Limits Of Speech Politics

Of AAP and Anti-Ideology

Ayan Guha

The meteoric rise of the AAP (Aam Admi Party) has captured the imagination of the entire national electorate. The common perception is that it has brought a fresh approach to politics. Everyone seems to perceive an approach which is markedly different from the politics which they are accustomed to. However, when it comes to defining what this fresh approach is they fall short of words. At best one can get a tentative answer which is their brand of politics is honest and incorruptible which are the recipes for good and efficient governance. If the same question is posed to a suave academician just by substituting the word 'approach' for 'ideology' giving due regard to his epistemological armoury, even he is likely to ponder a while to come out with a clear and sophisticated, response free from the elements of vagueness. Still, the lack of clarity regarding the positioning of AAP in the ideological spectrum remains a less highlighted issue that has got lost in the maze of euphoria sparked off by the stunning victory of the party.

The AAP ideology so far can safely be defined as anti-ideology. Ideological agnosticism has remained a deliberate and well thought out strategy of the party so far. The party simply refuses to be guided by ideologies. The party's website says "We are very much solution focused rather than ideology driven. There is an age old tendency to pin down political parties as left, right, center etc. In the process everyone forgets the issues at hands and their solutions. Our goal is to remain solution focused. If the solution to a problem lies on the left we are happy to consider it. Likewise if it is on right (or in the center) we are equally happy to consider it. Ideology is one for the pundits and the media to pontificate about." Many are prone to argue that the AAP is similar to the Congress party as just like the Congress it is a multi-ideology alliance. But there is a vital difference. There have always been ideological groupings in Congress and those groups have often been pretty open and expressive about their ideological preferences. On the other hand, there seem to be no distinguishable and clear cut ideological groupings in the AAP as of yet and even if such groups exist they are not openly manifest about their ideological preferences and keep the political analysts guessing by their non-committal attitude towards the question of ideology.

The electoral strategy the party used in the recently concluded Delhi elections clearly demonstrated the unwillingness of the party to tread along the known lanes of the ideologically fortified political spaces. It refused to be drawn into the battle between secularism and communalism and for most part of the election campaigns desisted from attacking its principal political opponent on the ground of its secular credentials. Rather, the issues of black money, efficient service delivery, provisions of basic amenities and other practical issues were effectively and successfully brought by them at the centre of the political debate. Ideologies and grand narratives virtually remained irrelevant in the political discourse the party faithfully clinched on to in the run up to the Delhi elections. On a number of occasions it was pressed to define its ideology and the party decided to be quite openly evasive. It was in the immediate political interest of the party to be ideologically ambivalent and focus instead on the day to day issues of concern such as corruption which propelled their rise to political fame. It seems that it is not going to be drawn into any ideological fold at least in the conceivable future. But more often or not it is likely to come under considerable pressure to clear the air on its ideological lineage. As of now the challenge before the party is not to commit to any particular ideological stand-point in its political functioning and remain as ambivalent and evasive as possible on the question of ideology. This is an uphill task in the age of 24/7 news channels where every political move is clearly watched and every sentence is dissected and deconstructed from all possible practical and theoretical angles. Under such circumstances, the party will have to engage in a new type of politics which may be called 'speech politics' without evoking the memories of Derrida. Speech politics is defined by deliberate absence of ideology and the conscious use of speech to continuously prove equidistance from all stations of the ideological platform. Speech politics may arise in situations where particular need of political distancing is felt both from the political right and the political left. In 'speech politics', the weapon of normal politics, ideology is replaced by speech which stands for anti-ideology. Why is speech so necessary under such circumstances? A party in power has to make policies. The policies a party adopts are not only technical in nature.They often possess important normative dimensions shaped by consciously contemplated logic which may well be projected as belonging to a particular ideology. If the makers of the policy don't want their policy to be projected in that ideological frame they have the option of making necessary adjustments in their policies which can justify their alignment to the ideological camp they prefer to be associated with. But if they don't want their policies to be projected as belonging to any ideological heritage at all they have to continuously use speech as a tool to emphasize the ideological neutrality of their policies and make extremely careful use of speech to prevent mistaken travels to self-censored ideological destinations. This does not mean that speech is not used as a tool to preach ideology by political parties with a clear and definite ideology. But generally the principal tool for parties to prove their ideological commitment is policy, not speech. However, in case of a party like the AAP the principal tool to prove their ideological neutrality can't be policies which are vulnerable to be ideologically branded. Under such a situation, they are left only with speech to prove their ideological neutrality. Most importantly, their reliance on speech has to be substantial to prevent any ideological labelling of their policies. Thus 'speech politics' is a kind of politics where ideological amorphousness is a deliberate strategy and the apparent ideological impressions conveyed by approved policies are neutralized by carefully selected dose of political therapy applied solely through the management of speech. A projected happy marriage between policy and ideology is something that speech politics aims to counter.

It is necessary here to present an example of this new kind of politics. Uday Chandra (2014)in an earlier article in Kafila used this example to illustrate the fact that the AAP is free from the baggage of ideology. During the debate on the vote of confidence motion in the Delhi Assembly, the BJP leader Harsh Vardhan made a mention of the AAP leader Prashant Bhushan's controversial suggestion of holding a referendum on the status of Kashmir and demanded an explanation from Kejriwal regarding the stand of his party on Kashmir. Citing this instance Chandra noted "the quintessential 'post-ideological' aam aadmi, refused to take the bait, much to the consternation of the ideology warriors. His speech was a brief—almost Gandhian—intervention that simply thanked everyone who spoke, for their constructive and non-constructive suggestions, and then went back to the set of issues that his government wants to take up. He concluded the speech with the brilliant one liner: 'I am not here to ask you to vote for my government; vote if you agree with our practical programme.' It rattled the radicals no end. He should have, according to these ideologues/ ideologists, come out 'boldly' and taken a stand. This in reality is 'speech politics' at its play where deliberate ideological ambivalence was conveyed through careful use or non-use of speech. If he took a stand he would probably have been placed out of grey zone of the world of ideologies and thrown into the saffron, red or multi-shaded zones of that world.

But can 'speech politics' be a viable and sustainable long term strategy? Probably not, if the AAP has ambitious plan to be a truly national party and contest with the BJP and the Congress for 7 RCR in the near future. In that case it will be hard pressed to make wrenching ideological choices. Even if it does not proclaim openly its ideological stand-point, the stand the party will take on a number of critical national issues such as Maoism, FDI, SEZ, and Kashmir will have to be backed not only by pragmatism but by solid moral arguments falling under the left, right or centre of the ideological galaxy. Under such a scenario, 'the speech politics' will be pushed to its limits. The meta-narrative may re-appear and prove its indispensability. As things stand now, metanarrative is down but it is still not out. The final verdict is still pending. 

1.    Chandra, Uday (2014): "AAP and the Ideology Warriors", Kafila, January 11, viewed on 12 February, 2015, http://kafila.Org/2014/01/l 1/aap-and-the-ideology-warriors/
2., viewed on 12 February, 2015.

Vol. 47, No. 36, Mar 15 - 21, 2015