In my last post on Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), I had given lot of support to them believing they deserve a chance to govern Delhi and prove their credentials, inspite of the flak coming their way both from rival political parties and some of the public. My stance then was that a lot of the criticism was political in nature and due to holding AAP to much higher standards than other parties are held accountable to. The main reason for these higher expectations from AAP was primarily because of lofty promises and utterances by AAP leaders themselves, but nevertheless I was willing to let these lapses be forgotten or forgiven given the promise of new kind of politics and governance by AAP. The speed with which BJP and Congress both agreed and passed a version of Jan Lokpal bill in parliament after good performance by AAP in Delhi elections showed that the biggies of Indian politics were worried about the new political outfit going mainstream very quickly.
After the resignation of AAP from Delhi government and jump into Lok Sabha elections, slowly I am realizing about what exactly is NEW in this new kind of politics by AAP. They resigned from governing Delhi on a somewhat specious reason about constitutionality and hindrances by BJP and Congress in passing Jan Lokpal bill. If they had taken all this trouble to fight elections in Delhi, win sizeable number of seats, form a government; then a little patience along with public support could have created the conducive ground for passage of Jan Lokpal in Delhi. But patience does not seem to be a virtue in AAP’s books.
New things AAP has brought into Indian politics
1. Directly appeal to public’s sense of betrayal by rest of political system, and promise a participative government. However they failed to capitalize on the chance in Delhi and instead resigned from there keeping an ambitious eye on Lok Sabha elections. So all the theory and promise of participative government may not happen since even if the win 20 seats in Lok Sabha, they can raise issues and create debates in parliament (for which we need a more functioning parliament in first place). So full marks about the appeal, but zero marks as yet for actual governance.
2. Create spontaneous protests (or sometimes organized using SMS etc.) at short notice which take the establishment by surprise. This is probably the least effective way in my opinion because in India people can be aroused emotionally around a cause, but they go back to sleep as quickly when the enthusiasm goes down. The protest in Delhi about Arvind Kejriwal’s road show being stopped by police in Gujarat (because Election Commission had announced elections the same morning and model code of conduct was in effect) was totally unnecessary and political showmanship. Doing protest in Delhi near parliament asking home ministry to arrest policemen was another specious protest. Taking up the jhadoo (broom) and coming onto streets by AAP workers is not the solution for every perceived slight to AAP leaders. If they continue doing this, then they will become more known as everyday-a-new-protest-party, or rebel-for-every-cause party, and so on.
3. Take on biggies of politics as well as corporates by making strong allegations against them of corruption, sometimes with some evidence and many a time without evidence. Now with a practically dysfunctional judiciary, what will be the end result of making allegations except making some media headlines and flutter in social media? The end result is that people will get used to more and more allegations coming from AAP, and forget the previous ones when new ones are made! The allegations against Ambani can be put in this category. I was supportive of them taking on the DISCOMs (electricity distribution companies) in Delhi going for their CAG audit, but since they resigned from Delhi government, any chance of following it up and taking the process to logical conclusion is probably gone. So I place little importance on making allegations unless they can come up with a educative campaign for public with all the details.
4. Recruit new faces to fight elections based on perceived momentum of AAP’s success. This might be a one time thing but if AAP wins substantial seats in Lok Sabha say 25 or more, then they may try this in future elections too. It depends on a large extent to selecting clean candidates who can also inspire public about doing their job successfully once elected. Many of these are political greenhorns so AAP is betting more on its no-corruption image and freshness factor riding on the momentum created after Delhi elections. The positive thing about this is providing a platform for non-political people to get into public life, but its sustenance depends a lot on AAP’s success in winning seats. The negative thing could be that if AAP doesn’t win many seats, then the disillusionment could be as quick, and the same people who are joining AAP because of chance of a quick win may leave it once they realize that they need to be in politics for the long haul.
Some negatives about AAP are also becoming apparent now
1. Increasing reliance on one man (Arvind Kejriwal) as the mascot, brand ambassador, anti-corruption messiah etc. Pitting him against Narendra Modi may gel with the strategy of cashing on the emotional upsurge of public, but how will that change the Indian politics in long term where, for example, parliament doesn’t function most of the time? Let’s say Kejriwal wins against Modi, how does it prove the allegations made by Kejriwal against Modi? And if Kejriwal loses, will he concede that allegations are not true anymore? Definitely not. So there is a populist game being played by AAP and Kejriwal where they will declare victory whether the coin toss ends up showing heads or tails. It is going into the arena of somewhat childish and immature.
