January 9, 2014

RESEARCH: Who is the real AAM AADMI?

  Posted by Aparajita Tripathi.

 (Published after content sharing arrangement with The Indian Republic)

     For the past one month, the public has been fed undiluted and relentless dosage of Arvind Kejriwal – the man, the messiah, the martyr. Bundles of journalistic newsprints and a significant amount of national prime airtime has been devoted to unravelling the fairytalish meteoric rise of a party which was brushed aside, wrongly so, by political bigwigs for “irrelevance”.
The whole idea of “Aam Aadmi” party is pivoted on “a common man’s desire for change”.  To prove the popularity of the idea, the party went ahead to institutionalise symbolism in the minds of voters, much as Congress has done with “secularism” all these years as the official citizen-education brand against which all other political parties must be benchmarked. This symbolism has come to dominate the debate on political decisions and motives these days instead of the party’s ideological stand. A party’s anti-corruption movement, especially in a localised sphere, cannot define its existence in perpetuity.

     And much as AAP would like us to believe, its basic resonance with the populace is a function of how it identifies AAP with itself. So, Arvind Kejriwal is paraded as the “common man” who had to fight the Quixotic windmills and jump in the political arena to avenge the wrongdoings against the citizenry, much against his initial will. He is portrayed as the quintessential common man living in frugality with no lust for power. And this fires our imagination for we love to root for the underdog in this country. We have had similar exaltation for Sonia Gandhi for her apparent “renunciation” of the powerful position in 2009. It is here that the mainstream media does not like Narendra Modi as he makes no qualms about aspiring for the top job with an intention to sculpt a national change.

     Frugality is a notable virtue especially in a country which has about a third of the world’s poor (UN 2013 report). The inequity is best demonstrated in the unpleasant difference between the luxury of the political rich and the destitution of the street poor. What best can inspire a billion Indians than the man who seems to want neither the power nor the affluence. And that is why Kejriwal is supposed to be our Aam Aadmi, according to the popular sentiment.

Story of the Aam Aadmi
Arvind Kejriwal, a well-meaning man, was born to Gita Devi and Govind Ram in Hisar. Govind Ram worked as an electrical engineer in Jindal Strips. Theirs was a middle-class family which sent the son to an English-medium school. Arvind armed with a decent education and a good learning, qualified the JEE and entered IIT Kharagpur. From here, he went on to join the IRS services. It is quite interesting that while the rest of IIT coterie is described as ‘elitist’ in blogs, public opinion, news articles because they have had access to the best of education that the country can offer often leading to a vast set of opportunities closed to the rest of India, the standards undergo a gargantuan change with Arvind Kejriwal who remains entrenched as the “Aam Aadmi” in everyone’s mind.

          He is not the only one who joined politics after graduating from IIT or lived a life of relative frugality. Krishan Kant(10th Vice President, Janta Dal, IIT BHU), Manohar Parriker(Goa CM, BJP, IIT Bombay), Jairam Ramesh (Minster of Rural Development, Indian National Congress, IIT Bombay, MIT) and Prem Das Rai(Lok Sabha MP Sikkim, Sikkim Democratic Front, IIT Kanpur, IIM Ahmedabad) are distinguished luminaries from similar elitist institutions.  Manohar Parrikar(BJP) is the first IIT graduate to become the chief minister of any state, keeps home, finance, education portfolios with himself, focuses on development initiatives, brought International Film Festival of India to Goa, decimated ruling Congress to a single digit, assumed office within a month after his wife dying of cancer in her early 40s, eats at common-man haunts, mingles with people during festivals without security, often saunters down airport exits without security like a common man, significantly reduced security cover as part of austerity drive, and stays at his private home in Mapusa using official residence for meetings and visitors and was eager to institute the office of lokayukta.  Manik Sarkar(CPI(M)), CM of Tripura is the poorest of all chief ministers of the country, donates his salary to his party and receives only INR 5,000 as his subsistence allowance. Nripen Chakraborty, late chief minister of Tripura was known for his Spartan lifestyle and his austere ways. He did not have a single material acquisition during his stint as CM of Tripura for 10 years and would easily get angered by praise citing the inefficiencies still latent in his political reign. Even from a party perspective, Lok Paritran party was formed in 2006 with 6 graduates from IIT Kanpur and Bombay in Tamil Nadu but soon split up due to members’ differences.

