“Black is Beautiful” – the political slogan of a cultural movement by the African Americans that began in the 1960s.
“Britain Deserves Better” – the British Labour Party slogan and manifesto title for the 1997 general election.
“We want change” – President Obama in 2008.
“Garibi Hatao, Desh Bachao” (Translation: “Abolish Poverty, Rescue the Country”) – the theme and slogan of Indira Gandhi’s 1971 election.
These are all examples of extremely successful slogans. It is true that politics should be about grass root issues rather than catchy sayings, but political slogans do play a major role in winning an election. Unfortunately, in Indian politics, these slogans quickly die out after the election has been won. Indira Gandhi’s “Garibi Hatao” slogan made her the Prime Minister and national leader for life, but the slogan just remained a distant dream in reality, and even had a second death after being used by her son, Rajiv Gandhi. India’s political parties have lost the trust of the people and whatever they write in a manifesto has lost its meaning over last few decades, reducing the manifesto to nothing more than a formality.
Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, born out of the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement, came out with a slogan after short stint of 49 days of governance – “Jo Kaha Wo Kiya” (translation: “Promises made fulfilled”) and got landslide victory. This slogan has temporarily re-established the credibility of political class as at least one party is trustworthy with respect to their manifesto.
Mr. Kejriwal bears the badge of “anti-corruption crusader” and has become the icon of honest politics, but the halo around him has lost its sheen while he has been tackling dissent in his party. But the real test will be not to let his slogan die. His anti-corruption, anti-VIP culture image has to become immortal to reach the top chair in political power. He has started delivering in Delhi to prove true on his slogan and the AAP is the only party that is trusted by the Indian people and NRI supporters to stop corruption. “Garibi hatao” was too difficult to become true, but “corruption hatao” is relatively easy to accomplish, as long as a political leader has the will to do so. Based on his track record, Arvind Kejriwal seems to have that will. The damage done by killing dissent in the party in an undemocratic way can only be controlled by performing on the ground in Delhi and spreading carefully to other states by handpicking leaders or grooming volunteers to become leaders trustworthy of the ideas of the AAP. If he falters in this task then the AAP just be another party meeting a fate similar to the Janta Party or Asam Gana Parishad – paving the way for somebody else to try an idea, but not in near future, as this kind of political upturn only happens once in about two decades according to the political history of India.
In order to succeed, Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP need constructive criticism. Parshant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav claimed to be the critics but now that they are gone, somebody else will need to play their role as a real well-wisher of the AAP whom the AAP leadership can trust. Fulfilling promises is not easy in a small state like Delhi – it does not have full statehood, issues like police are not under their control, there is a dependency on Haryana for water and it is not self-sufficient in terms of electricity. Careful planning and diplomacy are required. Keeping good relations with the central government, getting funds for development and convincing the central government for full statehood requires good political experience, which Mr. Kejriwal lacks. However, he has surprised many in the past and may surprise everybody again by successfully handling delicate matters and completing tough tasks like bringing healthcare and education up to par with the private providers of these services as he promised in his 70 point agenda. Exploring recycled water, an idea from Singaporeans and plan to set up a coal-based thermal plant close to a coal mine, is certainly the out-of-the-box thinking by the AAP which warrants applause. Passing Janlokpal Bill and Swaraj Bill for Delhi will help him to become a man of great stature.
Discussions are often seen taking place about where to keep the AAP on the left to right spectrum. Some say it is to left of the centre, others say it is at the centre and very few say it is to the right of the centre. After removing almost all of its left-leaning leaders, the AAP has certainly moved towards the centre, if not to the right of the centre. The AAP’s agenda is often blamed as being a socialist agenda by some people, such as capitalists, economists and other political parties, especially because of Delhi having free water and electricity at a subsidized rate. However, Delhi is not the first state to do that and AAP is not the first political party in India to offer that to its voters. A little bit of help to the poor should not be seen as socialism as it is the responsibility of the government to take care of its citizens by providing essential commodities like water and electricity at an affordable price after failing to provide “Roti, Kapda aur Makaan” to all of its citizens. Corporations are given subsidies worth billions and land at a throwaway price after forcibly acquiring it from farmers. Prime land for golf courses is leased at subsidized rates to the super rich people of the capital. Keeping this in mind, a few hundred crores given to the poor section of society should not be questioned. As Chief Minister Kejriwal said, “Those who have less in life should have more in law”. Socialist or not, he is the most popular leader and challenger for Mr. Modi in 2019 since it is the majority that decides, not just the rich people, economists or media.
Long term survival and success of the AAP is not only needed for Kejriwal’s future as a leader, but also for the benefit of India and its people, especially the lower and middle class. With the diminishing Congress, India needs a truly secular national party to oppose parties like the religion-based BJP and caste-based BSP to avoid division among Indians based on religion and caste. All eyes are on the new Chief Minister and hopeful Prime Minister of the future. Let’s hope that his political slogans do not die and the people’s dream of a corruption-free India does not shatter like the one shown by Mr. Clean, V.P Singh, in 1988.
A good slogan for 2019 could be “Corruption Mitao, Garibi Khud Mitegi” (translation: “End corruption, poverty will end as a result.)