“Democracy is the status of society in which the sovereign people, guided by laws which are of their own making, do for themselves all that they can well do, and by appointing deputies, all that they cannot do themselves.”
– Maximillian Robespierre, Terror is Justice, 5th February, 1994
RK Laxman created the hairy-eared common man in India and invested him with an angst about mundane concerns. Ever since this national mascot of representation was established by the daily newspaper, all the political parties in India have tried to capitalize on it. It became an instrument for the protestations of the privileged in a circulation of elites to their concern for the Sisyphus-like uphill struggles of the middle and under-classes. They blunted the critical edge of the cartoon figure of the common man and co-opted him in their lordly rule by the simple device of the vernacular usage ‘aam aadmi’. This common currency rang hollow because they continued with their divisive vote banking practices and dismembered the fraternal meaning of the term. With liberalisation of the economy, the coinage was further debased to the notion of an economic ‘Aam aadmi’, sans his or her political angst. Even as multinationals gauged the aam aadmi as an indicator of the extent of the market for them in India, government used it as a statistical smokescreen for its abject failure to support the livelihood of farmers or promote industrial employment.
Aam Aadmi Party has donned the same symbol but succeeded within a year of its formation to revivify the political lament of the common man against corruption. This has made a spectacular difference to the moral contours of the public sphere. Of course, the original long-suffering ‘common man’ who endeared us with Laxman’s wry sense of humour has been transformed by AAP to the theme best expressed by Shahrukh Khan in Chennai Express – ” Do not underestimate the power of a common man!”. This political resurrection of the aam aadmi has transfixed India by prising open the meanings of both representing and being represented. In an interview by HT channel, Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal said “there’s a difference between representation and brokering deals, whether with a vote bank, to get elected, or for unholy electoral alliances, to stay in power”.
With its stellar success in winning the elections in Delhi, AAP has helped the aspiring middle and under-classes alike to challenge the elite capture of institutions of the government in India. In December 2013, as the results of the state elections in Delhi poured in, anxiety about a Modi wave made way for a fear psychosis about the AAP phenomenon among both the national parties and their ardent supporters. Both Congress and BJP hastened to take the wind out of the AAP sails by passing the Lokpal Bill in the Rajya Sabha. Arun Jaitley, the leader of opposition in RS said they were willing to pass the Bill even without discussion! For the uninitiated, in simple terms, the very word ‘parliament’ means nothing but discussion, and for the leader of the opposition in the council of states to say there need be no discussion on the Lokpal Bill was tantamount to the worst form of elite capture of the institution. AAP has succeeded in exposing the lordliness of such representative government.
Again, it wasn’t what was said in the latest BJP national council meeting on 18th January, 2014 by Narendra Modi which matters; what was not said matters far more – there was not a word on AAP! It revealed a strategy to ignore an irritant pest for his challenge to the burning ambitions of Narendra Modi to grab the PM’s post! Will such a strategy work? Unlikely, because the pest is growing into a pestilence by the day and AAP has raised the bar for the legitimate representation of the people and posed the long-standing demand of Indians since independence for participatory governance. The book titled “Swaraj” by Arvind Kejriwal underlines this yen for injecting substance to the form of popular sovereignty established by adult franchise in India. It is in keeping with the civilisational values of the Indian people and reminiscent of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s declarationÂ “swaraj is my birthright” during the initial phase of the national movement.
Arvind Kejriwal’s ambition is to clean up the Indian legislatures of all the bad practices that parliamentarians revel in, both during and after elections – practices that are colloquially described as ‘ye to politics hei’. Hence, the broom as the party’s election symbol. When a reporter from the TV channel Headlines Today interviewed four of the more prominent among the AAP party formation on 11th December, 2013, they clarified that they believed in politics in the sense that Aristotle understood it, as willing the happiness of others and working for it, which is a higher value than that of philosophy, which is only concerned with the philosopher’s own happiness. They also pointed out they had rejected the categories of left, right and centre as completely meaningless ideological constructs in a country like India in the 21st century. If naming a faith was being insisted on, they would describe it as public-interest-ism. Aam Admi Party was acting on this understanding of politics since its formation a year ago, much before Narendra Modi called Delhi a city-state.
The swearing-in of the AAP government in Delhi on 28th December, 2013 also signified that the youth have taken charge of the country. BJP, the single-largest party but just short of a majority, was unable to form government and restrained by the moral weight of the AAP effect in the country to indulge in horse-trading to make good the number required. A pulverised Congress had no option but to offer unsolicited support. Local goons of the Congress spread the wily term ‘unconditional support’ while Sheila Dixit clarified it was ‘outside support’, to bring in some semblance of good conscience in parliamentary matters. To repulse the low animal cunning of the Congress-BJP combine, AAP resolved its own quandary by seeking a ‘referendum’ from the people of Delhi and then responded to the overwhelming wishes of the people of Delhi to see AAP in government. The joyous swearing-in ceremony at the Ramlila grounds, away from the closure of the popular will of elections signified by Raj Bhawans, was marked by a simple heart-felt sense of solemnity. To describe it as a ‘coronation‘ was perhaps the worst sin the TV channels have committed so far against the people of Delhi and AAP.
AAP lost no time in trying to redeem its pledges to the people of Delhi. Acknowledging that these were only interim measures, AAP introduced the rationing of water usage by the privileged sections who have piped supply by allowing about 700 litres per household free of cost and charging peal rates for the entire 700 plus in case the limit was exceeded. To reduce the huge electricity bills paid by households in Delhi, CM Kejriwal also requested CAG of India to audit the accounts of licensee DISCOMs to check if they are meeting the conditionality in their licenses that they will bring down T&D losses. With such incisive moves to meet their electoral promises within a month of taking over the reigns of government in Delhi, they turned their attention to assuring security of life and limb to the citizens of Delhi.
When the Nirbhaya case was agitated by the women of Delhi in a spontaneous outburst of anger a year ago, the then CM Sheila Dixit had simply expressed her helplessness because Delhi Police was under the Home Ministry. Despite all political parties being in agreement about full statehood for Delhi and the police being brought under the State Government, the Home Ministry had refused to budge from its suzerainty over Delhi Police. Finding themselves in the absurd situation of being in government without any say in maintenance of law and order, and responding to complaints of citizens in a neighbourhood about a ‘drug andÂ traffickingÂ mafia’, an AAP Minister tied up with some policemen and took them to the spot. They refused to take cognizance of a racket even when the minister asked them to. This led to a demand for suspension or at least transfer of 3 policemen by the Chief Minister, which was refused by the Union Home Minister, who had earlier been accused publicly by his own secretary to Government of India of sending chits to the Police Commissioner to make money from transfers and postings of policemen.
Arvind Kejriwal’s alacrity in sensing the moment to strike is awesome. He immediately launched on a dharna, first planned as a sit-in by only the MLAs of Delhi and then enlarged to include any supporter who could wriggle through the cordoning off of the area by the police around Rail Bhawan, due to the preparations for the pageantry on 26th January, India’s Republic Day. To appreciate the full import of the dharna, it is important to hark back in India’s history to 1944 when Ambedkar pointed out the difference between independence and freedom. He said : “Hindus and Muslims want independence ie. the same powers which are at present wielded by the British; the scheduled castes and adivasis of India want freedom”. Independence Day on 15th August simply denotes a transfer of power. Republic Day symbolises the day when “We the people” resolved to give ourselves popular sovereignty and set rolling the Constitution crafted by Ambedkar, among others, to serve as a vehicle of social change. The dharna signifies another step towards determining whether the pomp and pageantry with an admixture of militarist posturing on Republic Day will continue or the people of India will be allowed to turn from a janpath to the rajpath.
The storm of this revolution is still brewing. As I write on 21st January 2014, with the surges of the AAP supporters against the police barricades at Rafi Marg, a few incidents of throwing shoes at policemen and daring the police to turn violent are being reported. Arvind Kejriwal has walked to the barricades to appeal to his supporters to restrain themselves from violent acts. It is his ability to control his compatriots and ensure further surges of peaceful protest against the Home Ministry that will win him the day.
With general national elections coming up as well as youngsters signing up in hordes to work for AAP all over the country, charting out the road ahead for carrying the torch to all parts of this vast country is indeed a mind-boggling project. Walking so many janpaths and talking across 32 languages with all that communication of a revolutionary message demands will certainly stretch their bodies and minds. Manish Sisodia and Kejriwal have already invited all ethical persons — businessmen and commoners alike – to come forward to join the battle against corruption, demand an acceptable version of the Lokpal with a credible grievance redressal system built-in, and fight elections in the constituencies they belong to. They have invited public donations from one and all.
In keeping with its Aristotelian politics, AAP is acutely aware that different kinds of the rule of reason are appropriate for different states, depending on the unique rational capacities of their citizens. It is this ‘customised’ approach to the capacity of each State that will distinguish the alternative politics of AAP. The refreshing departure this marks from the politics of substitution inherent in what is denoted as the all India ‘BJP wave’, will bring considerable success to AAP. For instance, there are ‘khaap panchayats’ and the political oligarchies in Haryana – of BJP/Cong/Chautala – all treat their voters like captives. The Haryana political elite has become so rapacious that it collects money from even its own supporters for public service delivery. Haryana’s jats, including landowners, are upset with even their caste leaders who have made them hostage for lack of choices. ” Ek baar to chance denge” is what I could pick up from a farmer in Gurgaon a fortnight ago.