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12 January 2017 Editorial


12 January 2017

Kejriwal in Punjab

That Delhi was meant only as a springboard for the Aam Aadmi Party was clear even before Arvind Kejriwal was sworn in as Chief Minister in 2013. From the start, the AAP envisaged itself as a nationwide movement against corruption and for good governance. Even as he was talking of Delhi’s problems with water, power and so on, Mr. Kejriwal saw himself as rivalling Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi, fighting corruption and communalism. But those who thought the party’s rout in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls would dispirit its tenacious leader were wrong. True, scaling up from Delhi might not have happened the way he imagined; but instead of setting his sights lower, Mr. Kejriwal merely decided to take the stairs instead of the elevator. The AAP’s bid for power in Punjab is more an extension of its plan of action in Delhi, and not akin to the flight of fancy Mr. Kejriwal indulged in while contesting from Varanasi against Mr. Modi. A shot of realism was what the AAP needed, and it came in the form of the results of the 2014 Lok Sabha election when it did poorly outside Delhi, Punjab and Chandigarh. The party won all its four seats from Punjab; the decision to focus on these core support areas, instead of spreading itself thin, thus made sense.

Its proximity to Delhi was not the only reason the AAP found a resonance in Punjab. The AAP could position itself as an alternative to both the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Congress; it took the focus away from the identity politics of SAD, but spoke up for the Sikh victims of the 1984 riots in Delhi under Congress watch. The agrarian crisis, the drug mafia, jobs and development issues are in the forefront of the AAP’s campaign. But the party has been handicapped by its failure to groom a regional leader in Punjab. Mr. Kejriwal’s autocratic style of functioning appears to have put off many in his party, as it did Navjot Singh Sidhu, the former BJP MP who at one point seemed inclined to join forces with the AAP. While Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia asked voters at an election rally to vote as if Mr. Kejriwal were the chief ministerial candidate, Mr. Kejriwal himself has been wary of projecting himself thus. The AAP would have liked to showcase its two years in government in Delhi as a model, but the frequent run-ins with the Lt. Governor over powers and jurisdiction did not present a pretty picture. And while Punjab might be important for the AAP’s national goals, voters are unlikely to look beyond their immediate life and livelihood concerns in making their choice. The AAP needs Punjab more than Punjab needs the AAP.

Farewell with a message

With just days remaining before his stint in office draws to an end, U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the American people one last time in a soaring speech that highlighted his administration’s top achievements and warned his fellow citizens about rising economic inequality, simmering racial divisions and regression into intractable partisanship. Although he will demit office with one of the highest approval ratings in recent history, to get to the door he will have to step across the debris of the Democratic Party, which suffered a debacle in the November general election. No wonder that the 44th President of the U.S. used his final address to urge Americans to rebuild trust in democratic institutions by reducing the corrosive influence of money in politics and breaking the logjams of congressional dysfunction through grass-roots activism. Mr. Obama knows that the polarisation of the electorate turned even more bitter over his policy agenda. While there were a few areas where he faced relatively less resistance from Capitol Hill, including his aggressive positions on drone warfare and domestic mass surveillance, his most seminal policy achievement, the passage into law of the Affordable Care Act, was only by a sliver of a majority. And he was rebuffed on agenda points closest to his heart, including common sense gun control reform.

Mr. Obama has built an impressive legacy spanning domestic and foreign policy. Inheriting an economy buckling under a severe economic recession, he sprang into action early on in his first term and passed numerous pieces of legislation to buoy the sinking assets of American enterprise. As he pointed out in his speech, today the unemployment rate is near a ten-year low and the U.S. economy is growing again. In foreign policy Mr. Obama was justified in claiming points for the Iran nuclear agreement; on his watch Cuba was finally brought in from the cold, and the death of Osama bin Laden closed the page on a turbulent chapter of terror on U.S. soil. Mr. Obama, however, was less effective in détente with Russia and China, and his relatively soft approach imbued them with the impunity to challenge Washington across multiple arenas. Yet it is not so much the score that Mr. Obama gets for his achievements and failures that he will be remembered for as much as the man that he was. The U.S.’s first African-American president will be remembered as a thoughtful Commander-in-Chief, a leader who strived to provide a progressive template for being, and a man of the 21st century who was as comfortable with social media and popular culture as he was sensitive to searing pain of victims of gun crime or racial hate. He will be missed.

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