Restructuring the Structure?-I

Biswajit Roy

The reactions that the rookies have triggered across the country and the established ideo-political spectrum, have underscored the emergence of a new phenomenon—Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). At one hand, there is unabated euphoria and exuberance among a good section of people over the emergence of 'new politics' and a respectable challenge to the old-styled political parties, which has vested interests in running the democratic show as it did for last sixty-six years.

Like most members of Team Anna, Kejriwal swears by the nationalist pantheon—Gandhi, Vivekanand, Sardar Patel, Lal Bahadur Shastri and so on. Though two had been Congress stalwarts and home minister and prime minister respectively, BJP is keen to appropriate them since the party lacks any legacy of freedom struggle.

Kejriwal's repeated stress on his and colleagues' non-political background who have joined politics only to 'clean the system from within', his call for the 'imandar' (principled and man of integrity) politicians who will not indulge in corrupt and criminal practices, his efforts to turn offices of power into agencies for public good and beneficiaries of socio-economic privileges into catalysts for progress in the lives of underdogs are aimed at reducing the gulf between the rulers and the ruled, rich and poor.

"For the first time in the history of modern India, a party is exhibiting a will to form an issue-based government instead of forming a government to merely acquire power," Kejriwal claimed in his letter to Delhi electorate. These are all informed by the dreams of an egalitarian democracy of anti-colonial struggle, a resonance of Gandhian 'Ram Rajya'. The notion of 'power being at the service of the powerless' rings well to Indian psyche that always worshipped the renunciation of temporal power and wealth. However simplistic, demagogic and wishful may sound to critical and sceptical modernist minds, these have struck an emotional chord with 'Aam Aadmi', particularly, in part of north Indian Hindi Heartland.

Though the Aam Admi Party (AAP) leaders never speak in terms of castes, religion and classes or the conflicts they generate, AAP nevertheless, has articulated its position on general as well as sectional interests of its electorate in its 18-point poll promises. Consider the common denominators: 'End of VIP culture in Delhi; A strong anti-graft Lokapal bill; Investigation of all the scams of the Congress and BJP during their rule in Delhi and the Municipality; The law of Swaraj to ensure the people's right to take decisions about Mohalla / colony / street directly as well as Delhi's status of a "Complete State".

More close to the hearts of middle class and poor citizens are these following promises : Compulsory audit of all electricity companies and slashing of electricity bills to half. Probe into the irregularities of every malfunctioning electricity meter; Daily supply of 700 litres of clean water to each and every house of Delhi.

The people's plight over Public Health Care and Education were fountains of everyday nightmare in Delhi and elsewhere. The AAP promised: Government schools will provide better education than private schools. More than 500 new government schools would be opened; elimination of tradition of donations to private schools and complete transparency in the fee structuring of private schools; New government hospitals and better health care than private hospitals.

Now comes the sectional interests of the poor including the millions of migrants from across  the country, a sizeable section of which is landless and belong to lower strata of caste hirerarchy: Regularisation of all unauthorized colonies in Delhi within a year with basic civic amenities. No demolition of Jhuggis till the people living there are provided with alternate houses; Abolition of contract labour in services which are regular in nature and regularisation of all jobs in such services.

The trading class got these assurances: Simplification and review of The VAT taxes; No Foreign Direct Investment in retail.

Concerns of the farmers and farm-dependents too have been addressed in the context of widespread resentment against government takeover of private land for corporate and state projects: All the services and subsidies which are given to the farmers of other states; No land acquisitions without the permission of the Gram Sabha and inclusion of more areas in Delhi under the jurisdiction of the Gram Sabhas by the extension of Lal Dora (red tape).

The concerns over the increasing crime against Women and their security that rocked Delhi and rest of the country recently came up at the fag end of the list: Special task force for the safety of Women and new courts and judges appointed for redressal of cases related to Women Harassment within 6 months; Fast track courts for these special courts : Other parties to support the Aam Aadmi Party in issues relating to central government.

