After the sweeping 67-3 victory in the Delhi assembly, Delhi residents were overjoyed but even in such a situation brainstorming continued. The debates within the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national executive (NE) over AAP’s political reach were influenced by this sweeping victory and the issue of expansion was raised again — though it had already been decided to consolidate in Delhi.
After AAP’s stupendous victory and quick and far reaching action to nominate and put in place a Cabinet, very many, not only AAP supporters, were delighted at the speed and unity of these processes. The promises of free water for the poor and cheap electricity, followed by the promise for toilets empowered the poor who were looking to the promises that became policy in the 49-day government in AAP’s previous victory.
Another matter was the one-man one-post principle. Though Arvind Kejriwal is the undisputed leader of AAP and the national convener, there was discussion that he should perhaps concentrate on one position. This was a product of some confusion. Kejriwal is chief minister of Delhi but he has no specific portfolio, so a majority believe that he is also indispensable as the CM who ensured that the party and the movement moved in tandem. The work of the Cabinet would be largely shared by the others. This principle is also very likely to be applied to AAP’s six women MLAs who will be accommodated on the basis of the principle of rotation.
It is not often realised that AAP’s executive bodies like the national council, the NE and political affairs committee (PAC) are all representative of the multi-hued character of the party with men and women of various backgrounds all part of the directive structure. So in any number of ways AAP is challenging the contours of conventional politics.
AAP is a unique attempt at combining social movements along with activists and experts from various spheres. It is a response to conventional politics that focuses on the economically and politically powerful forces in order to capture power. Thus the relatively quick and far-reaching spread of neo-liberalism, which has led to some 68% of the population being below the poverty line. In contrast to the dominant national parties, AAP has focused its activities on providing support and substantial relief to the poor and middle classes. Thus the stress on providing the cheapest possible amount of portable water and electricity to the less privileged has been followed with a move to provide toilets, especially in the JJ colonies, as well as scattered in areas of the city where no public toilets exist.
Many have ridiculed these as freebies that do not take resource constraints into account. But AAP and its constituents have taken the policies of Gandhiji to heart summarised in his famous statement “to remove the tear from every eye”. This was a promise made during the freedom struggle but hardly kept. Providing resources to the poor and middle classes is also good economics. If the income of the less privileged increases and their costs diminish their purchasing power would expand, thereby deepening the market and creating more employment, which is desperately required in a skewed market with concentration of economic power.
Many critics who think that AAP is indulging in populist policies, forget that the increase in purchasing power of some 80% of the population is a powerful stimulus to employment generation, to expansion of the market and to a more humane life that both the national movement and the Constitution have promised.
Of course in a party with people of diverse experiences and approaches there will be passionate discussions about policies and their alternatives including how AAP should increase its political influence. The media and interested citizens see the passionate debates in AAP as dysfunctional and even a threat to AAP’s consolidation. The 54% of AAP voters plus many others who try to understand this unique development should not worry.
There are no crises though there are continuing debates, which is all to the good because AAP’s ambitious programmes have little similarity to conventional politics, and are often not fully understood by the media and even some sympathisers who wonder if AAP is not moving too fast too soon.
Of course there are other debates reported by the media and brought to public notice in recent weeks. While there are different positions there is a common purpose and in a large number of cases the protagonists have worked together for up to three years and even more when they come from social movements. So AAP is not infallible, it is not a party that claims to be a know-all. But it is an extremely important attempt to build a new kind of politics that will provide a much-needed alternative to existing elitist political structures.
Is this really possible or is this a pipe dream? A dreamer called Lawrence of Arabia who helped in the liberation of Arabs from the Ottoman Empire wrote, “All men dream but not equally ...but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible.” So AAP has many dreamers who seek to fulfil the dreams of the people. For us fulfilling our promises is not contingent on expanding in conventional politics but instead developing and propagating a new politics which will empower all our people, irrespective of class, caste, gender, strata or political belief. This is surely an attempt that has already shown its capabilities and potential and should be welcomed by all who love this country and its people.
Kamal Mitra Chenoy is a member of the Aam Aadmi Party and a professor of politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal.