AAP: Solution or problem?
by Virendra Parekh on 17 Jan 2014 4 Comments

Make no mistake about it. The millions of countrymen, especially the young generation yearning for deliverance from the corrupt, insensitive and decrepit UPA regime will be wasting their vote if they are swayed by the syrupy rhetoric of Aam Aadmi Party and decide to support it in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. A vote for AAP would mean a vote for more of the same though in a different packaging. Worse, it would push away by about a decade the credible chance for a real change which is now within their grasp.  


No doubt the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) from its inception a year ago to forming the government of Delhi recently is an extraordinary phenomenon. Few other movements in recent history have gripped the popular imagination - as much of the elite as of the masses - with such fervour. It has kindled great hopes for clean governance in Delhi and beyond, aroused strong misgivings about its economic policies and political leanings and, last but not the least, upset all the political calculations about the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections - all in the span of just a few weeks.


The party is basking in the groundswell of popular support all over the country. Cutting across barriers of class, caste and community, people are joining it in thousands every day. The target of 1 crore members by 26 January looks quite achievable. They are driven by the hope that AAP will sharply reduce if not eliminate the burden of corruption, extortion and bribery which weighs heavily on people in dealing with the official agencies.


Significantly, it is not just ordinary people, some of them too poor to pay even membership fee of Rs. 10, who are pouring in in droves. High-profile professionals from diverse walks of life are also increasingly inclined to plunge into what was till recently regarded as a cesspool of corruption, dishonesty and manipulation of the worst kind. Earlier, professionals kept away from politics, since only those with political lineage, muscle and black money could succeed in the political arena. But AAP has suddenly created space for others. Notable personalities to join AAP include former banker Meera Sanyal, former Infosys CFO V Balakrishnan, industrialists Pawan Munjal and Adarsh Shastri, former Star TV boss Sameer Nair, TV journalist Ashutosh, danseuse Mallika Sarabhai and singers Remo Fernandes and Rabbi Shergil.


Of course, not all those who are joining the party are motivated by disinterested idealism. Indian politics is never short of opportunists, attention-seekers and Page 3 people waiting to jump on to any bandwagon that promises them a free ride, even if it be a tiny speck of limelight.


Elated by the popular response, AAP has announced its intention to contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections on a large scale. The current indications are that it will contest most of the seats in western and northern India. Apart from Delhi, it is eying Haryana, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat.


The alacrity with which AAP announced its national ambitions raises suspicions. Here is a party (or, more appropriately, association of persons) which has come to power on the promise of a single point agenda of clean and responsive administration. It is yet to deliver on it. The measures announced so far were easy pickings. Anyone can distribute goodies and largesse at the expense of the public treasury. Announcing a helpline for reporting bribery is not exactly the same thing as eliminating corruption. Setting examples in simple living is of great symbolic value, but it can hardly make any difference to the financial health of the state. One would have thought that AAP would consolidate its position by governing one state well, building a strong cadre and earning credibility by being true to its words before making a bid for power at the centre. But AAP seems to be in an unseemly haste to serve the whole nation by cashing in on the popularity wave before it begins to ebb.


Congress has been quick to see the opportunity and welcome it with open arms. It never expected such a powerful agent to split the anti-Congress vote. Just listen to the soothing if not laudatory words from the party leaders about its apparent enemy. Also notice how the pro-Congress media is playing up the new challenger. AAP will be focusing on states where BJP expects to do well. Is it purely coincidence? 


To put it brusquely, AAP’s entry into the national arena has upset the BJP’s applecart. Adversaries of BJP in general and Narendra Modi in particular are unable to conceal their glee. The very same people who served as social, cultural and intellectual props of the Congress and the UPA Government are fast shifting their preference to AAP. Media houses are going gaga over the new kid on the block. Not just the Congressmen, but the entire secularist class that dominates politics, media and academia seems convinced that the momentum has gone out of the Modi campaign. Just as Hurricane Katrina had blown away the Republican challenge to the Obama presidency in 2012, they feel the AAP wave is all set to wash away Modi’s dreams. Modi, we are told in no uncertain terms, has “lost the plot”. At least two leading columnists have asked people to think the unthinkable: Arvind Kejriwal as next prime minister.


The argument is that if Aam Aadmi Party can scale up nationally, conventional analysis that the next national government will be headed by the BJP will become junk. In Delhi, the AAP won 28 out of 70 seats, with 30 per cent of the popular vote. In the general elections, it simply has to win just 40 seats out of 543. That could sink Narendra Modi’s hopes of heading a BJP-led coalition. A Third Front government, including neither the Congress nor BJP, would then become a clear possibility.


