The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi seems to have lost it. Drunk with self-righteousness, it violated all laws and basic decency recently by rounding up and humiliating African women in the middle of the night in south Delhi.

The AAP’s defence is that its volunteers stepped in because the police was doing nothing about an alleged drug and prostitution racket.

Does that entitle them to enter women’s homes without a search warrant and, worse still, at night?

This sort of vigilantism is both disgusting and frightening. What makes matters worse is the shrill defence of the episode, with the chief minister simplistically linking rape to sex and prostitution rackets.

His remarks, besides suggesting the arrogance of a person who is riding a ‘people’s wave’, also betrays a conservative mindset.

Is violence on women merely an offshoot of crime and corruption (that mother of all problems)?

Or is it a problem of patriarchy that is within all of us — in families, in the way we think and act?

Arvind Kejriwal, the Gandhian, should have a thing or two to say about the inner being instead of going along with his Law Minister. Running the government is not about being a pugilist all the time.

But his party is drifting on a cloud of moral righteousness and Kejriwal seems to have forgotten Gandhi for the moment. All we see is a here-and-now, 24x7 zeal, the bizarre search for a clean, pure society (in which Africans can find no place?).

It’s frightening to see these lakhs of AAP volunteers burning with impatience to wipe out ‘corruption’. Corruption becomes a metaphor for dirt, an excuse to externalise the prejudices within us.

Who are these internet-savvy volunteers? If their jottings in Facebook and other websites are anything to go by, they abhor complexity of thought, an engagement with ideas, and particularly, a reference to political history.

“We want to remove corruption now, please do not burden us with your baggage”, is the refrain.

They represent the alarming anti-intellectualism of a section of the middle class, and are, in all likelihood, students or products of engineering and management institutes whose biases have remained intact in the absence of an exposure to liberal streams of thought.

One can only hope that the views of this section do not reflect the core sensibility of the AAP.

Kejriwal’s responses on the issue of the African women as well as on the political rights of Kashmiris betray some sort of connect with this section of the middle class.

Will saner elements in the party be able to alter the tenor of the discourse?

AAP’s enthusiastic volunteers want to see the world slotted into neat categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ so that they can actively, if not violently, be part of the solution.

Unable to cope with complexity, they rush to so-called ‘god’men, hyper-personalities such as Kejriwal or Narendra Modi, or, to extend the examples across space and time, the Osama Bin Ladens and even the Charu Mazumdars. They are ‘fundamentalists’.

Insightful views

Salman Akhtar, professor of psychiatry, Jefferson Medical College, has spoken insightfully on the “lure of fundamentalism”.

In his inaugural lecture at the Centre of Psychoanalytic Studies, Delhi University, in May 2005, he observed: “Instead of complexity, fundamentalism offers simplicity, instead of moral ambiguity, fundamentalism offers moral clarity… Instead of cultural impurity and hybridisation, fundamentalism offers purity.”

He went on to say: “Fundamentalism lulls us into a sleep of childhood, a sleep of simplicity but it is worse than childhood because a child is always questioning and attempting to come out of its innocence bit by bit.”

The extent of AAP’s ‘innocence’ is disconcerting.

The experienced elements in the party must strive towards moderation.

One way of jettisoning the muck in the flood of new members (to borrow a metaphor used by AAP leader Yogendra Yadav in a recent interview) is to take clear social and political positions.

‘Corruption’ (the slogan, not the issue) should take a backseat in the party’s lexicon in favour of a more enlightened view of social change.

The party may then shed its ‘fundamentalist’ tendencies.

AAP’s response to the attack on African women is deeply disturbing.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 21, 2014)
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