Beyond Delhi

AAP–Politics of Pragmatism?

Biswajit Roy

The virtual wipeout of the Modified Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Delhi under the brooms of Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), first of its kind after Narendra Modi's rise to the Raisina Hill, really calls for celebration even by the skeptics of all hues. Delhi being the mini India, AAP deserves kudos from majority Indians who are opposed to the Moditvta; the hybrid of Hindutva majoritarianism of RSS-VHP brand and corporate capital's aggression in its ugliest form under the garb of extremely elitist developmental model.

The managers of the Sangh Parivar projects for 'Ghar Wapsi' who have been urging 'Ramjades' to declare war against 'Love Jihad' of 'Haramjades' by baby boom in Hindu homes now appear muffled, at least for a while. Godse and Namo worshippers who have been trying to make hay when the saffron sun is in its full glory are now likely to be leashed, lest a reverse Tsunamo deluge them in other parts of the land too.

Arvind Kejriwal, now christened Mufllerman has chosen not to dissect BJP's (and Congress' too) 'arrogance' in clear terms at the beginning of his second innings except calling it a 'people's punishment' and his massive mandate a 'divine charisma'. It seems Delhi's people and the 'populist' God shared the same wavelength in rejecting the sweeping Ordinance Raj of those who are ruling the roost in Delhi. It is nothing but a fulfilment of corporate wish list, a payback for the whopping crores that the India Inc and their overseas collaborators had pumped in for the poster boy of 'second generation reforms' and sleek development during his poll campaign. Trustworthy that he is for Adanis and Ambanis, he has either rolled back or slashed every legal or policy achievement of the farmers, tribals, labourers, poor, marginal communities and green groups in every sector in last decades.

The list has increased exponentially during Modi's nine months rule—heavy cuts in NREGA coverage, food and fuel subsidies to the poor and middle class and public health expenditure as well as changes in patents laws that made some life-saving drugs less costly. He has virtually revoked new land acquisition and rehabilitation law and reinstated its colonial version, undone mandatory environmental and social audits for mining and other industries in forest and tribal lands in addition to the unfreezing of SEZ clearances.

Barrack Obama came calling for Chaye Pe Charcha and chewing gums at the Republic day rituals after Modi had warmed the American hearts by offering hosts sops. These include progressive privatization and almost free flow of FDI in core sectors including defence production, railways, insurance and banking while assuring to provide China-like assembly lines through 'Make in India' invitation. His decision to free American nuclear reactor makers from responsibility to pay compensation for any accident at N-power plants and his friendly moves in intellectual property rights disputes including in drug industry, in addition to formalization of middlemen in arms procurement are the other big dividends for US military-industry behemoths and Wall Street sharks. It's another matter, that the Barrack Obama reminded virtue of religious tolerance before Modi fulfils his aspiration to be a world leader by riding piggyback on wannabe superpower India.

However, the fine print of AAP's awesome victory, its social-political chemistry and its import for rest of India is yet to be clear. It demands probe more whether a 14 percent slash in BJP's LS vote share in National Capital Region indicates almost an end of the Pied Piper's spell on middle-class, mostly upper caste Hindus, and particularly educated youth beyond its border. Whether the underclass-castes, particularly Dalits in larger Hindi heartland have called Modi's bluffs before the first anniversary of his rule and rejected BJP along with dynastic Congress.

Also, it is necessary to understand whether the sweeping result in favour of the 'populist' AAP, offers a lasting opportunity to bridge the divide that Manmohon-Modi's political economy has successfully widened between urban middle-class that wants boons of globalization and poor/marginal/migrant millions who bear its banes. Will it hold long—the alliance between the middle class aspirations for world-class smart city, smooth and fast ride through widened roads to secure home, Wi-Fi on streets, high-end jobs and low bills to pay and the millions' basic needs; regularization of shanties and slums;, water and electricity supply there with sanitation and security? What will be the magic when it will come to priorities and funds allocations for the AAP government, which is likely to be at the receiving end of the Modi regime at the Centre?

Skeptics have reasons to be cautious against reading too much into Kejriwal’s intent and ability to deliver a reasonably radical response to Moditva. The man of the moment chose not to speak against the 'popular' prime minister and his pro-corporate agendas either during the polls or after the sweeping; verdict despite the fact that Modi went for a no-holds-barred attack. Instead, the AAP mascot softly played to the 'Modi for PM, Kejriwal for CM’ tune, apparently to make dent into BJP's vote-bank. Unlike his debut run in 2013, he did not venture into poll khol (exposure) of corporate connection to BJP and Congresses as well as big media. No exposure of Ambanis and Adanis, no banter on Kala Dhan or black money stashed in Swiss banks this time. No grilling of Modi and his billionaire Finance Minister Jaitley on their pre-poll promises to bring back ill-gotten fortunes, now dismissed as mere election-time 'jumla' or rhetoric by Shah.

Even as Modi called AK an 'urban Naxal' and 'anarchist', the latter hardly opposed Modi's subversion of the new land law in contrast to the AAP protest and pledge against forced acquisition. People have not so far seen any laud and clear AK/AAP support to social movements, which have hit streets in Delhi against Modi's backdoor service to his corporate backers. This has happened despite the fact that the outer Delhi's Jat belt, which had voted pro-BJP after Muzaffarnagar riots opposed it this time. Fear of land takeovers was one of the major factors, observers felt.