This is not a far-fetched scenario. India has 53 cities with a population of over one million. The big metros alone account for over 50 seats. Urban India as a whole accounts for around 110 of 543 seats. Even in the so-called rural areas, there are many settlements with a population of 10,000. These will provide fertile ground for AAP to flourish. And why must we presume that in these days of 24x7 TV channels the rural folks will be totally impervious to the Idea that swept so many Delhiites off their feet? 


If AAP wins 40-odd seats, it may become the biggest constituent of the Third Front, bigger than any regional party. Kejriwal, we are told, will have excellent credentials to become prime minister of a Third Front government. He would have significant numbers and also the moral authority of the man who toppled Congress and prevented the BJP from taking its place.


Agreed, all this is pure speculation. Delhi is not India, in more than one sense. But, argue the learned columnists, if the unthinkable could happen last year, it could happen this year also. This is the scenario that reassures and enthuses the tribe of individuals who are routinely rewarded by the current dispensation with committee memberships, research grants by Ministries and umpteen business class tickets for seminars in the West. In the orchestrated buzz over AAP, they see a twin opportunity: to stop their ideological enemy Narendra Modi from reaching Delhi and, more importantly, to hold on to the perks of being on the right side of the establishment.


However, this is also the scenario that frightens and worries all those who are committed to a strong and resurgent India taking big strides on the growth path, zealously guarding its borders, restoring its pride and claiming its rightful place in the comity of nations. The prospect of another weak, incoherent and unstable government at the centre is giving nightmares to all those who had pinned their hopes on a strong and dynamic leadership taking charge of the national affairs after the next elections. Of course, we need a clean and responsive government; but we also need growth, jobs, security, economic freedom and pride.


While AAP has been quick to declare its national ambitions, it has been loath to spell out its national vision or its position on important national issues - economic, social, security and foreign affairs. We know nothing about its roadmap to restore growth momentum, curb inflation, control fiscal and current account deficit or its position on tax reform, defence, insurance or railways, growth-inflation balance, not to mention jihadi terrorism, Maoist threat, China and Pakistan.


On corruption, the party talks a lot about Jan Lok Pal, which if enacted would be a larger edition of the anti-corruption bureaus that most states have. It is silent on the real sources of corruption: discretionary powers enjoyed by netas and babus and distortion of markets. Its actions so far betray a preference for theatricals, symbolism and the line of least resistance. Mr. Kejriwal and his colleagues are full of good intentions and sincerity, but these are no substitute for sound policies and administrative skills.


For instance, AAP government has ordered the Delhi Jal Nigam to supply 20 kilolitres of free water to all households. The move will do substantial damage to the already weak finances of the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) and to basic principles of sustainable urban water pricing policy. It would not help (and may hurt) the 30-40 per cent of Delhi's residents who do not have piped water. It does nothing to solve the 40-50 per cent leakage of Delhi water supply (both real leakage in a poorly maintained system and “leakage” to tanker mafias); and it sharply increases the incentives for meter-tampering (and associated corruption) by all households consuming close to 20 kilolitres per month.


In between we have heard talks of holding referendum in J&K over presence of army, 90 per cent reservations in Delhi colleges for the locals and more caste-based reservations.


Holding Janata Darbar for direct interaction with people to hear their grievances (the first one ended in chaos) is needless distraction (and has since been scrapped altogether out of panic). Let us assume its ministers would not make money. But the real challenge lies in doing some of the most unglamorous things, such as making auto rickshaws run on meters and observe traffic rules, expanding the water pipeline network, installing correct meters in rickshaws, water pipes and power connections, toning up administration, taking away discretionary powers of babus, following a policy that will be fair to both the service providers and consumers etc. These are small things, but cumulatively impinge on the quality of daily life of all citizens. But can AAP do it?


All in all, AAP comes out increasingly as a single issue party without a public policy, an idea of what ails India or about its geographical borders and threats to those borders. Its sole stance is shouting ‘chor’ ‘chor’ at all other players in the field. True to style, Mr. Kejriwal has asked suggestions from the people for preparing the party’s manifesto, looking very much like an author in search of a plot. He will receive plenty of suggestions serving sectional interests, which are often conflicting. If he or his team has vision or wisdom to balance the various conflicting sectional interests to serve the common good, they are yet to show it.


History moves in strange ways. The biggest beneficiaries of AAP’s influence in the coming elections will be none other than the Congress and its allies. It will be the ultimate irony if AAP, product of a movement against corruption, ends up benefiting the most corrupt party in the country. AAP leaders may not see it in their zeal to ‘serve the people’. That is no reason for us citizens to ignore it. Remember, in a democracy people get the government that they deserve and not as they desire. India deserves better than Congress or its surrogate allies. 

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top