Ordinary people expect the Aam Aadmi Party to get rid of the prevailing feudal political culture. But will the party stay the course and not betray the people’s trust?
The spectacle of Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, sleeping on the road, braving the winter cold of Delhi, worsened by occasional drizzles, has perhaps accomplished his objective of strategic communication, no matter how hoarse the media gets about his “anarchism” and Republic Day remarks. Two policemen being sent on leave was a petty gain from this two-day tamasha that met the eye of the critics, but what the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) effectively accomplished may only show up in its tally in the coming general elections.
Indeed, it is hard not to be impressed by Arvind Kejriwal as a strategist. The manner in which he has galvanised the lot for whom politics was merely a matter of gossip into a real political vortex and made his supporters wield broomsticks that hitherto just symbolised the unmeritorious underdogs is simply fantastic. It is easy to be cynical about the entire episode but hard not to admire the stratagem in deploying the accumulated anger of the majority of the people against the politics and political class, the guts to carry the protests out in the face of the entrenched political establishment’s combined opposition, this with exemplary zeal and élan, coloured a bit with petty prejudice.
Kejriwal’s choice of Anna Hazare from Ralegan Siddhi to be a Gandhi for his campaign for a Jan Lokpal, instantly cobbling up a team of people of his ilk, fashioned as “India against Corruption”, generating nationwide moralistic fervour against the entrenched political establishment, acutely sensing the mood of the people and plunging into the proverbial “gutter of politics” so as to cleanse it from within, fighting the elections within months and stunning every onlooker by bagging 40% of the seats, and eventually forming the government in the most visible state of Delhi, this with unsolicited support from the pitiable Congress Party; all these moves are certainly a piece of strategic brilliance and masterly execution. In the era of flash memory and media-made news, the uncanny choice of timing to strike when things were red hot with a spate of scandals providing breaking news in quick succession taking the disgust of the public for the political class into the stratosphere, this smart move too would have been hard to ignore.
After its dazzling performance in Delhi assembly elections, AAP no more remains a maverick player; it has become a palpable threat to the political biggies at the national level. Alongside, AAP has heightened the hopes of change in the rotten political system for the common people. It is high time we looked at the nature of the change AAP is likely to produce, keeping aside the usual cynicism or hype.
Superficial and Shallow
The established political format which evolved in line with the Keynesian model of mixed economy was one wherein the state donned “welfarist” robes and presented itself as committed to such populist ideologies as socialism, secularism, democracy, etc, as enshrined in our Constitution. Over the years, there have been momentous changes in the economy culminating in the contemporary neo-liberal economic paradigm, which is directly opposed to the Keynesian welfare state. The form of politics could not keep pace with these changes and persisted with its pretension of adhering to the same set of ideologies as before. The resultant discordance increasingly showed up as the hypocrisy of the political class, gradually giving rise to spaces for new political movements. Such movements are showing up all over the world in various forms. In the absence of any revolutionary discourse, this space is producing a politics that accords well with contemporary neo-liberalism.
This politics is typically post-ideological, postmodernist, and discrete, focused on issues, and professes a managerial orientation to social problems. The emergence of AAP and its politics that occupies this space ideally exemplify this process. AAP’s politics is not only in tune with the contemporary neo-liberal ethos, but also poses an alternative to the prevailing degenerate politics, thus creating a powerful appeal among the burgeoning middle class as well as the masses who are dejected with the prevailing state of hopelessness. This explains the mystery of AAP’s phenomenal success.
One gets easy confirmation of this characterisation from AAP’s own website. It proclaims that AAP is solution-focused rather than ideology-driven. Kejriwal’s answer to the question of ideology echoes Deng Xiaoping’s famous dictum: “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice”. Kejriwal says:
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 the right (or in the centre) we are equally happy to consider it. Ideology is one for the pundits and the media to pontificate about.