Call it the inevitable exigencies of vote bank politics or reflections of politics of the governed, most political parties in India (and elsewhere) try to aggregate the general and 'national' interests with the class, caste and other special interests to maximise their electoral appeal. However, in comparison to the pompous manifestos of other political parties, the AAP thing is minimalist, focused and clear about its target groups.

Its constituencies include upper caste urban middle class and traders, slum-dwelling poor and migrants who make most of Delhi's army of unorganized workers, dalits and women as well as farmers in outlying areas and adjoining states. There is no specific promise for Delhi's dwindling organised industrial workers. But the national capital's huge white collar government and private sector employees are receptive to the AAP.

Although the party denies allegiance to any ideology and refrained from training guns against corporate and landlords, its promises are distinctively anti-monopoly practices, pro-poor and pro-farmers while being intentful about the radical democratization of prevailing governance and politics.

BJP-Congress and AAP
There was a distinct possibility that Anna's anti-corruption movement would take an upper castes- dominated right-wing turn with anti-politics, anti-democracy agenda. As social scientist Partha Chatterjee and many others had feared, it would make room for a more authoritarian police state and autocrats like Indira Gandhi and now Narendra Modi. Weeding out corruption was another claim of legitimacy for infamous Emergency that Mrs Gandhi declared to mime opposition in 1975.

But others like Aditya Nigam and Nivedita Menon who favoured exploring the positive possibilities pointed out that the movement had 'enormous potential both for democratization as well as right-wing shift'. As RSS-led Hindutva brigade was wooing Team Anna and found some resonance of its statist and sectarian ideology, the saffron spin became evident with the high-profile presence of Baba Ramdev and other political Sadhus of Viswa Hindu Parisad connection and Team Anna's pre-dominantly Hindu upper caste symbolism that drew flak from Muslims and Dalit groups. A rattled Congress called the AAP as the BJP's B-team.

However, the formation of AAP and its participation in the assembly polls saw the change in relationship between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Team Kejriwal. The Team-A and later Team-K have mainly trained their guns against the ruling Congress at the Centre and Delhi for its record of high corruption. But with colleagues like social scientist Yogendra Yadav and ace lawyer Prashant Bhusan around, Kejriwal appears to be temperamentally close to old Congress ideology of secularism based on inter-religious tolerance and socialistic democracy.

Kejriwal took on BJP publicly for its communal politics while blasting the ruling Congress for corruption. As he began querying the pitch for the BJP and criticized Modi brand of politics, former facilitators heaped the B-team epithet on AAP accusing it of playing for the Congress. The AAP's stunning victory in 28 seats in 70-member Delhi assembly underlined its dent in BJP vote-bank too while depleting Congress support base mainly.

Now Rahul Gandhi promises to follow the AAP and saving the grand old party of India from losing power after a decade. The Congress' outside support to AAP government not only underlines its plan to keep BJP at bay and trap the upstart AAP. It also stems from the Congress compulsion to be seen on the side of the hoi polloi.

Another sufferer of AAP's emergence is Mayavati's BSP whose Dalit lineage could not deter Delhi's untouchable from voting for Arvind Kejriwal. In terms of vote share, the Congress vote fell from 40.31 percent in 2008 to 24.55 percent in 2013 - it lost two-fifths of its previous vote share. The BJP lost less, from 36.84 percent in 2008 to 33.07 percent this year, a drop by a tenth from its share five years ago. The BSP vote share, reckoned to be built of strong Dalit support, dwindled from 14.05 percent in 2008 to just 5.35 percent.

However, more noteworthy in Delhi election was the largely overlapping social-political support-bases of the BJP and AAP in Delhi. The anti-Congress popular refrain during the assembly polls was 'Niche Kejriwal Aur Upar Modi (Kejriwal as chief minister and Modi as prime minister). Both BJP and AAP are aware of it. Maybe that's the reason Kejriwal praised BJP's chief ministerial candidate, Harsh Bardhan as a 'good man'. But he did not extend the same courtesy to the latter's party or its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

After rejecting his former comrade Kiran Bedi's proposal to form government with BJP, he has now declared his party's plan to field candidates against scion of the Congress first family, Rahul Gandhi and Modi in the upcoming parliamentary polls. After whirlwind success in Delhi, AAP's pan-Indian ambition is also likely to queer the pitch further for BJP.

