Biawajit Roy


The trailblazing success of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi polls and its proliferating impact in rest of the country have triggered a feel good factor for the party and like-minded people. With the general election round the corner, now they have a pan-Indian political ambition.


Fueled by the 24×7 national TV channels’ support and induction of some high-profile corporate honchos and other personalities, the AAP has decided to contest ‘maximum number of seats in maximum number of states, while taking up a nationwide massive membership drive.

The party spokesman Yogendra Yadav has unveiled an elaborate organizational expansion plan in the states saying that the ‘people are queuing up to join the party across the country.’ Also, he has invited online application from ticket-aspirants, which would be scrutinized and finalized in consultation with state units.


A hierarchy of committees has been formed to supervise these jobs as well as to draft the party’s policies on ‘all major national issues’ before the leadership fine-tunes them in a poll manifesto by March.


Yadav and some other AAP leaders promoted Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP’s ‘tallest leader’ and new chief minister of Delhi as a prime ministerial material. A section of influential media too lapped up the idea of putting Kejriwal, the new wonder boy of Indian politics, as an alternative to Congress’ wannabe Prime Minister-candidate Rahul Gandhi and his BJP (Bhartiya Janata Party) counterpart Narendra Modi.


It’s another matter that Kejriwal himself has scotched the speculation by declaring that he would not contest the parliamentary polls but go for nation-wide campaign.


Another Sole Spokesman?


The galloping expansion and consolidation of party organization and rocketing political projection indicates a leap forward from the party’s earlier benign and less ambitious plan for gradual growth.


Beginning as a part of the anti-corruption movement, the AAP’s meteoric rise on Delhi’s horizon has been welcomed by all who have been dissatisfied with the Congress-BJP bipartisan rivalry for national domination and the corrupt, criminal and communal political class that includes regional parties too. Their poll-time democratic rhetoric could not heal the daily wounds that the millions have been suffering under an insensitive, unaccountable and opaque system of governance for long.


The AAP is riding on the waves of the anger and angst of the multitude as well as their yearning for a better India. The party has aroused hope in many people. But initial success seems to have gone to its leaders’ head. They are now behaving like the Delhi-based ‘high command’ of all centralized political parties who holds power to finalize the list party nominees in far flung areas of the land with the inputs or recommendations of regional satraps. The electorate or party common members have no role in selection of candidates.


What about the peoples’ movements?


What is more alarming that awestruck with their stellar performance, the crusaders for clean politics are forgetting their initial promise to network with fellow-minded local, regional organizations and individuals in states. Far from being a force- multiplier for a decentralized grassroots movement for participatory democracy and governance from the below, the AAP is now trying to be the sole spokesman for the millions of governed Indians by aping the other ‘national’ parties.


Time and again, Kejriwal said earlier that neither he nor the party had the ‘aukat (capacity as well as audacity)’ to spread its wing across the country to take on the corrupt and criminalized political system. He had appealed to fellow travelers to join hand for making an all-India impact. While AAP has some bases in Kejriwal’s native Haryana that neighbors Delhi and Maharashtra due to the impact of son-of-the soil Anna Hazare who was the original mascot of the anti-corruption movement, the 14-months old party has little organization in rest of the land.

Kejriwal had said regional non-partisan people’s movements for better governance like the Andhra Pradesh-based Lok Satta, formerly led by Jayaprakash Narayan, should be invited to come under the AAP banner and contest the Lok Sabha election.


Similarly, grassroots organizations like anti-nuclear power plant movement Tamilnadu’s Kudankulam had extended support to the AAP during the Delhi polls. Now its leader SP Udaykumar has reportedly been sounded by the AAP to contest polls under its banner. But Yadav, a seasoned social scientist committed to deep democracy did not utter a single word in his press conference on 5th January about the AAP initiative to rope in people’s movements against rural land grabs, big dams and inundation of villages, massive dispossession and displacement of tribals for mining minerals and destructions of forests and other basics of environment.


Former friends forgotten


There is no information on joining hands with Medha Patkars and Aruna Roys or their organizations NAPM and MKSS who had joined the anti-corruption movement or paved its ways by pioneering right to information campaign. The AAP effort to make dent into Modi’s Gujarat has not included those who have been fighting on the ground against the communalized and vindictive state machinery and its fake encounter experts as well as land grab and n-power plants.


Basking in their newfound glory, the AAP leaders are apparently trying to gobble up the whole civil society space of which they were parts and products. We are yet to know the new party’s policy positions on developmental paradigms, structural violence and other related issues on which they had taken individual positions earlier. We are also waiting to listen to AAP leaders on foreign policy issues related to south Asia as well as Indo-US relations, etc.


Another High Command?


Though leaders like Prasant Bhusan has insisted on focusing ‘policies and people rather than personalities’, the party as a whole appears to be fast moving towards a personality-driven politics with Kejriwal as the new Jayaprakash Narayan of India and his admirer-turn- activist corporate leaders et al as his emissaries. If the trend persists, it will be a miscarriage of the dream that it has evoked.


The party’s organizational principles are also not clear after it has graduated into a mass party from a close-knit activist group. Will the party practice its cherished principle of participatory democracy within its own home first and evolve mechanism to involve new converts in decision-making both at the centre and states?  How do they deal with internal differences, the minority opinion from within?  How to engage non-party organizations and individuals? So far, they have worked through less hierarchical, consensus-based small group structure seeking feedbacks from public through Mohalla sabhas (local organizations), a combination of vertical and horizontal decision-making processes.


