WINDS OF CHANGE
The most pessimistic of India watchers would grant that things are no longer the same in this benighted country. Given to despairing over a spluttering economic growth, policy paralysis, rampant corruption, rising social tensions and a polarized polity, they are pleasantly surprised to find that the long suffering Indian people have served notice that they would not allow political parties to treat them as mere vote banks to be visited at election time and ignored until the next election. They want continuous engagement and attention to their problems and are wont to punish indifference and non performance.
What is even more astonishing, civil society, which claims to speak on their behalf, demands, and has managed to secure, a say in the making of laws crucial to their protection and welfare. All too often, civil society, independent accountability institutions and the judiciary seem to act in concert to enforce the accountability of the executive. The cozy nexus of the political establishment with big business, organized crime and sections of the bureaucracy and the media is being subjected to the glare of public exposure.
The stunning performance of the Aam Aadmi Party in the recent Delhi elections has disproved the long held belief that there is no escape from the hegemony of established political parties. The voters of this country will no longer be constrained to choose between tired, old political parties, which have been accustomed to conducting their politics in the manner of a cynical, self-serving business enterprise. It has now been demonstrated that a band of dedicated and idealistic activists can create a broad-based forum for channelizing the popular disenchantment with traditional politics and gain sufficient traction with the electorate to be able to present themselves as a refreshing alternative to the entrenched political formations. The overworked TINA factor acronym for the lament that there is no alternative can now be retired.
It is no less than a miracle that a fledgling political party, which did not have the advantage of money bags, muscle power, or dynasty, and which had refused to play by the rules of an all pervasive identity politics, managed to break the stranglehold of mainstream political parties in a surprisingly short span of time. The appeal of the Aam Aadmi Party lay in the credibility of its leadership and its empathy with the predicament of the common man. Its leadership also had the savvy to leverage the skills of mass mobilization honed during the anti-corruption movement of 2011-12 and the anti-rape protests that rocked Delhi in the wake of the Nirbhaya outrage. The Party also showed that it had the courage to live by its credo by observing complete transparency and accountability in its processes, practising participatory decision-making, subjecting its selected candidates to public scrutiny and crowd funding its electoral campaign.
The AAP story verily marks a tectonic shift in Indian politics. It will no longer be possible for the political establishment to carry on business as usual. Parties across the political spectrum will be forced to reengineer their processes and reinvent themselves to cope with the existential threat posed by the emergence on the political firmament of this new constellation that defies the rules of political astronomy. The contrarian position adopted by the AAP with reference to the order of the Central Information Commission to bring the major political parties within the ambit of the Right to Information Act is a case in point. While they are fighting tooth and nail to avoid any public scrutiny of their financial transactions, this upstart breaks ranks and voluntarily places the details of every donation and every item of expenditure in the public domain!
The advent of the Aam Aadmi Party has enthused the young generation and the middle class like no other political initiative in the past. Politics is no longer a distasteful activity for these classes, regarded as uncaring and self-absorbed. Political engagement for them now is a badge of honour to be displayed with pride. The appeal of the Party is equally strong in the impoverished neighbourhoods and slum clusters of the National Capital. Now that it has upset all political calculations by accepting the challenge to form a minority government in Delhi, the expectations of its supporters and sympathisers have risen sky high. The new dispensation will face its biggest test in managing these expectations. It will also have to develop a robust mechanism to test the commitment of new adherents and keep out opportunists and lumpen elements from its membership, which has been growing at breakneck speed. The growth pangs to be endured during this phase of frenetic expansion could be excruciatingly painful.
The Party swears by its pragmatic approach to finding solutions to the problems of the Aam Aadmi and has resisted the attempts to give it any ideological label. The emphasis of the new dispensation in Delhi has so far been on the processes of governance, such as participatory decision-making, enhancing the transparency and accessibility of the administration, streamlining the anti-corruption measures and rolling back the hated VVIP culture. It has also been quick to redeem its electoral pledges for the provision of free water to every household and halving the electricity tariff in the lower consumption slabs. It will be unrealistic to expect that at this juncture the government would have given due consideration to the problematic issues of sustainability, economic justification and long-term impact of these measures. But these concerns will have to be addressed sooner rather than later. The substantive aspects of governance are as important as its processes.
Given its legitimate ambition of playing a significant role in the forthcoming national elections, it will be imperative for the Aam Aadmi Party to develop a credible economic vision along with a coherent social philosophy and a world view in sync with India's geo-political context. Such a framework will be conducive to consistency and quality of decision-making. However, the new government must be given enough leeway for putting its act together and learning on the job. So long as the underlying intent of its decisions is not in doubt and so long as there is a willingness to learn from past mistakes, there is no cause for worry. After all, governments past and present, formed by parties steeped in the exercise of power, have made many an egregious error of judgment; and their bona fides cannot always be vouched for.
The Aam Aadmi Party does not need to worry about the criticism that its non conformism is bound to elicit. Arvind Kejriwal and his friends have been called `anarchists' by the votaries of status quo and this epithet will be flung at them time and again. They ought to be happy to find themselves in illustrious company. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who revelled in challenging the established order, was an avowed anarchist. But let it also be remembered that he was ruthlessly honest with himself and never missed an opportunity to lay threadbare his innermost thoughts, motivations and struggles. A man of exceptional humility as well as great perspicacity, he realized that hubris leads both dynasts and revolutionaries to nemesis.
The Aam Aadmi Party will do well to stay grounded, keep its common touch and remain true to its values. It hardly matters whether its government in Delhi completes its full term, or is brought down tomorrow by internal dissensions or the machinations of its unlikely ally. The winds of change that have been blowing over India and that have borne a reluctant and untested political start-up to the seat of power in the National Capital have forever transformed its political landscape.
- Kamal Kant Jaswal