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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 20, May 9, 2015

Aam Adami Party Today — Crisis of Success

Saturday 9 May 2015, by Anand Kumar


Indian democracy is known to spring surprises at most unexpected moments since its inception. From institutionalisation of the multi-party system and parliamentary elections within a largely poor, illiterate and agrarian social setting in the 1960s to the abandoning of an authoritarian regime in mid-1970s, there are a number of striking achievements to the credit of the Indian electorate.

The twentyfirst century India is credited with one more astonishing milestone in the form of emergence of a new political force in the national Capital with its spread all over the country in a very short period of three years — the Aam Aadmi Party. It is a new phenomenon which has the potential of sustainability due to a unique class-mass convergence created by its mobilisations and governance agenda. It was getting recognised as an intiative which had the potential of becoming an alternative to the Congress Party with an attractive methodology of political mobilisation beyond ideology through a new mix of traditional and ultra-modern ways of communication and collective action.

But the party is presently engulfed in a series of controversies due to leadership deficits and organisational deficiencies. It seems that it is suffering with ‘crisis of success’. Internally, it looks tempted to dis-connect from the professed path of volunteer-based participatory democracy and follow the path of ‘charismatic politics’ with advantages of the absolute majority to keep it in power in the national Capital for the next five years. The charm of charisma is shifting towards a ‘supremo syndrome’. It is causing legitimacy erosion. It may be a short run success and long term failure as has been the case with all other charismatic political formations. Externally, it is caught in competitive populist politics with a very strong adversary with stronger charisma and political machine and a similar mandate to rule the Central Government for a similar time-frame. It is not surprising that these complexities have created an allround aggressiveness in the posturing of the AAP without sparing founder members, sympathetic critics, and the media.

It is experiencing suicidal stresses which may make it go the way of the Janata Party and Asom Gana Parishad. The leadership looks clueless bordering on being paranoid. The organisational shifts are making it look less like a body wedded to internal democracy and transparency and more like a personality cult-based collectivity. We need several lenses to look at any political complexity at any given point of time to make sense of the twists and turns. There are at least seven such lenses which are needed to be used to understand the present status of the Aam Aadmi Party—1. issue of perspectives; 2. the hierarchy of problems of the people; 3. the policy orientations; 4. the nature of programmes; 5. the character of the AAP as a party; 6. the problems of personalities; and 7. the expectations of the people. Reducing all political controversies to personality clashes around the problem of power-sharing is the most frequent orientation in trying to explain them in a setting of success. But in the case of the AAP, it is the least useful way. Therefore, it has been officially portrayed as a conflict between the idealists and the pragmatists where the pragmatists deserve to be honoured and the idealists to be punished. Why? Because, the strategic choices by the pragmatists made it possible for the AAP to score a dazzling success in the Vidhan Sabha elections of 2014.

The pragmatists have led the party from the margins of politics to the centre-stage of governance despite the resistance from the idealists. Now they have the right to run the party their way. It includes showing the door to the idealists. It has been done on the basis of charges of ‘indiscipline’. There is a thrust around charge of betrayal (‘Gaddari’). A number of founder members and public faces of the AAP have been expelled from the AAP on charges of conspiracy against the leadership and malicious story-planting in the media against the party. There has been a purging process which included even the Lokpal of the party, Admiral Ramdas. His letters of protest remain unanswered. The leader of the AAP in the Lok Sabha, Dr Dharamvir Gandhi, has been removed from his post without any satisfactory reason except his being critical of the new ways of the party leadership. A number of members of the National Executive have been either expelled or suspended. A few have chosen to resign in protest at the decay of the institutional system in party functioning. It has been also publicly argued that these episodes may be criticised in the informed circles including the media, but the Delhi voters are okay with all this—‘The people like us the way we are.’

The Dissenters Discourse—Swaraj Abhiyan

On the other hand, the dissenters have been identified variously in different quarters as ‘socialists and radicals’, ‘idealists’, ‘rebels’, ‘reformists’ and ‘power-seekers’. They have responded with a new initiative termed ‘Swaraj Abhiyan’ (campaign for self-rule). It was launched on April 14—Babasaheb Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar Day—at the end of a national consultation called Swaraj Samvad. The conference received messages of goodwill from Lokpal Ramdas, AAP patron member Shanti Bhushan, RTI leader Nikhil De, Kannada writer Devanoor Mahadevan, Gandhian author Giriraj Kishore and women’s leader Christina Sami. Of course, it was addressed by all the ‘expelled’ AAP National Executive members including Prashant Bhushan, Prof Yogendra Yadav, Dr Ajit Jha, Prof Rakesh Sinha, Vishal Sharma, and Prof Manjit Singh. It was attended by more than 4000 persons with a sprinkiling of AAP activists from all parts of India which impressed many observers.

Swaraj Abhiyan is based upon three conclusions of the Swaraj Samvad participants—i. The AAP leadership is increasingly deviating from the principles and practices of the party; it has caused serious trust deficit. ii. There is need to attempt course correction of the AAP from within as far as possible. iii. There is increasing need of promoting a campaign to generate support for reforms to realise Swaraj in economy, polity and society. It has to be initiated in three ways—a nationwide Swaraj Yatra in the country, a series of Swaraj Samvad in all parts of the country, and presentation of an Agenda for India with the help of experts and activists. The conference decided to create a Steering Committee of eminent activists from all parts of the country which will monitor the progress of these three programmes. It was also decided to organise the next consultation within six months, by November-December, 2015 to review the situation and decide the next course of action within and beyond the Aam Aadmi Party.

