Something quite remarkable happened this Thursday in our political history. Unless you can remember any other time when a vote of confidence debate in the assembly of Delhi, which is not even half a state yet, was telecast live. And the stars of the day were many of the same people who had led a movement just three years ago that blamed our electoral system, politics, and by implication our democratic practice, for all that was rotten. In fact, at one point, some in the movement had even described the national parliament as a refuge of murderers and looters. If the smartest and most convincing leaders of the same movement now joined the same democratic practice and acquired power, it is a vindication of both our constitutional system and the aam aadmi’s strengthening faith in it.
This Thursday’s debate also produced another rather unfamiliar sight: Arvind Kejriwal smiling. Usually you would find him grim and disapproving, playing to perfection the angry young man of this decade. And he deserves to smile. He spoke the truth when he said he and others with him were very ordinary people, given no chance of making it in elections. It’s been more than two decades since a new political formation broke through the formidable entry barriers of Indian politics. Even in the past, those that did so—the TDP, BSP, SP, RJD or TMC—either had a strong vote bank or a slogan of region, language, caste or religion (often a combination of two of these). The Aam Aadmi Party’s electoral performance looks even more remarkable because it did not have any of these. Its top leaders are generally upper caste, never an advantage in post-1989 politics. It had no Dalit, Muslim or backward caste leaders— though, at a stretch, you could argue that its Chanakya, Yogendra Yadav, is a far cry from the Maithil Brahmin that the original was, though no less clever. It had very little money compared to others. Most importantly, it had nothing that could even remotely be called a claim or sense of entitlement: no heredity, no deities from the past (Lord Ram, Gandhi, Nehru, JP, Ambedkar), no history of great social mobilisation in a student, agrarian or labour movement, no ideology. To that extent, their success is even more credible than the rise of Assam’s student leaders to power at the head of the Asom Gana Parishad they formed months before