AK has reiterated his resolve to fight corruption and passage of Jan Lokpal Bill in Delhi assembly, failing which he had resigned after 49 days. But the crusader against corruption has made it clear that both the bill and 'setting' free governance would take time. He did not even mention the bill on Swaraj (self rule) to institutionalize participatory democracy through neighbourhood citizen's forums, another benchmark of AAP politics. Last time, he had focused on auditing the private sector power companies and water mafias to ensure affordable water and electricity supply. But he did not assured to take care of both the woes.

Now that AK avoids 'confrontation' with the powerful prime minister, most likely for tactical reasons, it is yet to be clear whether he and his core team will try evolving alternative policy paradigms for development, given the pressures on him to be mainstream. He himself admitted 'romanticism and quirks (pagalpan)' in his debut 'innings' while his friends and foes have noted 'pragmatism' and 'mellowing' in his second coming. It's clear he wants an image makeover from a street fighter to a responsible administrator, friendly to businessmen and industrialists. BJP's bantering on his 'upadrapi gotra' (troublesome caste/clan) boomeranged as he played up his 'bania' origin. He also included one Muslim among his six ministers since the community voted for him en masse and possibly a Dalit. But no woman found a berth.

It's clear that he is keen to keep his great connection to the millions of commoners and rule as the people's darling. He vowed to end 'VIP culture'. Fight against corruption, ruling party muscle-flexing, impartial administration, rule of law and offered olive branches to political opponent and prayer to god to save him and his rank and file from Ahankar (arrogance). The last vice, he reminded that ruined the poll fortune of BJP and Congress. The AAP website itself stresses on 'humility, responsibility and governance' as the new government's motto.

His veiled criticism of Sangh Parivar's politics of communal polarization, attacks on churches, promise to make Delhi secure for all communities and sign off song on Bhaichara or religious-social harmony have definitely touched the hearts of thousands at Ramlila Maidan and beyond. But he avoided threats of stern action against rioters and vandals or neighbourhood all-community vigils against such elements as many secular and liberal supporters had expected from the new chief minister. His chants of Bharat Mata Ki Jay (Glory to Mother India) and Inquilab Zindabad (Long Live Revolution), a mixture of traditional nationalism and revolutionary idealism, in addition to his wish for Indian Cricket team in the ongoing world cup matches, apparently reflected his desire to occupy the nationalist space that Congress had historically acquired but without the jingoist and religious rough edges of BJP variety.

Given the prevalent social mindset in north India, which has been a hub for Hindu casteist conservatism and commnunalized nationalism, it's understandable. But when the cricket match between India and Pakistan being hyped as war and the LOC, competitive nationalism, soft or hard, is a recipe for disaster for most benign revolutionaries.

A welcome restraint came in the form of his public refusal to pursue any pan-Indian ambition as aired by some AAP leaders. Once bitten, twice shy. Though the party website hosts again a list of 'mission vistar' (expansion) committees for Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Chhatisgarh, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh and Odisha. AK reminded the 'divine punishment' they had received following their decision to fight parliamentary polls in the wake of their previous mandate. One may hope, not against hope, he and others in AAP leadership would seek diversity in unity with party and non-party social movements in the coming months to take on the Minotaur of Moditva in its labyrinth by holding its two horns—religious fascism and corporate market fundamentalism.

The Sphinx of Indian democracy had helped Modi to gain 282 seats and attain power despite garnering only 31 per cent of vole-share, through the division of anti-BJP votes in the LS polls last May. This time, she has favoured AAP as it has succeeded in mopping up almost all of Congress  and other anti-BJP votes while eating into the Modi fats. An AAP-67 and BJP-3 verdict was consequent, though BJP has retained its core vote share of 31 percent. One can't expect such bipolar situations or wish away the legitimate angularities among anti-BJP forces in every other state.

There is no immediate possibility of repeating AAP's Delhi feat in Bihar, Bengal and other poll-bound states where voting will be more fractured. The beleaguered anti-BJP forces including the CPM-led Left Front and Trinamul Congress have basked in the reflected glory of the David that almost killed the Goliath at its hub. But their tunes will definitely change if the giant-killer steps into the home turfs of the assorted BJP-baiters who are bitterly divided. But one dares to ask for anti-Moditva broad unity of secular, democratic forces of all hues, at least at mass organizations' level to launch movements against corporate-communal nexus, which threatens to take away everything that Indians have inherited and achieved together over the decades.

Being increasingly marginalized even in their traditional strongholds, Lefts, both parliamentary and non-parliamentary, should come down from their high horses and learn from the fresh experiences before it is too late. For the records sake, all shades of Lefts have lost the Delhi polls most miserably.

It is better to learn about new social and economic realities that the era of globalization, privatization and liberalization have created, know the new entities intimately and articulate new strategies and tactics, new social and political alliances as well as new political lingo to reconnect to the masses. If Lefts continue to repeat the sterile formulations and ossified dogmas, blame resurgent right-wing and populists for lowering the bar for political discourse, lose time and energy over endless mutual nit-picking and backstabbing. They are destined to be dismissed as history’s leftovers.

Vol. 47, No. 40, Apr 12 - 18, 2015