Sunday, December 08, 2013

A message to the AAP

            It is indeed heartening to see a group of idealists, most of them new to the party-based system, making a huge impact in their first ever attempt in elections. The Aam Aadmi Party, true, could not win an absolute majority in Delhi. And in that sense the party is not part of the same league as the Telugu Desam Party or the Asom Gona Parishad. These two parties wrested power in Andhra Pradesh and Assam in the 1980s in the first ever elections they contested. Well. Neither the TDP nor the AGP were powered by idealism and hence it is incorrect.

            The AAP’s performance is commendable for another reason. This bunch of daredevil idealists was up against not just the established political parties. From the start they were against a system that was loaded against any such idealist experiments. As for instance they asked for donations and made it clear that details of all donors will be put on the public domain. To be fair, this is not done by any political party. And at a time when the established parties ganged up to legislate against a ruling by the Central Information Commission that parties and their affairs ought to be treated as public information, thanks to the Right to Information Act.

            And in doing this, the AAP put idealism above what many would call pragmatism! It is a fact that many of those who look for a chance to fund parties, in anticipation of favours when they come to power, shied away from donating to the AAP. The fact is that such donors detest idealism and they were comfortable contributing to the established parties. As for instance, those who made money through contracts in the CWG works or those who garnered contracts for such other works could not  have given money to the AAP; and in the event, one of our TV channels would not have missed an opportunity to preserve the status quo!

            This brings the role of the media, the TV channels in particular,  in the run up to the elections.  All of them were consistently spreading a message that the AAP may do well but is sure to end up a spoiler. Interestingly this was exactly what the BJP kept saying: that a vote for the AAP was going to help the Congress. This certainly was a conspiracy that at least a section of the media was guilty of being a part. At a time when the Congress was sure to lose Delhi, such a campaign in the media with anchors driving the point that the AAP is certain to emerge as a spoiler, was indeed a conspiracy on the part of these anchors. Recall that some channels also went bending over their back to paint the AAP with tar and even relied on hatchet jobs to do this.

            That Shazia Ilmi lost her election by a mere 340 votes can be seen as the success of such vested interests that are keen preserving the status quo; and to reiterate that politics and corruption go together and nothing will change. That these channels did not feel constrained to apologise when it became clear that they were distorted and doctored footages is substantive proof that they were party to the conspiracy and not just unethical journalism.

            The AAP has also proven analysts wrong on another count: that its appeal does not go beyond the middle classes. The party won in most of the constituencies where the poor and the hapless live in large numbers. It has also proved wrong a section of the left-leaning intelligentsia, most of them either running funded organisations in the name of social movements (the NGO sector), that the AAP was anti-Muslim and anti-Dalit. The party has won most such constituencies. And if there is one area where the AAP did not do as well, it was in constituencies where the salariat live in large numbers. This is no surprise!

            There is another and more important aspect of the AAP and its performance in Delhi. It is about the categorical statement that came from its leaders and the ranks: that the party will sit in the opposition rather than resort to the rhetoric that it will explore all possibilities and gloss such opportunism with such words as secularism. Recall the way the established parties had behaved in Jharkhand in the past five years; the two `national’ parties had propped up a Madhu Koda there for different periods of time. That there was no ambiguity in the AAP even while TV anchors were desperate to convince them that they could wield power by cobbling up a post-poll arrangement with the Congress was indeed refreshing.

            In all, there is hope for those who cherish the idea of Parliamentary Democracy and the party system that elections need not be fought the same way as most parties do; by distributing gifts and doling out cash to the voters. The AAP’s success is certainly a signal that violent means are not the only way out of the mess that our parties have landed the nation in. The Delhi voters have shown that pollsters either got it wrong or rigged the data to yield results that they desired. The AAP may not emerge a national alternative in April-May 2014. But did anyone see the party emerging the opposition party when Kejriwal and people like him decided to launch the party a little over a year ago?

            Meanwhile, Kejriwal and his comrades will find two things useful. One is a book, an autobiography of A.K.Gopalan, legendary communist who refused to be a prisoner of Parliamentary privileges and instead used them to further the cause of agitational politics in the cause of the people. And another is a song; John Lennon’s Working Class Hero. The Aam Aadmi Party cannot and should not turn into another Janata Party that failed.