         Nor is his meteoric rise the life story of an Aam Aadmi. The “Common Man” epithet was popularised by RK Laxman and stood for a man who could only witness silently all the actions done unto him. Neither Kejriwal nor others are really the “aam aadmis”. They are ones with access to good quality education, many opportunities and an ambition to overturn power. Ambition is not a negative attribute as it fans the desire to advance in life. Both Kejriwal and Modi must be credited for possessing that progressive fire that yearns to transform things around them. However, unlike Modi, Kejriwal and his support brigade continuously downplay his ambitious interest in an attempt to drive public sympathy towards him. Hypocrisy is well-rewarded in Indian sentiment. “You must aspire and work towards power but not make a show of it, you can use your aggressiveness to augment your interests but not look like you really care about doing so” are the clichés we believe in collectively.
The Great Indian Dream
And if we really come around to looking at the whole notion of Aam Aadmi, Modi will appear a more rewarding candidate for the title. His rise from being a tea-seller to becoming the prime ministerial nominee is the actual indigenous example of the ‘rags-to-riches’ story. Both Kejriwal and Modi are not the original incumbents of power. Nor do they have traditional dynastic privileges without merit accorded to those like Rahul Gandhi. However, while Modi’s emergence on the national platform is similar to that of Lincoln’s rise from an impoverished background, Kejriwal has had an Obama-esque ascent propelled by the privileged educational backing of a middle-class culture and the perceived idea of a “harbinger of hope”.

     Compared to him, Modi is an OBC born in a family of grocers with 5 siblings. He used to run a tea-stall, the story of which is quite popular by now. It resembles closely the multitude of poor families in the country with plenty of children and scarce resources. Like the actual majority of people who live in villages, he had a house illuminated by kerosene lamps.  With ordinary education, he was one of the numerous Pracharaks of RSS who work in the background away from limelight involved in activities which are hardly highlighted by the media. His stint in RSS was replete with daily chores of sweeping and cleaning office, making tea and breakfast for seniors and looking after building maintenance. When Vajpayee and other dissidents went to jail protesting against the Emergency, this man was criss-crossing the bylanes of the ‘aam aadmi’ localities distributing pamphlets decrying the coercive and dictatorial policies during the Emergency. And yet, somewhere there lay a script for a charismatic rise from being a man unknown to the general populace to becoming a thrice-victorious Gujarat CM and now a very favoured PM nominee. This rise was sculpted by sheer industry, goal-fixedness and a work which spoke of efficiency.
     If this is not the Great Indian Dream of an Aam Aadmi, what is? His developmental initiatives and his corruption-less regime is hardly the focus of media stories. Instead so has been the profligacy of articles contriving to link him to 2002 riots, much against tangible evidence or court judgements, that one wonders if that was the only riot ever to lacerate India. The spin doctors of Congress and the English media have condemned him to an image of public notoriety without having produced an iota of relevant evidence. In the same context, the left-leaning media and popular English opinion pieces have crafted a very partisan debate. In absence of something substantial in favour of Congress, the media has taken fancy to glorifying the idea of Kejriwal to prevent the Modi juggernaut from reaching the Red Fort. The paradoxical use of “aam aadmi” phrase for Kejriwal, the attribution of the word “fascist” for Modi, despite no evidence, has to be the work of ingenious minds. And it is as it was suggested that Dentsu India and JWT have been hired by Congress to bolster Rahul Gandhi’s image nationally for a price-tag greater than that of the Mangalyaan (INR 500 Cr). However, since one cannot possibly create a larger-than-life image of a man with little to boast of, it makes good political logic to diminish the worth of the direct competitor by attributing words which have no intrinsic meaning or tangible value. As Arun Shourie recently told Sagarika Ghose in an interview, “Polariser is just a word. Maybe between right and wrong, there should be polarisers, between doing something and not doing something, you should have a polariser”. Truth is that if there was someone who has been embarrassingly autocratic, it was the Congress’ favourite poster-woman after whom it has named a whole set of policies, buildings, roads and the very absurdly titled “Indira Gandhi Peace Prize”. One can only laugh sardonically at the extent of absurdities the political opposition have managed to undertake in an effort to prevent Modi from being a true contender of the Delhi ‘gaddi’. Dashing off letters to a foreign President (US) complaining about a domestic politician thrice elected by a progressive state of the country was immensely childish. What more! Nidhi Razdan of NDTV was publicly embarrassed on air by a British MP (Barry Gardiner) when she was goading him against inviting Modi to UK. And yet, Modi remained calm instead of getting into rhetorical battles with these jibes, focussed on delivering what he could and letting his governance speak for itself, not unlike Sachin’s reaction to his detractors. This is a common Indian trait which tolerates a lot of inane criticism to be able to live a peaceful and productive life. It is to Modi’s credit, notwithstanding the professed side, that for a hawkish media and a crafty opposition willing to author a fantasy pinned on 2002 in absence of any other controversy in his life, a majority of the nation still loves him.
pol table
Relation between “Aam Aadmi” status and Position of Power