Nevertheless, the AAP leader's personal symbolism is still laced with Hindu upper caste lexicons and messianic traditions. A staunch believer, he swore by the Ishwar, Prabhu (God, Master) before assuming the office of chief minister, sought God's guidance and wanted people to believe in a divine design behind the assertive ordinary citizens and advent of AAP. He reiterated his faith in selfless and dispassionate work irrespective of the result as taught in the Gita, a Hindu holy book. Though he also hastened to add 'Allah' as his divine guide in an apparent emulation of Gandhian tradition, both he and the AAP is yet to evolve a lexicon of their own which will help them to identify with the masses but also to come out of the majoritarian, patriarchal, upper caste stereotypes.

Few Muslims and probably two dalits have won the polls as AAP candidates. Two of the six new cabinet ministers, Rakhi Birla and Girish Soni are dalits. While old-styled 'quota polities' has been frowned upon, mainly by urban and upper caste middle class, inclusion of Muslims and Dalits in AAP government would connect the new aspirants for big change in India, provided the representatives are themselves rooted in the communities and the party does not end in tokenism.

No doubt the leitmotif of Aam Aadmi Parity's campaign in Delhi—a dream-turned pledge to build a ‘bhrastachar-mukt bharat’ (a corruption-free India)—has made a huge impact on Delhi populace with ripple effects from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. This makes clear how the cancer of corruption has been eating into the lives of millions. Not only the upwardly mobile middle class is suffering but also the poorest of the poor.

But opinions differ across ideo-political spectrum whether corruption is the cause of misfortunes of India's multitude or the effect of larger socio-economic maladies. The centrality of corruption in AAP politics has triggered debate, particularly, among those who are associated with people's movements to save Jal-Jungle-Jamin (water-forest-land) from neo-liberal plunderers across the country.

In truth the mass movements against corruption and inequality are not mutually exclusive. Anti-corruption public action is not detrimental to the struggles against injustice and oppression and for expansion of rights of toiling peoples, economic democracy and social justice. Surely, corruption is not class-neutral. But it hurts poor more than the rich.
During the debates in on Anna Hazara movement in 2011-12, some participants had aired apprehensions that the crusade against corruption or its overkill would undermine the survival tactics of urban and rural marginalized communities-shanty-dwellers, street vendors, squatters on government and private land, sex workers, army of unorganized workers as well as dalits and tribals.

It was feared that those who are compelled to live at the twilight zone of legality and illegality by making compromises with state and non-state power through hundreds of 'corrupt practices' would be criminalized further by an already Brahminical and biased, corrupt and brutal babudom and police. It has been also argued that the 'corruption provides a little shade to the poor'.

But the argument hardly holds ground since poor and marginalized are the worst suffers of the corruption and state/non-state brutalities. Absence or non-implementation of pro-poor laws and their daily violations breed corruption, which bleeds the non-'proper citizens' as sociologist Partha Chatterjee had termed the members of the marginal communities.

The undivided Anna movement drew flak from those who dismiss Indian democracy as a sham, for prescribing end of corruption as the panacea of all the suffering of the oppressed and exploited multitude. One of them, noted human rights activist Gautam Navlakha in his commentary (EPW, 5 November, 2011) admitted that 'it would be naive not to recognize that corruption is not a life and death matter to most Indians who are fighting for their right to live in dignity'.

Still, he posed the questions: "Will ending corruption lift people out of poverty? End oppression? Resolve the struggles against land grab? Help ascertain the will of the people in Jammu and Kashmir? Bring the war in Manipur to an end or halt Operation Green Hunt. Stop the mining Juggernaut? End the Persecution of minorities at the hands of Hindutva terror?

