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THE inordinate, even prurient, interest being showered by the media and op-ed writers on the shenanigans in the Aam Aadmi Party should come as no surprise. It is not often that a party, brimming with moral certitude about self and righteous indignation about its political ‘others’, so brazenly implodes in public gaze. One cannot deny that the spectacle of stings, accusations and counter-accusations involving individuals who till the other day claimed to be comrades-in-arms in a mission to clean up a murky polity, makes for riveting viewing. The all-knowing pundits can now assert that they always knew this was on the cards and that the AAPs claim to politics with a difference was a chimera, unlikely to last. On the other hand, many supporters, sympathizers and volunteers of AAP appear dismayed about the possible demise of a dream. Both the glee and the dismay are likely unwarranted, reflective of an over-reading of the AAP phenomenon.

Without undermining the significance of the AAPs spectacular victory in the recent elections to the Delhi State Assembly, it must not be forgotten that though the national capital, Delhi is but a city state. To over-read the implications of the electoral verdict thus appears unwise. It is in part because the victory was infused with such significance – stalling the Modi juggernaut; recovery of secular and value-based politics; a precursor to a different and better national politics – that the disappointment amongst the believers is so deep. Similarly, far too much has been made of both the scale of victory and the swiftness with which the AAP formed itself and came to power. It is again useful to recollect that small states like Sikkim or much larger ones like Tamil Nadu have in the past returned equally spectacular victories. Remember when the DMK coalition was reduced to single digits in the assembly. As for speed, just think back to the emergence of the Telugu Desam Party under N.T. Rama Rao and the rapidity with which it supplanted the Congress.

It is likely that the AAP is both a beneficiary and a victim of its geographic location. Had Delhi not been the site of the self-proclaimed ‘national’ media, and had the AAP (as also its precursor, India Against Corruption) not so heavily engaged with and deployed the media as central to its political strategy, it is probable that these developments would have elicited far less attention. In a sense, AAP has been hoist with its own petard. And since the Delhi based media likes to believe it is national, we are all perforce subjected to its excitements, with little regard to the actual significance of the events.

In all the brouhaha, it is insufficiently appreciated that the AAP is still a party in the making, yet to work out the modalities of transition from a ‘movement’ to a party. Usually these transitions are fairly long drawn out, providing those involved sufficient time to flesh out ideological issues and create working consensus on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of organizational processes – issues of leadership, decision making, degree of openness and transparency, all the way to funding. Idealistic claims are tempered down as there emerges a more realistic assessment of possibilities. Equally poorly understood is the fact that these processes are fairly ruthless and brutal and that many individuals central to the movement phase of the party find themselves relegated to the margins as the party structure consolidates itself. Moreover, a further shakeout takes place if the party manages to win elections and assume power. Just read the history of the transition from the non-Brahmin movement in Tamil Nadu to the formation of the Dravida Kazgam (DK), followed by the splintering away of first the DMK, and then the AIADMK. To assume that the AAP would not experience similar struggles for power and position, no matter how coated in issues of principle, is being short-sighted.

Just how successfully the AAP will negotiate these challenges, and for how long, is uncertain. Movement activists far too often tend to set up multiple unrealistic goals for themselves, all to be satisfied simultaneously while observing equally unrealistic constraints – a major reason for their failure. There is, however, little doubt that as the AAP government gets down to do what it was elected for – governing Delhi – the pressure to tone down the ‘moral rhetoric of principles’ will grow. Equally that if the government fails to satisfactorily respond to the many expectations that it has helped fuel, in itself an extremely difficult task, it will find it difficult to hold on to Delhi, forget expanding to other regions. Simultaneously, unless it can continue to nurture the hope of a different politics – difficult without the involvement of myriad movement groups – it will be reduced to yet another local party, possibly more efficient, honest and pro-poor than others, but nowhere near changing the nature of politics. And that would be a tragedy.

Harsh Sethi