(Illustration: Lijumol Joseph/ The Quint)

Sidhu Episode Aside, AAP Has Failed As a Viable Alternative Party

Politics is not a bad profession boss, if you succeed there are rewards, if you fail you can always write the book. 
Navjot Singh Sidhu

One of the Sidhu-isms listed on his personal website – www.sherryontopp.com – a play on the typically Punjabi nickname that he has, reads:

If you throw a football and good character, they will rebound twice as high. Throw a good reputation, and it’s like an egg. 

No one may have thrown the reputation of the cricketer-turned-politician-turned- comedian-turned-CM aspirant (?) yet, but he surely has put it at stake.

Probably heading to the AAP in the next few days, Sidhu has stirred Punjab’s poll pot and provided a peep into the entertainment that is in store with his surprise decision to walk out of the BJP – though without Dr Navjot Sidhu, his not-so-(in)significant other.

But behind this move and his likely political destination lies a bigger story.

Navjot Singh Sidhu has resigned from the Rajya Sabha. (Photo:<b> The Quint</b>)
Navjot Singh Sidhu has resigned from the Rajya Sabha. (Photo: The Quint)

This stems from the fact that in his political career spanning over a decade, Sidhu has not made a mark as either a parliamentarian or a political strategist. At best, he has been a crowd-puller. It is tough to recall any significant debate in the past decade that he was a part of in the Lok Sabha.

  • Navjot Singh Sidhu’s likely induction into AAP, notwithstanding his performance as a parliamentarian, which has been abysmal.
  • AAP doesn’t have the capacity to project itself as an alternative to other national parties; it’s political moralisation was a ruse.
  • This may reflect that India’s political system co-opts new entrants in politics and does not allow alternatives to emerge.
  • Three recent events show that AAP and Kejriwal are pandering to every obscurantist force among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.
  • AAP is a replica of other parties in terms of inducting people, the ideas that keep it afloat and the style it uses to pursue its objectives.

Sidhu’s Parliamentary Performance

According to data collated by Parliamentary Research Service, in the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-2014), his attendance was 28 percent (national average 76 percent) and he participated in just three debates (national average 37.9 percent).

In the 14th Lok Sabha (2004-2009), his performance was a shade better – participation in four debates and 45 percent attendance.

But even this is poor, to use a polite adjective. This itself must have been a tough job given the commitment to join the laugh riot on telly every night. In any case, Parliament too is riotous more often than not.

What then is the reason for such a casual performer to imagine himself as the star of a great political future? Whose tragedy is this – Sidhu’s, the party he has deserted, the party he is likely to join, or of the Indian people?

Working on the presumption that Sidhu is heading for just one destination, it demonstrates that things have come full circle for AAP. In just five years, it has acquired the trait it wanted to destroy. That characteristic which was to be obliterated was seen by founders of AAP in other parties.

Navjot Singh Sidhu’s wife Navjot Kaur confirmed on Tuesday that he has quit BJP. (Photo: altered by <b>The Quint</b>)
Navjot Singh Sidhu’s wife Navjot Kaur confirmed on Tuesday that he has quit BJP. (Photo: altered by The Quint)

Was AAP the Alternative?

India’s anti-corruption movement in 2011 suggested the eventual construction of alternatives. Not only because of the Sidhu episode, but also because of other developments, AAP no longer has the capacity to fulfil this hope.

Probably, it was never the objective. Every bit of political moralisation on the part of its leaders was just a ruse.

Simply a ploy to get what every other party aims for: political power.

Does this show that the India’s political system will always co-opt new players and never allow alternatives to grow? Is it a success of the system or the failure of wannabes like AAP?

(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
(Photo: The Quint)

Shadow of Other Parties

Three recent developments in different corners of India amply depict that AAP is little more than a shadow of other existing political players – pale or bright will be decided by future events. But, the operative part is that AAP is no different from the others.

In Delhi, controversy erupted over the government’s decision to host an iftar party with funds from the Urdu Academy. It was a Kejriwal show, complete with skull caps. An NDTV  journalist pointed out that the “academy’s budget is for the promotion of Urdu, not political iftar parties.”

Days later, Arvind Kejriwal “flagged off the Aam Aadmi Party’s campaign for the 2017 Gujarat elections” after first visiting the Somnath temple. On a political visit, he landed in the temple-town with his family. Earlier, the strategy to use the Golden Temple as a backdrop for a photo shoot went awry, but it revealed the intention.

What do the three incidents show?

Kejriwal’s Duplicity

Clearly, AAP and Kejriwal are engaging in multiple-communalism and pandering to every obscurantist force in the three most politically significant (in the current context) religious communities.

Sidhu has not used his political <i>heropanti </i>to his full potential. (Illustration: Lijumol Joseph/ <b>The Quint</b>)
Sidhu has not used his political heropanti to his full potential. (Illustration: Lijumol Joseph/ The Quint)

If Kejriwal’s action is justified how can anyone criticise the BJP, Congress and other parties using similar tactics? How can one criticise Narendra Modi for having conducted Ganga aarti in Varanasi? Or for that matter, should we not reassess Rajiv Gandhi for having launched his 1989 campaign from Ayodhya just days after the shilanyas?

The way AAP is unfolding is not new. It has become a replica of other parties – in terms of the people they are excited about inducting, the ideas that keeps it afloat and the style it uses to pursue its objectives.

Cheap Populism

Sidhu’s induction will be the cheapest form of populism and, henceforth, it will be impossible to criticise any party for such inclusion.

I have nothing against performers or people from other walks of life making a lateral entry into politics. Some of them, like Sunil Dutt, have performed in an exemplary way. There is a limit to the depths to which parties can sink just to attract votes.

Or maybe to exist in Indian politics it is necessary to lower oneself to the bottom of the pit. Either way, this is a great tragedy for Indians.

If the AAP gambit in Punjab succeeds and Sidhu does become its CM aspirant – and with success – it is possible that people will think twice before once again imagining that changing the system is in their power. Even without that its threat looms large.

(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. His most recent books are ‘Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. He can be reached at @NilanjanUdwin)