Effective check on corruption in the payments of minimum wages under NREGA and for rural and urban farm and non-farm workers as well as proper implementation of plethora of poverty alleviation projects under the Panchayati Raj institutions and urban self-governance bodies would help the poor in their daily fight for survival and beyond.
Corruption is the one of the major forms of state and non-state oppression of poor and non-poor. The police brutalities, babus' coercion, endless dilly-dallying and flexing of muscles by politician-criminal nexus are often aimed at extortions of bribes even if the bribe-givers are at the right side of the laws.

The fact is that the anti-corruption campaign had began with the movement for people’s right to information by Aruna Roy-led MKSS and others at the grassroots in Rajasthan and elsewhere resulted into the central RTI act. Despite all obstructions to its implementation by the vested interests within governments and their non-state allies, the act has opened the closed door and colonial-style governance system and compelled it to cough up information.

It has also given a big boost to public demand for accountability and transparency as well as activism against corruption, nepotism, misuse of power by the politician-corporate-criminal-babu-police nexus.

The RTI helped human rights activists like Navlakha to extract information on army and police brutalities in Kashmir and elsewhere. The increasing list of murdered RTI activists is a proof enough that in no way it is a social circuit activism of middle class good Samaritans, philanthropists and doe-eyed revolutionaries who play safe game with state and non-state killing machines.

For one thing, crusade against corruption would not stop the state repression in Kashmir, Manipur and Dandakaranya. But police harassment, illegal detention, custodial torture and booking in false cases aimed at extorting money will definitely come down if human rights activists join hands with their anti-corruption counterparts. Religious Minorities, tribals, dalits and other marginalized communities who suffer the most would definitely benefit from the broadening of the horizon of these two movements and their mutual cooperation, if not convergence.

Only habitual cynics and people suffering from tunnel vision would dismiss the AAP phenomenon as 'elitist' or mere middle class idealism. No more the struggles for fundamental socio-economic changes, be it revolutionary or evolutionary, can avoid the questions on power relations between the rulers and the ruled in all forms of state structures, particularly, the concentration of administrative-legal power in the hands of government, bureaucracy and regimented ruling parties that primarily breed corruption. Their growing nexus with the economic power of global and domestic corporations has led to crony capitalism around the world.

On the other hand, nobody can claim today that corruption is exclusive to capitalist states. Corruption in all subtle and crudest forms have been experienced by the millions under all state systems - parliamentary and presidential democracy, fascist and proletarian dictatorships, individual autocracy et al.

So fighting corruption at its manifest and crudest level need not be anchored by a particular ideology-based blueprint. But any political force whose redeeming agenda does not end with tokenism or cosmetic changes should definitely look into the deeper roots of corruption and their relations with crony capitalism, fascism and statist socialism.

However, Navlakha has rightly criticized the original Team Anna for leaving corporates and NGOs out of the ambit of their proposed Jan Lokpal (the institution of anti-corruption ombudsmen at the federal and provincial level). Some others had concerns that corrupt government clerks, beat constables and other small cogs in the mighty state-wheel would be demonized more while the corporate and non-corporate plunderers of state exchequer and natural resources would be shielded.

The 'historic' Lokpal bill has been passed in the Lok Sabha on 18th December 2013 amid Congress-BJP bonhomie and with Anna's blessings. The new law has left the usual holy cows; the mandarins supervising public order, external and internal security, atomic energy and space and international relations.

It also exempted NGOs, charitable trusts and religious bodies. Private or corporate companies would also not come under its purview directly. But there is a rider that Lokpal can probe into the allegations against any person if he is found, prima facie, involved in corrupt practices as defined in the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The AAP has dismissed the sarkari Lokpal bill as 'Jokepal'. In his letter to Delhi electorate, Kejriwal explained their dissatisfaction. But his grounds for rejection of the Congress-BJP bipartisan bill did not include the law's silence on corporate corruption and that of the religious bodies and foreign-funded NGOs.

It may be explained in the overall context of AAP's decision to avoid or its discomfort with ideological tags. Nevertheless, Arvind's earlier exposes of Mukesh Ambani and other tycoons and recent order for audit of private sector power companies, slashing of power tariffs and free supply of certain amount of water have raised hackles of growth fundamentalists who are opposed to 'freebies' to people but want the same for corporates.

