21/12/2016 1:34 AM IST | Updated 22/12/2016 10:51 AM IST

Why Demonetisation Is An Existential Threat To The Aam Aadmi Party

Narendra Modi is the new Anna Hazare

Hindustan Times via Getty Images

There is only one political party that puts out details of all donations it receives, and claims to take no donations without receipt or in black. Ironically, that is also the party most threatened by demonetisation.

It was thought that demonetisation would hurt parties that allegedly have a lot of corruption-earned cash lying around for campaign finance. But it is not the Mayawati's BSP or Lalu Yadav's RJD or Karunanidhi's DMK which is most affected by demonetisation. It is the Aam Aadmi Party, which may well be staring at a most existential threat from AD, the era After Demonetisation.

In the AD era, Narendra Modi is trying to cast himself as the new Anna Hazare. Narendra Modi is waging a massive war of perception in which he is the sole fighter against corruption, a war to change the very system that creates black money. Demonetisation is just the beginning of the new age. There will be more soon: heightened action against tax evaders, a new law against benami property, and perhaps radical ideas such as state-funding of elections.

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Narendra Modi's political appropriation of the anti-corruption agenda threatens to take away the Aam Aadmi Party's Unique Selling Point. By seeking to become the new Anna Hazare, the prime minister has cast an existential threat to the Aam Aadmi Party. If the prime minister succeeds in his mission over the next few months, he will have changed, one more time, the terms of engagement in national politics. In the bargain, he could finish off the Aam Aadmi Party's raison détre.


This is what explains the Aam Aadmi Party's desperation on the demonetisation issue. Apart from Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, the AAP was the only party to instantly oppose not just the implementation but also the idea of demonetisation.

Since 8 November, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has been busy rejigging his schedule. He is not only addressing rallies and meeting people in Punjab and Goa. Even though those elections are less than two months away, Kejriwal has been finding time to address rallies against demonetisation in other states. He has already addressed three rallies in Uttar Pradesh, where the AAP is not contesting the forthcoming assembly elections. He spoke at a rally in Bhopal, where elections are not imminent anyway. A series of such programmes are scheduled in many states. Stifled by the Lt Governor in administering Delhi, the AAP has being seeing the Punjab election as a life-and-death issue. But even before the Punjab elections could be held, demonetisation has presented it with a challenge far greater.

We are people who have put our lives at stake against corruption.Arvind Kejriwal

It is important for the AAP to win Punjab not only to neutralise its problems with the LG in Delhi, but also to show it is a party that can win beyond Delhi. But now it seems winning Punjab may not be enough. If Modi runs away with AAP's anti-corruption plank, the party's long-term ambitions may be stifled much like its ability to govern Delhi under an over-bearing LG.

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In the Lucknow rally, Kejriwal took pains to remind the public who the original anti-corruption messiah is. He said, "Anna (Hazare) ji sat on a fast unto death against corruption. Then I sat on a fast. At first I fasted for ten days. Then, to protest corruption by 15 Congress ministers, I stayed hungry for 15 days. I am a diabetic. Doctors said if I stayed hungry over 48 hours I could die. By god's grace I survived. We are people who have put our lives at stake against corruption. So if Modi was actually fighting corruption, I'd be the first one shouting 'Modi! Modi! Modi!' But he is only helping his rich billionaire friends under the pretence of fighting corruption."

Baba, Baba, Black Sheep

Virtually from day one, the AAP has been calling demonetisation a scam to help rich industrialists. Kejriwal said in his Lucknow rally he has supported Modi on policy issues, such as Swachh Bharat and the 'surgical' strike against Pakistan.

These rallies have been well attended but crowd response has been mild. By no means have the rallies resulted in affecting the political narrative on demonetisation, as people seem to have decided to suffer the hardship, give Modi a chance at least till 30 December, and generally express schadenfreude at the thought the rich are scampering around to save their black money in old notes.

Notably, Kejriwal's nation-wide campaign against demonetisation hasn't received much traction in the media. He makes the typical accusation about media owners censoring him as they fear Modi. Part of the reason why the mainstream media may be reluctant to give Kejriwal air time on the demonetisation issue is his accusation of personal corruption against prime minister Modi.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Waving Birla and Sahara papers, he alleges prime minister Modi has himself accepted bribes worth crores of rupees when he was Gujarat chief minister, a charge that Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has now made, too. Kejriwal's former colleague, the public interest litigator Prashant Bhushan, has failed to impress the Supreme Court with these documents, which may explain why the media has been reluctant to go big on them. The Supreme Court has said it found not even the "smallest material" to back charges of bribe-taking against Modi.

Undeterred by the prospect of a few more defamation cases, Arvind Kejriwal has been waving these papers, asking people to record his allegations of video and circulate them on social media, as the news channels won't show them.

First tabling them in the Delhi assembly, Kejriwal is using these papers to try and discredit Mr Modi's claim of being against corruption. So far, Kejriwal isn't succeeding in denting the prime minister's shrewd plan to recast himself as the new Anna Hazare.

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