Blog: Endgame on Hanuman Road

Published: February 15, 2014 09:16 IST
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At about 1pm on Friday, several hours before Arvind Kejriwal's dramatic resignation, the straws were firmly in the wind at the Aam Aadmi Party's headquarters in Hanuman Road, in central Delhi. Volunteers milled around, rigging a giant screen in the front porch, to telecast live the proceedings of the Delhi assembly.

"Something big is expected," one of them told us with barely suppressed excitement.

The last time I saw a big screen go up, it was on December 8, to watch the astonishing results of the Delhi assembly elections. The air was electric, an infectious cocktail of disbelief and jubilation as the AAP, improbably, won seat after seat.

On Friday night, as the crowds swelled once again to watch the endgame, the jubilation had an edge of defiance, but also of hidden anxiety.

Most of the AAP volunteers I spoke to said that Arvind Kejriwal should resign, because if the party couldn't bring the Jan Lokpal Bill, there was little point in staying in power. This wouldn't hurt us, they said, adding, the people have seen how the Congress and BJP have betrayed the AAP.

But the consensus seemed, at times, somewhat forced, expressed as much out of conviction, as out of peer pressure.

Away from the crowds, an AAP old-timer, who manages the party office, expressed his deep concern about the political cost of sacrificing the government. "A wave only comes once," he said. "I don't know if people will vote for us again." He said the party was taking a big risk, and that it could go either way.

Senior leaders of the party - Yogendra Yadav, Sanjay Singh, Pankaj Gupta - started to trickle in, to hold pre-scheduled meetings on ticket distribution for the AAP's national campaign: one group huddled in a room to discuss Punjab, the other, to finalise candidates for Uttar Pradesh. They seemed, understandably, distracted by the commotion outside, emerging from time to time to monitor the progress of the Jan Lokpal Bill debate onscreen.

I asked one of them why the AAP had not made more of an effort in building consensus with the other parties on the Jan Lokpal (the Bill was circulated to  the Opposition only the night before its tabling), or explore legal options to bypass the need for clearance for the Bill from the Central government. He began with the usual critique of the Lieutenant Governor's actions, but then went on to admit that the AAP has not been able to shake off the agitational culture in which it was born. "Our volunteers are much happier fighting the system," he said. "If we had tried to negotiate with the Congress or the BJP, it would have been seen as a compromise. We would be chastised by our cadre: 'aap politics kar rahe ho' (you are doing politics)'.

In a matter of hours, the volunteers (at least those hungry for a return to the AAP's street-fighting days) would get their wish. The Jan Lokpal Bill was defeated by the Congress and the BJP even before it could be formally tabled, and the fall of the AAP's short-lived government was imminent.

By 7 pm, the narrow road outside the AAP office was jammed with cheering, dancing supporters. News had spread that Kejriwal was on his way to announce his exit. At just after 8pm, he appeared on the tiny balcony on the first floor of the structure.

"We posed too great a threat to the BJP and Congress," he said, holding up his resignation letter to wild cheers. Jhadoos were held aloft, as a new slogan was coined: "abhi toh Sheila haari hai, ab Modi ki baari hai (Sheila Dikshit has been defeated, now it is the turn of Narendra Modi)".

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