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The AAP Revolution
Friday January 17, 2014 12:15 PM , Irfan Engineer

Aam Admi Party has aroused a lot of enthusiasm among the people of India after its spectacular debut in the Delhi elections. Though AAP could not get majority and was not even the single largest party, it was obliged to form its government. AAP was nudged by both – Congress as well as the BJP to form its Govt. in the National Capital Territory - Congress by extending unconditional support and BJP, by deciding to sit on opposition benches in spite of being the single largest party. Harsh Vardhan, BJP's Chief Ministerial Candidate in his tweet challenged the AAP to form its Government. Both the parties were hoping that AAP would fail to fulfill its promises and AAP's failure would be beneficial to expose during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

In its manifesto, AAP had promised among other things that it would provide 700 litres of water to the residents of Delhi free and reduce the energy charges by 50%. BJP and Congress were hoping that AAP would fail to deliver on its promise and hence expose the party before the impending Lok Sabha elections. Nevertheless, AAP turned the challenge of forming the Government into its advantage and delivered on some of the promises. While deciding to form a minority govt. with the Congress supporting its minority govt from outside, AAP adopted some unusual methods by holding "referendum" through mohalla sabhas. The concept of mohalla sabhas was new to the electorate as well as other political parties. 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 and has aroused a lot of interests.

Jamat-E-Islami and other small parties have declared its 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 lakh persons have become members of AAP and Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP Chief Minister of Delhi has set a target of membership of ten million by 26th January. 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 market and removing fretters 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 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 on account of mainly being a single issue on which the Party focuses – 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 till 26th January, 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 CM Kejriwal talks of simplicity, integrity and honesty, those joining the AAP may be ambitious seeking opportunities of being in various posts.

Understanding the AAP 'Revolution'
The quick popularity of the AAP is not difficult to understand. There was exposure of 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 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 lakhs of govt. employees including class IV and control over the CBI and the CVC. Team Anna, which included CM 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 desired 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 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 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.

Mohalla Sabhas and Renunciation
The USP of the AAP has been basically twofold. One, Arvind Kejriwal and his teams simplicity, plebian background and renunciation of all privileges of office, like official residence, cars, security cover and the rest. Renunciation resonates with common people as they hope that those who renounce privileges of office are going to be non-corrupt. That need not be so. How far will all of them now in positions of authority and with opportunities to make quick bucks would be able to resist temptations in spite of maintaining their appearance as renouncers, remains to be seen. It is not only temptations that they will have to resist. They will have to resist coercive attempts of the land mafias, water mafias, and the rest. The second USP of the AAP is innovative ways in which they have utilized social media as a tool to continuously communicate with their constituencies in a way the traditional parties could not have imagined (to borrow Rahul Gandhi's phrase). The way in which "referendum" on the issue – whether the AAP should form a minority government with external support from the Congress – impressed everybody. The AAP's decision making organs are going to be not just party leaders or a small coterie, but the ordinary members of the party and the people in the mohalla sabhas.

However, there are many issues of who would constitute the mohalla sabha? What would be their decision making process? Simple majority? Overwhelming majority? Or complete unanimity? What are the issues on which the mohalla sabhas would be entrusted to decide? There are many issues on which the mohalla sabhas could not be entrusted with decision making, particularly on the issues that are in conflict with the Constitutional morality of liberty, equality, fraternity and dignity of every individual. Can affirmative actions for dalits, adivasis and minorities be decided in mohalla sabhas? What if the Khap panchayats were to decide on section 377 of the IPC pertaining to the rights of sexual minorities? Or on liberties of women? However, it could be experimented if the mohalla sabhas should be called upon to deliberate how they would like to spend their funds for development of their local area. There could be a danger here too that those in position of hegemony over the mohalla sabhas could exclude the marginalized sections like the dalits, adivasis, minorities etc. It is for this reason that Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar had misgivings about Gnadhiji's concept of gram swaraj. Autonomous gram swaraj could turn into instrument of oppression of the dalits and institutionalization of untouchability. Dr. Ambedkar therefore advocated strong centre, where the elite, informed of Constitutional morality of equality, could be relied upon to take on the caste oppression through Constitutional measures.

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 AAP's Strengths
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.

Problem areas
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 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. In coherence can lead to indecisiveness on issues.

The Party does not seem to have put in place strong structure in place. Sudden expansion will bring all kinds of elements in the party – the left wingers and the right wingers, the honest and the opportunists, notables like Meera Sanyal, Mallika Sarabhai and the ordinary grass root activists. How this plays out remains to be seen. But for now the AAP's expansion is posing challenge to the BJP's victory at the hustings. Kejriwal has demonstrated that leaders who renounce privileges are more popular. Modi in contrast uses considerable financial resources hopping in helicopters, constructing massive podiums and spending millions of rupees in technology and mobilization of people. Congress failure at hustings in the four states in which elections were held recently had boosted the morale of BJP workers however, with AAP dominating the media and expansion of AAP has the BJP now worried. Good enough justification for existence of AAP!



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