His party colleague Prashant Bhusan's ideas about giving back the control of basic services like water supply to 'public' have triggered BJP accusation of reverting to 'Nehru-Indira style socialism'. Congress too called it a populism at the expense of the exchequer. True, the initial moves by the AAP government would not benefit immediately those poor-slumwellers who are not connected to the power or have water meters installed at their places. But the BJP and Congress are just shedding crocodile tears for the urban poor.

Jan Lokpal
Kejriwal's letter said that the 2011 bill proposed by undivided Team Anna stressed on at least three elements: all public servants would come under investigative ambit of the Lokpal; the panel would monitor the Citizen's charters and penalize public authorities and servants who violate it; the Lokpal bill would contain provisions for Lokayuktas a la the Lokpal, which would take of corrupt provincial public servants.

In contrast, Kejriwal pointed out that the new law left the selection and accountability of the Lokpal essentially in government's hands, 'thus completely compromising the independence of the Lokpal'. The law also left the Lokpal's corruption investigations with the government- controlled CBI. Further, the bill did not contain the three provisions that parliament had promised Anna. Only group A public servants were brought under the Lokpal's purview; No provision for a State Lokayukta; No mention of a citizens’ charter.

He felt that Lokpal's investigation would be 'crippled by the need to first have a preliminary inquiry where the accused public servant would have to be heard (thus allowing him to destroy evidence) before even the FIR could be registered.'

"And worst of all, a person whose complaint was labelled "frivolous or vexatious" by this government controlled Lokpal could be imprisoned for upto 5 years (even more than the punishment for corruption)! That is why we had called this bill a Jokepal bill or a bill for the protection of corrupt public servants," the AAP leader said.

He also criticized the parliamentary select committee for recommending 'cosmetic changes' in the bill. These include the process of appointment and removal of the Lokpal that 'remains under the control of the political class who usually would have the same vested interest to have a weak and pliable Lokpal'.

Similarly, CBI sleuths investigating into the corruption complaints assigned by the Lokpal would remain under the panel's supervision and won't be transferred without its nod. However, the government would have the administrative powers over the sleuths' job conditions, 'thus rendering them beholden to and dependant on the government'.

The reluctance of the 'political class' or the established political parties to lose the leash of the CBI, which the Supreme Court has chided as 'a caged parrot' of government of the day, is understandable. This is in consonance with their refusal to come under the Right To Information Act to hide the 'donations' to their coffers from public scrutiny or support the government ordinance to save the jailed MPs.

But many in the civil society who do not share Team Anna or Team Kejriwal's advocacy of a Levithanic Lokpal as the panacea of all corruptions, let alone the other ills. Who will watch the watchdog? Whatever pious and plebeian are the intentions, over-concentration of power in the hands of super cops are not compatible with the idea of public accountability and transparency of all centres of power and authority.

Ultimately, Lokpal would be part of the mighty Indian state. If AAP 's crusade ends with creation of an omnipotent behemoth in the name of fighting the corrupt political class and bubus, the state would become a hydra-headed monster for the ordinary people.

Also, right of accused to be heard is part of all civilized jurisprudence. Its denial in the name of fighting corruption in government and bureaucracy would only strengthen the state's arbitrary power. The AAP government should address these concerns effectively tabling its Jan Lokpal bill in Delhi assembly.

Divided on Kashmir
AAP's positions are still sketchy on human rights violation by the governments and rights of the national minorities as well as its attitude to the brand of nationalism that the guardians of the nation-state have been promoting.

Anchored to mainstream nationalism, the party has banked heavily on Gandhian symbolism and styles of mobilisation to recreate a moral-ethical aura of freedom struggle era. Though it has distanced itself from the aggressive religious nationalism and anti-Pakistan/China Jingoism of RSS-BJP, it has not challenged the dominant discourse that denies right to self-determination to those regions who are refusing to be part of India.

