By Santhosh Babu
In its first month since winning 28 assembly seats in Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leadership is on a roller coaster, facing challenges from within and outside. While AAP has been able to revolutionize the way a newly-appointed government works and taken some bold steps like announcing free water, reduced power tariff, initiating anti-corruption measures and creating a nursery admission helpline, it is worth looking at the challenges it faces.
The AAP leadership might have expected a close scrutiny of its promises, actions and mis-steps from its ally, the Congress, and the opposition BJP. It might have envisaged more brickbats for actions than bouquets for good work. However, it might not have imagined the magnitude.
Despite a series of quick actions, the new kid on the political block earned public wrath for irresponsible actions, immature utterances and limited alignment of the core team on key issues – whether it is Law Minister Somnath Bharati’s raids on homes occupied by foreign nationals and the subsequent run-in with Delhi Police, or an insensitive sexist comment by a party colleague, Kumar Vishwas, at a comedy show some years ago.
The expulsion of party MLA Vinod Kumar Binny who called Arvind Kejriwal a “liar”, or Prashant Bhushan’s radical statement on Kashmir, the almost endless list of goof-ups show a wide divergence of views and lack of cohesiveness in the party. Though none of it comes as a surprise to those well-versed with Indian political parties, for AAP the bar has been raised high on the back of public expectations.
For a political party with national ambitions, it is a poor show when the core leadership team has to repeatedly retract statements – a sign of ill-preparedness and half-baked communication strategy – when hate comments are dismissed as personal views, and the media is attacked for being unkind in its remarks.
For the AAP core group, the common meeting ground is the single-minded focus on fighting corruption. But they have not been able to speak in one voice on a series of issues or publicly share their vision for Delhi, the city state they have been elected to govern.
The big task for the leader of any organisation is to create a cohesive core group that walks the talk and seamlessly gets down to the actions needed to achieve its vision. As the leader of the Aam Aadmi Party and, more importantly, holding the constitutional post of chief minister of Delhi, Kejriwal has his role cut out – a model demonstrating maturity, sagacity and statesmanship.
While ending VIP culture by doing away with red beacons and big bungalows for MLAs and ministers has been welcomed, leading an agitation as a chief minister has met with mixed response in the media, especially after it made way for a series of agitations in Delhi – by bus drivers and others – for permanent jobs. Perhaps this calls for finding new methods for a chief minister to protest.
It is early days yet. AAP has the potential to deliver. One way of doing it is to follow the corporate mantras of leadership transformation. Kejriwal’s job as a leader of the government is to create a common aspiration and alignment. As head of a political party he needs to build a consensus by veering the core leadership into a highly cohesive, trusting and well-aligned group which has clear communication guidelines and simple over-riding communication objectives.
Like a typical newly-formed team, the Aam Aadmi Party core group does not collaborate. They need a complete congruence of their thought, speech and action by burying their differences and work towards a common agenda through collaboration. The core team driving transformation of the political system must seek feedback from other stakeholders and express willingness to change.
Team Kejriwal will do well to practise acceptable norms of behaviour within the coalition dharma. While criticism is welcome, use of uncivil language is not. By accusing the central government, Delhi Police, political opponents, its supporting party Congress and the media, AAP is not likely to get the results it seeks. It must acknowledge inter-dependence on a host of rules, regulations, authorities within and outside their purview where persuasion may yield better results than protests.
The core group also needs to understand that for general public utterances of any of their core group members represent both the personal and official view. The cohesiveness increases when team members trust each other, understand each other and show willingness to support each other.
Kejriwal was able to put together AAP by promising to root out corruption from the fabric of India. He needs to articulate a grand vision for the party that addresses the aspirations of the common man.
(Santhosh Babu is CEO coach and founding MD, OD Alternatives. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at Santhosh@odalternatives.com and on Twitter @hypnobaba.