constitution. Not much is allowed to interfere with that – not even a new Chief Minister’s decision to stage a sit-in).

It was a good decision by Arvind Kejriwal to back down and lift the dharna after a face-saver that sent a couple of police officers on leave pending an inquiry. Curiously, as soon as Kejriwal announced his decision to lift the dharna, a senior cop was on television saying that these men had asked for leave previously.

Given that AAP has captured the public imagination in recent months, and is the subject of intense discussion and scrutiny, it shouldn’t surprise the reader that I have been talking to many people about recent events.

There are two kinds of people whom I have spoken to – people who believe that AAP has frittered away a lot of goodwill by coming out in support of its Law Minister and focusing on theatrics rather than governance.

This section feels that the people of Delhi have given AAP a mandate to govern and they better get on with the job. Many of them are both disappointed and angry at the party’s behaviour.

The second category is people who believe that AAP was raising valid issues relating to the conduct of the police in Delhi and that they were unnecessarily being vilified by the media and parties like the Congress and the BJP.

Given the unprecedented, massive public support that AAP received in Delhi and the attention across the country, these views hardly come as a surprise. But it should worry the year-old party that some supporters already seem disenchanted with it.

The job of governance, clearly, is more complicated than the job of agitation. Again, agitation can lead to good governance and there is some merit in the argument that the Delhi police ought to report to the Delhi government and not to the Centre.

With age on its side, AAP can legitimately say that some mistakes have been made, but will strengthen the organisational base of the party, and apologise where they have gone wrong.

Many well-meaning persons have already joined AAP because they are sick and tired of the political practices of mainstream parties in the country. Others are waiting in the wings because the party has promised a new political practice.

However, the “raid” conducted on the Ugandan women and the language used by Law Minister Bharti would suggest that AAP has not chosen the saying sorry option. The parochial and sexist remarks made about nurses from Kerala by AAP leader Kumar Vishwas has also, rightly, attracted criticism.

As India changes, it’s clear that individuals want all their rights protected. Vigilantism is not the answer to complex social issues and ill-considered action cannot be a solution to these problems.

If the AAP doesn’t take quick corrective measures and opts for language and idiom that respects the rights of all sections of people – both foreign and Indian – women and men – it may not be able to recover the ground it has lost.

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