2. Create mountain out of a mole hill. The allegations by Arvind Kejriwal of number of farmer suicides in Gujarat falls in this category. AK conceded in a TV interview that the 800 number of farmer suicides in Gujarat was much lesser than farmers’ suicides in other states; however for him it did not justify the lofty claims made by Gujarat government about their success in agriculture. So his point was that the number of suicides should have been much lesser if agriculture was such a success in Gujarat. Maybe, maybe not! Suicide is not a trivial issue, but unless someone can come up with a model which shows how agricultural parameters and number of farmer suicides are correlated, these kind of allegations are closer to skulduggery. AAP’s Kejriwal has been always quick to ask questions about who provides helicopters for Modi’s travel, but was himself quite ok with travelling on a chartered plane arranged by a media house to attend their conclave in Delhi!
3. Cast aspersions on one and all. Be it Modi, Congress leaders, Ambani, Adani; I have something bad to say about everyone seems to be Kejriwal’s mantra. And let’s throw media into this basket too and threaten them with jail! That inspite of the fact that media has carried Kejriwal’s anti-corruption crusade prominently before AAP was formed too. But AAP’s spokesperson says on TV that they were blacked out for several months starting Oct 2012 when they made allegations against Ambani. Maybe they were, but the reason couldn’t have been because the allegations were against Ambani since the same allegations have been covered prominently later in media. It seems nothing but childish and immature attention grabbing.
4. They promised too much too quick to gather more supporters with the result that the ones who are disgruntled or feel cheated are either leaving AAP, or indulging in personal violence against AAP leaders like Yogendra Yadav and Kejriwal. It is a question of managing expectations of people by proving that AAP is there for the long haul, rather than being there till the next election.
How to label AAP
I don’t think labels are important, governance is. However a simple label can sometimes be helpful to understand direction and thrust of policies of a party. In politics, usually parties are given some convenient labels by political pundits based on their social and economic policies. E.g. CPI(M) is clearly known to be a Left party since they usually demand worker rights as opposed to felicitating businesses. Congress can be described as left of centre, given their penchant for creating policies which show a tilt towards poorer sections of society. E.g. giving jobs to rural unemployed under MNREGA, creating mandatory Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) targets to be met by businesses, and more recently food security bill to guarantee food security to 70% of the population. BJP can be described as right of centre, with promise of economic policies oriented towards growth and self-employment than giving hand-outs.
Where will AAP stand if a label were to be applied?
1. Left because they promised free electricity and water up to limits in Delhi, and delivered on it too to an extent before bailing out.
2. Good governance party which will be a new label since all parties claim to be good governance and it is not really a parameter to distinguish on policy front.
3. Anti corruption party. Who exactly wants to be labelled pro-corruption!
4. Anti establishment party. They are anti-Modi, anti-Congress, anti-Ambani; so practically they are anti anything which seems to have political or business power. And this might be the closest label which can stick to them since their actions and utterances seem to be designed to endear themselves to common man or aam aadmi. The only problem is that once they do come to power, as they indeed in Delhi, they may not have further excuses if they are unable to deliver, so relying on anti-establishment cannot not a long term strategy.
5. Anarchist party. This goes in line with anti-establishment image and will-protest-for-every-issue actions shown by AAP.
AAP and future
The proof of pudding lies in the eating. AAP has been promising too many things too fast and it is clear that it has led to some disbelief and fatigue on part of public whether AAP will actually be able to deliver or continue with their tirades against one and all. It is not that easy to actually create policies and laws which are agreed upon by all, and even for things like GST (Goods and Services Tax) where it is agreed by most that it is the right step to take, the implementation has been facing many hurdles so far. Finally I say that protests and allegations should pave the road to governance, and not become a never ending road of more protests and more allegations! AAP should show some proof that they have a plan and policies to contribute to India and its politics for the long haul, and not merely try to cash in on the latest sensational allegation and do protest dramas.