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HindustanTimes Mon,21 Apr 2014

Aam Aadmi Party has brought a new brand of politics
Sanjoy Narayan
January 18, 2014
First Published: 00:32 IST(18/1/2014)
Last Updated: 01:26 IST(18/1/2014)

It has all the inbuilt elements for self-destruction. But this peculiar and fascinating creature called the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will, hopefully, overcome its inherent flaws and go the whole nine yards.

The actions of some of its ministers, however, go completely against the very ethos of AAP, that of respect for law and order and an aversion to political high handedness.

AAP’s Delhi law minister is rampaging about targeting Africans for the drug trade and its women and child welfare minister is exhorting the police to enter a home without an arrest warrant. If it does not change tack now, those who are busy writing the party’s epitaph may have reason to cheer.

It cannot fritter away the stunning victory it notched up when new chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and AAP pulled 28 seats out their hat for the 70-member Delhi assembly and then though short of numbers went on to form a government with grudging Congress support.

Despite all its shortcomings, and there seem to be many, unlike the Bond martini, AAP has both shaken and stirred Indian politics like never before. It has introduced a new frisson of excitement which is growing with the advent of the general elections barely three months away. And caught like a deer in the headlights are the big two who seem quite immobilised by an incandescent AAP.

But they have also developed a reluctant admiration for AAP’s spectacular performance. The Congress has been quick to adopt AAP-like practices such as a more democratic process for selecting candidates for elections. Its vice-president Rahul Gandhi has publicly commended AAP’s efforts and its success.

The BJP, for obvious reasons — it is the AAP government’s Opposition in Delhi, after all —  has been vocal in its criticism of the party but has at the same time picked up on AAP’s highly successful and transparent fund-rasing campaign. The saffron party is now seeking individual donations of `100 to `1,000. And also wondering why everyone does not love it in the same way they have taken AAP to their hearts.

AAP’s USP as I see it lies in its ability to engage with people from every strata and demographic slice of society. Millionaire software entrepreneurs, bankers, culture mavens, former civil servants, corporate executives and students have quit their occupations and signed up with the party with no strings attached and none of the usual aspirations for power and the stuff that comes with it that most people sign up with political parties for, at least in India

But the hope entertained by some that the government will collapse in just a few months seems fuelled by schadenfreude, a common enough feeling that politicians (not unlike ordinary folk) share. When the new chief minister’s Janta Darbar ended up in chaos, rival parties derisively chuckled, this is the beginning of the end, they predicted. A rag-tag bunch of people posing as a government could never hold together, they sneered. Others see faultlines developing in its policy initiatives. Some in the Congress feel that decisions such as the one disallowing multi-brand foreign retailers in Delhi might just prompt the grand old party to pull the plug. I am confident that it won’t.

It is in the Congress’ interests to keep Delhi’s AAP government intact by continuing its support. First, propping up an AAP government helps it keep the BJP at bay in the state, particularly in a year of general elections. Second, supporting a ‘people’s party’ that has such a huge connect with the urban middle-class allows the Congress to bask in some amount of reflected moral glory. In keeping AAP ticking, it can cast itself in saviour mould. Third, it gives the Congress the breathing space to mend its bridges with AAP’s support base — again, mainly urban middle-class voters who have developed an aversion to the Congress.

How the ‘AAP factor’ plays out in the general elections is something that we have to wait to see.  AAP is a collection of people with different ideologies, beliefs and ideas. There are leftists co-existing with right-wingers; pro-big business (indeed, freshly retired yuppies) sharing the table with vehement anti-capitalists; and, in fact, people of every stripe and shape who should naturally be at each other’s throats.

Yet, somehow the party is able to attract a daily queue of such disparate individuals who are ready to throw in their lot with AAP.  The reason is the compelling and unequivocal commitment of the party to fight corruption, a single unifying plank that those supporting AAP see as the biggest missing factor in the other two national parties.

Of course, it would be legitimate to ask whether AAP can really operate effectively on a national scale while ensuring that only the honest and uncorrupt find a place in its ranks. That, as even the doughty Arvind Kejriwal will tell you, is a challenge. But if he is to be believed, the party is putting in place systems to ensure not only that but also make sure that rotten apples are demonstrably dealt with. I certainly think that the errant ministers need more than a rap on the knuckles from the CM.

The other questions deal with AAP’s greenhorn-like initial moves to govern Delhi. The abortive Janta Darbar is one instance but there are others: exhorting people to conduct sting operations; call centres to field citizens’ grievances against government officials; holding a state assembly session at the Ram Lila Maidan, and so on, are all well-meaning “aam aadmi-focused” initiatives, but ones that have been criticised by AAP’s political rivals. Honestly, I have to agree that some of these are bordering on flaky but they do change the rules of the game.

It is not easy to slot AAP into any known political template. This means that you need to take this somewhat unknown but mightily popular entity very seriously.  Take a look outside AAP’s offices across India and see the queues of people waiting to sign up. I don’t need a crystal ball to tell you that this is a new brand of politics, simple in the extreme, ideologically neutral and disarmingly accessible. And it is here to stay.


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