New Twists and Turns

The next three weeks after the launch of Swaraj Abhiyan have witnessed rapid changes inside and outside the AAP. First of all, the AAP office-bearers took no time to announce the expulsion of four National Executive members—Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav, Ajit Jha and Anand Kumar—on the basis of the recommendations of their three-member disciplinary committee two of whom were already seen to be accusing them in the media for quite some time. The charges included organising Swaraj Samvad! The question about the validity of the disciplinary committee and its recommendations raised by Prashant Bhushan were ignored. It was preceded by appointing 21 MLAs as Parliamentary Secretaries with various Ministries—three per Minister—in the Delhi Government.

Then came a tragic moment on April 22. A Kisan leader from Rajasthan, Gajendra Singh, lost his life in full view of the AAP leaders and volunteers while a Kisan Rally was going on at Jantar Mantar. It was a moment of deep disenchantment for many sympathisers of the AAP. Othersie, the AAP Government had made a great leap towards connecting with the peasant problems by announcing the highest rate of compensation for crop loss anywhere in the country. It had put many ‘Kisan Netas’ on the defensive about their pitiful compensation packages. But with the mysterious death of Gajendra Singh there was a loss of face value. The ‘performance’ of the AAP leaders at the Kisan Rally as well as after the death of Gajendra Singh proved counter-productive. The expla-nations ranged from ‘farce’ to ‘forced emotions’. Now it is entangled in a web of enquiries, conflicts, and crisis management.

Thirdly, Sawaraj Abhiyan started unfolding in various parts of the country within a fortnight with people coming to listen to Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Ajit Jha, Anand Kumar and others. They have visited Bengaluru, Kolkata, Guwahati, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Aligarh, Ludhiana, Chandigarh and Gurgaon. They have also announced a national student-youth conference at Allahabad on May 16. The newly formed National Coordination Committee is going to have its second national meet at New Delhi on May 19-20. These steps have inaugurated a series of resignations, expulsions and other organisational upheavals across the country.

Fourth, there was a show-cause notice on the prayer of a woman volunteer of the AAP by the Delhi Commission of Women against one of the icons of the AAP. It took the AAP leaders by surprise. They became very aggressive against the media in general and even called for their ‘public trial’.

Fifth, there is the re-surfacing of the Lt Governor-Chief Minister turf war where the CM seems to be again overstepping his jurisdiction. It is coupled with conflcits with the Delhi Police.

Sixth, there is increasing pressure for performance by the interest groups, particularly the temporary workers in the DTC, schools, private sector, and health services. They were promised regulari-sation of jobs. It cannot be postponed for long.

Finally, the AAP has announced redistribution of responsibilities for undertaking organisation building all over India. It is a course correction which looked like a U-turn from the announced position of the AAP to stay focused on governance of Delhi for the next five years.

What Next?

There is no doubt that the Delhi Vidhan Sabha elections have created an amazing range of possibilities. It has proved to be an ego-buster for the Modi-Shah team and the myth of their invincibility. It has also verified the creative potential and availability of new spaces for political initiatives like the AAP. But this brings an end to the good news.

It is obvious that the AAP is not growing well. It has failed to evolve as the instrument of ‘alternative politics’. It has an insured longevity of five years as a party of power. It will be a high-profile entity as it is going to be governing in the national Capital. But it has lost the moral claim to be the pathfinder of participatory democracy. It has suffered an internal fracture. It has lost its idealist core. Now, it is engaged in damage control. But it has opened too many fronts. The cost of eliminating and demonising idealist dissenters is very high. Then sniffing internal democratic processes, particularly the sacking of the Lokpal, is quite costly. The conflicts with the Delhi Police and Lt Governor will cause a governance deficit. The nervous handling of the increasing protests from the BJP and Congress since the death of Gajendra Singh, the case of Law Minister Tomar, the show-cause notice to Kumar Vishwas, warrant against Jarnail Singh, etc. —all these are making them look incompetent and intemperate. The threatening postures towards the media make them laughable. The increasing shouts of ‘Humari Mange Puri Karo’ from people in distress like daily wage-earners, contract workers, etc. will become an indicator of their shrinking popularity. This makes the hope of political alternative a receding reality. The dream of a better democracy is again a distant drum-beat. It creates space for new efforts to go beyond the limitations of the AAP as a platform of ‘pragmatic idealist activists’.

It is a moment of introspection for all those who want a corruption-free nation and an accountable good government to go for introspection about where we went wrong and what is to be done next. Because the disenchantment with the AAP has to be converted into an opportunity for new initiatives of reforms and betterment. Swaraj Abhiyan looks like one such step. Of course, there is scope and space for several other similar initiatives to channelise the volunteer power generated since the days of the Anna Movement.

Otherwise, we cannot prevent desertion of the ranks by thousands of disheartened and disoriented citizen activists soon. They have a simple explanation for their withdrawal: ‘’Listen! First it was Dr Manmohan Singh. Then Modiji. Now even AAP! Politics is like that only! Only career-building in the name of nation-building! So let me quit and live my own life peacefully.”

India can live with pragmatic turns by a newly born idealist political party for the sake of political expediency. But she cannot afford depleting of the ranks of idealist citizens and their networks for collective action. These are really not the best of times, but we have no choice but to do our best.

The author, who retired as a Professor of Sociology from the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, was a founding member of the Aam Aadmi Party and was expelled by the AAP leadership including Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal from the National Excutive of the AAP along with several others in the recent past.

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