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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Election 2014, Built up - 4: Why does it make sense to support AAP

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is like a whiff of fresh spring air in the otherwise mostly nauseating gutter of Indian political space.

I have not blogged since their (non)victory in Delhi in early December, in fact my last posting was the day before the Delhi results were announced and ironically, I may be posting the day before their government may fall in Delhi after all.

I was in a taxi driver's tea shop in Delhi listening to some of the taxi drivers talk to each other in a cold January morning. One of them was describing with much gestures how he went and demanded a service from a government office and when the officer didn't know how to handle a request, asked him, "if you don't know how to respond, what are you doing in this job?". this new found energy, my friendly sardar taxi driver informed me, was because of the new AAP led move to record and report all corrupt officers and the whole process being made quite easy with a toll free number to report and everyone was becoming a corruption-catcher in the city.

In an interview, when the reporter asked Arvind Kejeriwal whether such a process wouldn't lead to mayhem, he calmly replies, this is Democracy. This is amazing 'out of the box' politics that this team had indulged in that is refusing to be cowed down by all the king's men and their media trying to pull them down.

It is said of Gandhi, that the British couldn't guess what will be his next move as never was predictable. Anna Hazare's movement had that element of surprise, but, it was soon crowded and taken over by more sophisticated and educated Indians, losing touch with the common man, except when Annaji himself starts to articulate. But, Arvind and team have taken this important lesson from Anna and perhaps Gandhi of keeping the opponents (and everyone who is anyone benefiting from the status quo that these people are challenging is an opponent currently)  guessing as to what will be their next move.

Like Gandhi, the AAP team has set its goal high, in fact, the same if we go by the name 'Swaraj'. However, unlike Gandhi, they have to deal with a very vocal and loud India, where every step is followed by a vigilante media, often precluding, predicting, prejudicing the public, encouraging diverse opinions of all and sundry being thrown up for response. I don't know what Gandhi would have done in such a situation, perhaps asked Arnab to sit in silence with him during prayer hours for a week before granting him an interview!? He definitely would have come up with some 'out of the box' solutions, many that would be critiqued by his co-Congresswallas as much as AAP is today being criticised for being 'out of the box' by just about everyone.

The party has been called several names by now. But, one thing is sure, it has given the NaMo campaign, run for its money and for the first time made BJP feel that perhaps there could be an opposition. That within a month, you had both Congress and BJP admitting that their language has changed since Delhi elections is the biggest victory for the AAP, their government may not last 100 days, but, they have made a national level impact already. Both Congress and BJP leaders have acknowledged that the AAP Delhi has lessons to teach them.

Have they made mistakes? Ofcourse, they have. Will they make more mistakes? ofcourse they will. But, there was no 'horse trading' in Delhi, not a soul spoke of 'buying off' of MLAs for the first time a single majority party didn't emerge in recent years. In Democratic India, never before did so many ordinary people feel that they can also make a difference in politics and so many self-respecting individuals actually wanted to join politics. The most important aspect of the AAP impact has been the hope it has created in the midst of youth across the country. I was not old enough during the emergency and didn't know what it meant to be youth during JPs tenure, however, have heard from several people that perhaps that was the last time something equally significant happened in Indian politics. Elders place it at par with even the freedom struggle.

But the times are different - the strengthening of the ordinary citizen is also to be sensitive enough to prioritize not one but a million issues that have been waiting to be resolved through a political process for several decades. Suddenly, each one of these citizen voices that has never found strength in their supposed governments, find not just strength, but, complete liberty to demand that their issue be the first one to be resolved. And it is not just the citizen and individual, every activist, civil society member, public persona...all have their problems and now seek a solution placing the party in a great pressure situation, but, also in the process reposing their faith in a political process, party and ultimately participative and pro-active democracy.

The challenge for the party is to handle these demands and expectations. It also needs a nation full of leaders, diverse and multi-talented, but, united in being clean, corruption free and convinced and committed to the cause of a Swaraj ideal. An ideal that has its roots not merely in the Gandhian articulation, but, deeper into the very psyche of the Indian aadmi (aurat).

Their few policy confrontations, such as rejecting FDI in retail and asking for police control with the state have all been portrayed negatively by the Congress. While the anointed PM for their party is going around talking of Panchayat system of devolution of power, not realizing the contradiction is so deep rooted in his own party. As a party and a government facing the writing on the wall, the UPA has resorted to what conquerors have always done at the time of retracting - set up a process of destruction which makes the job of governance and re-construction for the new incumbent that much more difficult. Moily as the environment minister seems to have become an unlikely lead on this one (perhaps to make up for the loss of DMK representatives who have unsurpassed record of corruption within the UPA).

Perhaps the biggest, most vicious, vocal opposition to AAP and Kejriwal has come from the BJP, which suddenly sees a threat. A threat to its moral bastion (till AAP came) of 'nationalism'. AAP has combined nationalism with an issue - that of corruption and more later, whereas BJP had used nationalism alongside an identity. While identity emphasis required them to boost emotional appeal and breast beating political machismo, the issue related nationalism doesn't need such 'show' to perpetuate or popularize. The very fact that the NaMo roadshow is necessary for BJP along side a Congress like compulsion to negotiate with several political parties of dubious pasts and suspicious leaders, means that the BJP is not confident of a clean majority. I had blogged earlier that the BJP will be far more desperate in its bid to find allies, AAP has reduced its negotiation power with allies and made its job even more difficult and thereby allies even more expensive.

The invisible Left is another major loser of moral space to the AAP, many in the Left have joined the AAP in their localities and / or providing silent support from the sidelines as they see any activist movement that can get stronger in the political space as an extension of themselves.

In the long run, I see the emergence of AAP as the final comeuppance of national political parties in India. I see a change being forced on all political parties, particularly the Congress and the Left. BJP and AAP maybe the only parties left in the coming times. One will continue to do 'identity' based politics and other 'issue' based politics. One will place the idea of India, an idea of India as a burden on people and will tow the line of global corporate on all other issues. The other will place the issue of the people and their methods and means of engagement above all identity politics and will perhaps be more closer to the people. Congress may disappear, I hope it does, it would have fulfilled the desire of Mahatma of 1936 when he said that the party has to be disbanded. The Left too will have to seriously think how is it relevant in the new India, in a time when ideology has been given a pass and identity and issues start to rule the idea of governance. Drawing from global examples won't do in governance of other Left's elsewhere, in the era of internet, principles and practices would already be adopted sans the ideology or they would be countered and proved irrelevant in the Indian context.

In the coming election, I would vote for AAP sure. Even better, for the first time I believe that it could be within my power to even influence who can be a candidate in a political party if I am able to spare the time and effort. This for me is a major shift. I will ensure that whatever I can to help AAP to stay simple, local and addressing the last man and women, I better do. It is a commitment for a better future, and, to not take this responsibility is to not be sensitive to the hope and the air of freshness that AAP brings to Indian public space.

It does make sense to support AAP, it makes more sense to actively participate in their party work.

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