Such things appeal not only to the new generation, which has grown up hearing “the death of ideology” and “the end of history”, but also to the people who have only experienced deception in the name of ideology. It is also the very premise with which the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) come into existence and thrive. Not unexpectedly, NGOs are rushing in to support AAP. Howsoever AAP may speak about rising inequality, social injustice, corruption and exploitation, its approach to these endemic issues will remain superficial and shallow. Basically, the genesis of AAP itself derives from such superficiality as “good men and bad men”; if politics and administration are cleansed of corrupt people, everything will be fine! AAP may speak volumes about oppression of dalits, the marginalisation of adivasis, injustice to minorities, and exploitation of women, but it will never be able to strike a blow at these social maladies if it persists with such a superficial approach.
Naturally, AAP does not speak about the radical systemic change the country desperately needs. Its vision document talks about destroying the centres of authority and handing over power directly to the people. But beyond this rhetorical declaration, it does not provide any clue as to what this would mean or how it would be accomplished, beyond, of course, the Gandhian metaphor of swaraj, which anyway would be violently rejected, at least, by dalits. The vision document speaks about the growing divide between the rich and the poor and the loot of natural resources by big business and politicians, unemployment, price rise, and, of course, corruption, but never faults their source in the neo-liberal policies followed by the government. It is an established fact that these evils have been aggravated by these policies all over the world.
Likewise, it seems to take cudgels for the tribals but never even insinuates the responsibility of global capital which has ridden roughshod, all over the world, devastating the lives of indigenous people. It speaks about the problems in education and health but does not fault their commercialisation. Instead, it proposes to push the standards of municipality and government schools up to the level of the expensive, privately-run schools. It is blissfully unaware of the existing movements in these spheres demanding an immediate halt to commercialisation of these basic services, expansion of the public health system and provision of education only through neighbourhood schools entirely run by the government.
It is of course silent on the global processes of neo-imperialism having a huge influence on our economy, politics and society. It is strange for a party born in the 21st century to be oblivious of these operations of imperialism. Likewise, it does not reflect much concern for the people of the border areas who suffer from the colonial oppression of the Indian rulers. When Prashant Bhushan, a senior leader of AAP and a long-standing human rights advocate, had expressed his opinion that a referendum should be conducted regarding the continuance of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Jammu and Kashmir, he had to face violent reactions not only from jingoistic far-right circles but also sharp disapproval from AAP members. It may not be as much a case that the statement would displease their constituency as it is that they themselves do not agree with it. It is because of their right-reactionary leanings that many critics tend to identify AAP crowd with the “Youth for Equality”, which once spearheaded the anti-reservation movement.
Whether AAP’s broomstick is able to cleanse the system of governance of its filth or not, its short stint in government can create a new cultural paradigm, which may itself prove revolutionary, given the depth to which the politics is overloaded with feudal values. To a large extent, this is expected of the new political enterprise. As of now, AAP is meeting this expectation. If AAP really persists with this behaviour and destroys the prevailing VIP-VVIP syndrome, it will be a great service to the people. This syndrome that assigns more value to a leader than to the common citizen is a fundamental negation of democracy, but unfortunately, it remains unquestioned. How is the life of a political leader more valuable than that of a scavenger or a farm-labourer? Anything that breaks this high-handed feudal culture should be upheld in this country as revolutionary.
Considering the fact that such behaviour has been their natural prowess as political upstarts and also their USP (unique selling proposition), it may be erroneous to give them all the credit. Moreover, cultural change has a longer gestation period and AAP is unlikely to last that long in the current government. It should therefore not squander any opportunity to set the tone for a new political culture. Unfortunately, AAP did precisely that in the recent case of Somnath Bharti, its foul-mouthed law minister, who is accused of maltreating African women, subjecting them to illegal search, assault and racist slur. Even if the accusations against him are not true, the moral high ground of AAP warranted his outright suspension. AAP has surely failed in this respect.
The people of Delhi have reposed faith in AAP and tomorrow the people of India are going to do the same just because AAP has shown itself to be different from the degenerate political class. AAP should not betray the people’s trust as the other parties have done all through the post-Independence period.