With hundreds joining the rank and file now, how to place the big names and lesser mortals in the party hierarchy and on what basis? What will be the power relation between the Delhi-based central leadership and the state units? How to involve the masses into the decision-making?  These are questions which seek answers to justify the AAP claim for a paradigm shift in Indian politics.

The poll politics: CPM (Communist Party of India-Marxist) and AAP


In the meantime, the party has declared that it would go alone in the Lok Sabha polls or fight on its own strength. Though the CPM and its partners have greeted AAP for providing a ‘credible alternative to Congress and BJP in Delhi’, Prashant Bhusan was dismissive of the suggestion of left-AAP understanding in view of corruption in the left parties.


It has resonance in the states too. Claiming that “some big political personalities” had already approached, AAP’s Punjab convener Harjot Singh Bains clarified they would not join hands with parties like CPI, CPM or Manpreet Badal’s Peoples’ Party of Punjab (PPP).


Still clueless about how to claw back in Bengal, CPM’s reticence-turned grudging recognition of the AAP stemmed from the ‘unstated threat that AAP could pose to the Left’, as journalist Soroj Negi felt. “That may be of concern to the Communists, which until now had basked in the halo of bringing a semblance of principled politics into the national mainstream”, he said referring to the withdrawal of left support to UPA-I on Indo-US civil nuclear deal. The mutual relation Left and AAP’s impact may become relevant because of the possibility of a hung Parliament in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Negi speculated whether AAP would become the ‘fulcrum’ of anti-Congress, anti-BJP politics ‘if the Left slips up electorally’ in view of Left’s dismal situation in Bengal and Kerala to some extent.  “Though it lacks the ideological orientation of the Left, the AAP has brought a whiff of change in politics, judiciously blending its cyber campaign with ground level agitations, making itself available, accessible and reachable and infusing an element of cleanliness, morality and principles into politics,” he said.


Obviously, CPM and its rancorous Parivar (Hindu fraternity) would not like AAP replacing them. But their electoral compulsions in Bengal and Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana may provoke CPM to make overtures to AAP in order to whitewash its stained cloths in Bengal and Kerala.  But deep inside, CPM and AAP are mutually hostile despite their common ground on congress corruption and BJP communalism. Unless the latter turns into an election-driven and power-obsessed party like CPM, APP idealism would not gel with the CPM.


Trinamool Congress (TMC)


Same is with the Trinamool. Mamata Banerjee’s party has reserved its opinion on the new baby, apparently because of its role in decimating the Congress, her former ally and now foe, in Delhi. Kejriwal faces a competition from her so far as austere living and driving sans red light beacon are concerned.  Also she has out-left the CPM on land acquisition, water tax and similar issues.

She is keenly watching whether Team Kejriwal tries to make serious dent in Bengal and take on her by harking back to anti-incumbency factors like increasing attacks on women and insensitivity of the chief minister, her party and government’s highhandedness with all sorts of Opposition. But some of her poll managers argued that even if the AAP gets a small share of anti-TMC vote in some urban areas, it would harm the CPM, Congress and BJP more.

Bihar and Orissa


Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) (Janata Dal United) which has supported AAP government in Delhi is itself a claimant of good governance. AAP entry in Bihar would like to help Nitish to deflect the Modi-driven assault while dealing with friendly Congress and old competitor Lalu Prasad.

In Orissa too, BJD MP Joy Ponda’s welcome messege to AAP victory in Delhi is likely to be considered a signal from chief minister Nabin Patnaik who is non-aligned to both UPA and NDA. AAP presence in urban areas may help him to ward off Congress and BJP threats.

At the national level, it will be a welcome development if AAP puts up serious challenges to BJP efforts to harvest anti-Congress mood in the Hindi heartland. But it is not likely to emerge as the sole giant killer in complex national scenario since non-Congress, non-BJP regional parties are strong in many states in the south and east.


In an eventuality of a non-Congress, non-BJP government at the Centre, the ground reality of Indian politics and society would compel AAP to get down from its high horse as it had to in Delhi itself by accepting office with Congress support.


But it should better take care of the fault lines under their feet. An analysis of the vote share in the 70 assembly constituencies in Delhi shows that BJP is ahead of the AAP in almost six of the seven Lok Sabha seats. The AAP is only ahead of the BJP in the New Delhi assembly constituency where Kejriwal matted Congress chief minister Sheila Dixit. Congress, which at present holds all the Lok Sabha seats, comes in a third position in all seven.


AAP’s likely further elevation into the political centre stage notwithstanding, it is not going to make any substantial paradigm shift in governance and expansion of participatory democracy if it prioritises its electoral ambition while losing its umbilical cord with civil society activism.  If it fails to connect itself with grassroots independent peoples movements, communities and organisations, they will soon become another political party. Question is whether Kejriwal, Bhushans and Yadavs are keen on travelling the path that the Brazilian and some other Latin American radical democrat parties chose by making their parliamentary deputies accountable to movements and recalling them when the MPs failed to press for the demands from below. Their promised participatory democracy demands such a logical outcome.


(Frontier V. 46, No. 27, Jan 12-18, 2014)

Top - Home