And therein we come to the central argument. Who is the real Aam Aadmi? Modi’s career trajectory has been more of the aam aadmi’s than Kejriwal’s, let alone Rahul Gandhi who was crowned Prince while he swung in his cradle. Yet, we are supposed to believe otherwise.

        I am not one to believe that a person’s humble beginnings are the sine qua non for occupying position of the head of a state. It was also wisely questioned in an article titled “The Hard-Luck Candidate” by Brian Palmer, when he asks, ‘When did humble beginnings become a prerequisite for the American presidency?’ We can debate on the length and breadth of virtues that are required of a prime minister, but “taking the nation forward” must be the underlying idea. However, if the debate must shift to discussing the frugality or the austerity of the person running for the top job, then everyone ought to be measured on an equal scale.

        It is clear that there are politicians like Parrikar, Manik Sarkar who are as frugal and austere if not more than Kejriwal. Also, even in the department of claiming “non-corrupt, simple and humble beginnings’, Modi outshines Kejriwal.  However, it is the symbolism of AAP that has created a halo around him. The continual glimpse of the grey muffler has come to symbolise his aam aadmi effect, so has the insistence on not taking security, so has the symbol of ‘jhaadu’, so did the public singing of “Insaan se Insaan ka bhaichara” which further cemented the same symbolism(“in keeping with his down-to-earth image”). Compared to this Modi is seen wearing a kurta of a particular style, sold in shops as the “Modi Kurta”. In the politics between the “gray muffler” and the “stylish kurta”, much of the debate of relevance gets pushed to the sidelines.

The Quality of Political Debate
It is not an ordinary Indian’s deep desire to see a politician live in penury or risk the danger of vandalism. He would much rather elect a leader who can exert his will and bring the nation developmentally ahead of its present state. It is an Aam Aadmi’s desire to have access to resources and opportunities to be able to earn and live a sustainable, comfortable life.
At this moment, our debate both online and offline should focus on which Indian politician is going to script the larger progressive picture of the nation, assert its identity in the global arena, streamline economic conditions to be able to let the business mind its business, and reduce corruption both by force and by principle. The quantity of silver in the first spoon he held or how pro-poor his dressing style looks or his position w.r.t being the underdog cannot and should not dominate the political discourse and certainly not one which determines the fate of a nominee for a position of power.
For there is one thing that counts here: Ability to Deliver. And Modi seems our best bet.
This article is the first part of a two part series to identify the real AAM AADMI.

(This post originally written by Aparajita Tipathi has been sourced from The Indian Republic at Indian republic/bigpicture)

Aparajita is an erstwhile management consultant who loves devouring books,surfing the web, and writing occasionally. Her opinions and interests range from music to politics to literature, all over a cup of chai. A Sachinist at heart, she loves everything Indian. She is also an Editor of Research Republic, the research arm of The Indian Republic.


raj said...

very true.AAP and kejri are the proxies of congress

suketu said...

great write up

ragendu said...

the post is bang on.very well written