Neither it has cleared its stand on Centralism vs Federalism debate in the context of growing regionalism in non-Hindi states and ethno-linguistic groups. Both team Anna and Team Kejriwal have avoided handling  these hot potatoes, partly because of internal differences and partly because of the risk of losing a good portion of its nationalist support base including those in the media and corporate world.

It will be interesting to remember that AAP senior leader Prashant Bhusan faced expulsion from Team Anna after he supported the Kashmir's right to self determination and accused army of atrocities and demanded withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Power Act.

"In Kashmir, Army is responsible for suppression while in India communal forces including extremist Hindu outfits are busy in terrorizing Kashmiri people who manage their affairs in different parts of the country. How can you expect that a Kashmiri is safe in India when police can do an encounter of anybody, even an Indian, in any part of the country," Bhushan reportedly told Kashmir-based news gathering agency CNS, adding that the execution of Afzal Guru "brought disrepute to India."

It raised hell in Delhi establishment and the Supreme Court lawyer was attacked by members of the Hindu fanatics. It was Arvind Kejriwal who came out to distance the Team-A from Bhusan. "Our stand is that Kashmir is an integral part of India... it is a complex problem... any solution to it is possible through dialogue but within the boundaries of the Indian Constitution," Kejriwal had said.

Earlier former army truck driver Anna Hazare suggested Bhushan's removal from the core committee of his team over his Kashmir remarks.

But the same Team Anna sent empathetic note to Irom Sharmila Chanu who has been fasting for more than a decade demanding withdrawal of AFSPA in Manipur in Indian northeast. Survived so far because of intermittent custodial force-feeding by the government, Sharmila has been holding the Gandhian mirror before the India's narcissistic democrats. Their latest challengers, Team Anna, apparently could not afford to ignore her protest, particularly when Anna was on fast claiming the same Gandhian legacy.

Clearly, Kejriwal is more close to Anna's nationalism than that of Bhusan. Still, he criticized Afjal Guru's hanging, more precisely, its secret method.

But that did not stop right-wing attacks on AAP. The loudmouth BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, the apologist for Sinhala-chauvinist Rajapakshe regime in Sri Lanka which had massacred minority Tamil civilians, told media recently. "He (Kejriwal) represents a motley crowd of anti-national sleazeballs and financial manipulators." Swamy has also targeted Prashant Bhushan saying that 'he is a traitor who wants to hand over Kashmir to Pakistan.'

Interestingly, an ET report from Srinagar on December 17, 2013 pointed that 'AAP has the new political reference in states and J&K is no exception. In Kashmir, parties are accusing each other of trying to package themselves as "J&K's AAP". It said that sections within Kashmir think the Valley witnessed the "AAP-moment" in 1987 when people voted for Muslim United Front, a lose alliance of anti-establishment right-wingers who wanted to change the system. "As the then ruling NC-Congress coalition denied them space and made them fail in a rigged process, the militancy was born," the dispatch said.

With AAP's entry in Delhi politics, pro-independence forces are excited but divided. "People of India appear to have shunned the traditional mindset created by established political parties about issues facing India," Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, who heads the moderate Hurriyat said. "It speaks about new change which, we hope, will also reflect the new mindset on Kashmir issue". He hoped Kejriwal will try to reach out to the people of Kashmir as well.

But, Yasin Malik of JKLF vehemently differed. "AAP under Gandhian cloak, wears the same RSS shorts," he said. "We have seen their intentions in the past when in May, 200 families went to Delhi to protest against the human rights violations inflicted on them by the authorities but it was Kejriwal's party that disallowed them even to speak to press."
The report also quoted author-activist Dr Altaf Hussian who felt that 'nobody in Kashmir will ever be allowed to become Kejriwal because rulers here are selected and not elected."

The divided reactions of Azadi-seekers in Kashmir underlined the extent of impact that AAP has made. With the party's pan-Indian ambition now, Team Kejriwal will have to tread on the fault lines of Indian nationalism, particularly its reigning brand.
[to be concluded]

Vol. 46, No. 30, Feb 2 - 8, 2014

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