By K Rahul Gupta:
A lot of praise is being heaped on the AAP as a champion of clean politics, especially after a great show in the Delhi Assembly elections. The title seems to be truly deserved so far, as the party has clearly distinguished itself from mainstream politicians both in language and practice. The party has appealed to no citizen group, that could be called a vote bank, has been very transparent about the funding and expenditure, and most importantly has drawn its candidates with great discretion. If the party manages to successfully scale the next wall i.e. transforming ideology and passion into governance and legislature, the emergence of AAP would be remembered as a watershed moment in India’s political history.
Immediately after independence, Nehru had the vision of a strong rooted democracy with multi-polar election rivalries. The idea was to strengthen the roots of our democracy by allowing the gradual growth of newer alternatives to Congress, while not directly supporting them. But over the years, both within and outside the Congress, people who saw politics as a service started getting replaced by people who saw politics as a high-paying career. With this shift came an increasing political greed to hold on to power, and a reluctance to allow any new political party to gain strength. Power was often unabashedly used to stunt the growth of other political parties. As such, it is very difficult to contemplate a new political party gaining in popularity that doesn’t exploit either a populist or a sectarian agenda. When seen against this backdrop, Aam Aadmi Party’s surge in the recent Delhi elections, based completely on the clean politics card is near miraculous.
The only other time a rookie political party shook an established power was when the Telugu Desam Party way back in 1983 swept the state of Andhra Pradesh. However, unlike AAP the Telugu Desam Party had a central agenda that is very sectarian. In the words of its founder NT Rama Rao, TDP stands for ‘the pride and welfare of Telugu speaking people’ (only). And unlike AAP, the lead-up to the electoral success of TDP in 1983 wasn’t a popular social cause like the Jan Lokpal movement, but rather its founder’s popularity as a film actor.
In, what is a wider trend, most parties after Nehru’s Congress, represented only sectarian interests. The Janata Party overtly stood for Hindus, while its offspring the present day BJP, covertly. And then there are the parties which claim to represent the backward castes, Dalits, Tamils, Marathis and Muslims etc., but none with an appeal that cuts across regions and peoples. So there is a pressing need for a centrist alternative to Congress also one that has a pan-India outlook. It is this lack of a credible alternative that made the Congress as lazy and corrupt as it is in its ranks today. The AAP is the most plausible unit to fill this void. It not only puts forth a secular and centrist political agenda which is of primary importance. For the AAP, the unit of governance is the common man, whose identity is not tied to a region, religion, or community, but to the fact of his/her Indian citizenship. By choosing to start its political journey at the national capital, and by indicating its interest in contesting elections also in other cities in the immediate future, the party has subtly expressed that it’s playing for the long term.
Secondly, while the Congress seems to represent the wider national interests, so many years in power has led to an establishment of a lazy and corrupt culture within the party’s elected representatives. The scam spree of UPA 2 is a reflective of this prevailing culture within the grand old party. This culture is now deeply rooted, and is very hard to clean up in a short time. The Congress survives in power despite the corruption because of its socialist, but often very populist, schemes. What is only worse than this is the Congress’s unease to let go of the Gandhi family as the de facto leadership resource. The sad state of Congress affairs calls for a radical alternative — with freshness in thinking, purity in action. Idealism has this moral authority that realism cannot boast of. And AAP’s manifesto for the Delhi elections projects just that — idealism that sounds almost irrational, but has the power to push the limits of rationality. The promises made in the manifesto may seem impossible to achieve, but the mere fact that the targets are stringent can push the government to perform miracles.
The big question now is whether the Aam Aadmi Party learns to adapt to the ground reality of challenges facing a government, once in power. With such strong idealistic rage, the party might find itself alone and cornered in a murky business. It should be aware that it is extremely difficult to continually stand for the founding ideals among the push-pulls of coalition politics, and to do so successfully would require high levels of moral clarity and stubbornness. At this point in time, however, one still has to give it to the party and its charming leader whose looks of a simpleton hide an unimaginable political sophistication. The emergence of Aam Aadmi Party is a testament to the strength of our democracy’s fundamentals, and has the potential to truly change India forever.