Kejriwal’s Swaraj

The AAP ‘Revolution’

Irfan Engineer

Aam Admi Party (AAP) has aroused a lot of enthusiasm among the people of India after its spectacular debut in the Delhi elections.

In the TV studio debates, the AAP spokespersons are proclaiming that while the traditional national parties like the Congress and the BJP are replacement to each other, AAP was an alternative. Arvind Kejriwal’s book titled Swaraj is selling like hot cakes.

Jamat-E-Islami and other small parties have declared their support to the AAP. Soon there was a rush in many metros and small towns to join the AAP. Some media reports stated that in matter of three days, three hundred thousand persons have become members of AAP and Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP Chief Minister of Delhi has set a target of membership of ten million. The AAP received wide coverage and news channels during prime time. Some notable personalities too have joined the AAP, including Mallika Sarabhai in Gujarat and industrialists like Meera Sanyal.

Meanwhile, one witnesses a lot of incoherence, if not contradictions, in the AAP rank and file. Meera Sanyal has often been on TV studios and aired her views in favour of more rigorous and speedier, less regulated inflow of foreign investments, less regulated markets and removing regulatory fetters on capital and entrepreneurship. On the other hand, many activists who are opposed to liberalization and globalization too have joined the party. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, an accomplished academician and member of CPI, has joined the AAP. Mallika Sarabhai who contested against Narendra Modi who presided over the Gujarat carnage has joined the Party in Gujarat while Kumar Vishwas, one of the prominent leaders of the AAP has praised Narendra Modi and is busy mobilizing voters in Amethi to defeat Rahul Gandhi. Mallika Sarabhai even publicly rebuked Kumar Vishwas for being sexist gay hater and for praising Modi. There is incoherence within the Party as it is a single issue Party—corruption. People following all kinds of ideologies and political programmes are against corruption and therefore, Meera Sanyal as well as anti-globalization activists are attracted to the AAP, particularly with the success of the Party in Delhi. With the target of ten million members, there is an aggressive recruitment drive throughout the country, including online, and the verification process of those joining the AAP during an aggressive drive is going to be lax. While Kejriwal talks of simplicity, integrity and honesty, those joining the AAP may be ambitious and seeking opportunities of being in various posts.

The quick popularity of the AAP is not difficult to understand. There was exposure of a series of scams beginning from Commonwealth games, 2G spectrum, coal block allocation and the rest. Team Anna's agitation supported by liberal coverage by media demanded Jan Lokpal as one off solution to all corruption. This gave a vent to popular frustration and anger. Team Anna's strategy to fight corruption placed heavy reliance on the institution of Jan Lokpal with jurisdiction over the PM, the judiciary and millions of govt. employees including class IV and control over the CBI and the CVC. Team Anna, which included Kejriwal, demanded nearly unlimited powers for the Jan Lokpal and with little or no accountability. Arundhati Roy, the celebrated author, in one of her articles asked, would the common man and the elite now have to bribe one more institution in addition to the traditional authorities to continue their everyday affair.

The media and people cared little whether the Jan Lokpal was the right and desirable solution to the problem of corruption, what prompted them to support the agitation, including the opportunist opposition, was that the issue of corruption was being publicly debated and rebuked. While the BJP wanted to put the ruling Congress in the dock, Team Anna wanted to put all the politicians and institutions of democracy, including the Parliament and the judiciary in the dock. The agitation bordered on anarchism with all powerful Jan Lokpal as a solution to all problems of the people. The agitation was peppered by undercurrents of majoritarian nationalism and liberal use of symbol of Bharatmata. The middle class, with its usual abhorrence to politicians as "less intelligent" and "less educated" and even non-modern, rural and backward thinking, enthusiastically supported the Team Anna agitation prompted by media. It is this backdrop that gave birth to the AAP—an offshoot of Team Anna. Origin of the AAP was in opposing all the democratic institutions without proposing any alternative and therefore sounded like anarchic in its solutions. However, with elections, it is going more towards being a system compliant party from a system adverse party.

The unique feat that the AAP achieved in Delhi was that through their door to door campaign on the issue of inflated energy bills, promise of free water upto 700 litres per person per day, promise to halt demolition of slums until alternative accommodation was provided, and on anti-corruption plank, it could mobilize the middle class as well as the slum dwellers of Delhi to vote for it! The constituencies tired of traditional parties like the BJP, the Congress and regional parties and hegemony of unaccountable coterie within these parties can now have hope in the AAP. A large constituency was left out and found no space for engagement in social causes. The AAP promises to be more democratic and inclusive of ordinary people. Young people love social media and are adept in its use. Party using social media to communicate with its constituencies instantly captures the imagination of the young and mobilizes them.

The AAP holds the hope for the future as it has been mobilizing the citizens not on the basis of their caste, region, community, language, ethnicity or any other identity markers. It mobilizes citizens on the issue of transparency within the system, for participatory processes and anti-corruption. Since all sections of the society, except those in positions of authority and the elite, including industrial houses, want more participatory democracy, transparency and corruption free system, all sections have been joining the party despite the identities they profess. It mobilizes citizens as citizens and not as Hindus or Muslims or South Indians or North Indians! If the AAP were to succeed and continue on these lines, communal and caste based politics would become irrelevant. But there is capital IF. In this sense, the AAP is catch-all party. It promises to set up right systems for accountability of those in power. The free market advocates and anti-globalization activists—all can be members of the Party. Only the free market advocates within the Party would be worried that energy and water and indeed other services should not be subsidized.

The social origin of the AAP has been its campaign for RTI and anti-corruption. The leadership of the Party is so far drawn from ordinary people and its professed political goals are policy seeking rather than office seeking or vote seeking.

The biggest challenge that AAP faces in spite of its strengths is that it does not follow any ideology nor does it seem to have any professed political programme or direction.

The Party is too nascent and has not yet deliberated on many political issues. The leaders are speaking in different voices on, e.g. presence of military in Kashmir. Prashant Bhushan has taken position stating that military should be withdrawn from civilian areas in Kashmir while others are disowning Prashant Bhushan' s stand. Similarly, on the issue of Kudankulam Nuclear plant and nuclear energy, different leaders are speaking in different voices. While Kumar Vishwas is praising Modi, others are strongly differing. Arvind Kejriwal is maintaining silence on some of the disturbing issues. People from varied ideological stream are infiltrating into the Party in absence of ideological or clear and declared political positions. The incoherence on varied issues can pose a challenge of alienating one section or the other once its positions on various issues are declared. Incoherence can lead to indecisiveness on issues.

The Party does not seem to have put a strong organizational structure in place. Sudden expansion will bring all kinds of elements into the party—the left wingers and the right wingers, the honest and the opportunists, notables like Meera Sanyal, Mallika Sarabhai and the ordinary grassroots activists. How this plays out remains to be seen.

Vol. 46, No. 36, Mar 16 - 22, 2014