It has been called a great moment of rage. With over 800 million eligible voters, more than 100 million of whom would be voting for the first time — half the population being under 24 — the 2014 general election places unprecedented power in the hands of the nation’s youth. But India has rarely been more divided with conflicting ideas and visions for the way ahead. What course the life of the nation takes will be decided by us. But will we vote, and will we exercise that power responsibly?
T5E brings you a series of Op-Eds on the major political parties/coalitions to help you decide.
In this article, P. K. Adithya writes on the Aam Aadmi Party.
These are very interesting times for Indian politics, not least because of the new kid on the block – the Aam Aadmi Party. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last two years, the Aam Aadmi Party should need no introduction. Born out of the initially apolitical 2011 anti-corruption movement spearheaded by Anna Hazare, the outfit whose name translates to “The Party of the Common Man” has thrust itself into the national spotlight and now divides opinion at least as much as any other entity in Indian politics.
When the AAP initially announced its intentions of fighting the Delhi Assembly election, it was generally viewed by Indians across the political spectrum as a breath of fresh air. Anti-Congress sentiment was simmering, fuelled by a seemingly never-ending succession of scams coming to light. Those who were uneasy about voting for the BJP, a party with links to Hindu nationalist groups, as an alternative to the Congress were glad to see the AAP throw its hat into the ring. Meanwhile, most centre-right thinkers recognized that the AAP’s manifesto appeared meticulously prepared and lauded its transparency in revealing its sources of funding.
The wave of goodwill culminated in Arvind Kejriwal’s party winning 28 seats in its Delhi debut. However, eyebrows were raised when Kejriwal decided to form a government with the conditional support of the Congress, after spending much of his campaign railing against the corruption and nepotism present in India’s leading party. Still, all eyes were on Delhi, with a level of scrutiny unlike any that I can recall in the past.
It was difficult to gauge what the nation realistically expected of the AAP – the “revolution” had begun, but did anyone seriously think India’s powerful political establishment would meekly accept its fate and exit stage left? The AAP’s infamous 49 days in power were full of incident, with Law Minister Somnath Bharti coming under fire for ordering a raid on a colony of Ugandan nationals without due process and a protest led by CM Arvind Kejriwal himself after alleged inaction over serious complaints by top Delhi police officers.
The AAP government’s end was of its own making, with Kejriwal resigning after a bill for his version of the Jan Lokpal was defeated in the Assembly. The rationale for the decision given by the AAP was that the Jan Lokpal was central to its mandate. However, the AAP’s opponents gleefully accused it of running away from responsibility after discovering that it had bitten off more than it could chew.
That last accusation should be taken with a pinch of salt. The AAP has been vociferously demanding a re-election in Delhi, while both the BJP and the Congress have been dragging their feet – presumably hoping for the populace’s perception of the AAP to somehow change for the worse. Opinion polls since Kejriwal’s resignation, although by no means guaranteed to be accurate, have consistently predicted a majority for his party.1
Unfortunately, this turbulent backdrop means that there is nothing close to a reasonable prediction one can make for how a stable AAP government will perform. I’m certainly not going to tell you a barefaced lie by gazing into my crystal ball and claiming that an AAP-led central government will be the best thing that could happen to India. But for better or for worse, that does not appear to be something we need to worry about – the AAP’s chances of emerging as the single largest party in these Lok Sabha elections are miniscule, if opinion polls are to be believed again.2
It is important not to forget, amid the strong polarization of opinions, the ideas that originally endeared the AAP to the voters apart from zero tolerance to corruption – promises of transparent and accountable governance that would keep in touch with the people’s wishes and concerns through regular meetings, the mohalla sabhas (which were in fact hugely popular when implemented during the AAP’s short spell in Delhi)3. In my opinion, this is an extremely valuable vision and one that is worth keeping in mind regardless of any personal dislike of AAP leaders – it marks a deviation from the elitist, disconnected style of India’s established political parties. It’s hard to overstate what a boon this could be for India if this practice is realized, perhaps by a future AAP state government. Apart from the benefits that will surely follow from such a pragmatic approach to governance, it will probably force other parties to raise their game to this level. Even if the AAP has to be voted out later, the toothpaste will be well and truly out of the tube.
I was never particularly enthusiastic about the AAP scaling up to contest national elections just a few months after its first electoral foray, since there was the severe risk of opportunists jumping on the bandwagon and later bringing the party into disrepute. It is difficult for me to find a reliable source that gives, unambiguously, the number of candidates with criminal cases that the AAP is fielding – most sources appear to be deliberately conflating pending criminal cases with criminal cases filed in the past. While it appears inevitable that a few tainted ones will slip through, the fact that the AAP dropped Narendra Mohanty and a few other candidates like hot potatoes when their criminal record was brought to the leadership’s notice is quite encouraging.4 Everyone makes mistakes – it’s their commitment to correct those mistakes which is more important. We must refrain from judging the AAP against a fantasy of perfection. Also, the fact that 13% of the candidates of India’s two leading parties – the BJP and the Congress – face serious charges like murder and kidnapping is useful for a sense of perspective.5
I’m not writing this article because I want you to vote for the AAP, being a “supporter”. In fact, I certainly have concerns about Arvind Kejriwal – his decision to contest against Narendra Modi in the traditionally (Hindu) religious constituency of Varanasi is indicative of an egomaniacal streak, one that could jeopardize his whole enterprise. Also, his eagerness to take on industrialists in the name of fighting crony capitalism has led many to worry that he actually has far-left convictions, which if acted upon could be disastrous for the economy. However, now is probably not the time to worry about how Kejriwal might run the country – that will almost certainly not come to pass.
Instead, I am primarily asking you to reserve judgement on the AAP before they actually govern a state, without being led astray by red herrings such as accusations of “drama” – willingness to pick up cudgels on behalf of the common man should not count as being dramatic. For these elections, I ask you to go through their manifesto6, where their commitment to approachable governance is reiterated, along with the priority of welfare over ideology. Please consider voting for an AAP candidate if you feel that he or she appears well qualified and sincere.
Most importantly, remember that we are all in this together regardless of which party we feel is India’s best bet for now. So let’s resist the urge to think people who disagree with us are doing so in bad faith. And let’s listen to each other with open minds, judge the performance of parties with a critical eye, and avoid tribalism at all costs.
P.K. Adithya is an IITM alumnus with fond memories of his four years on campus, where he studied Engineering Physics. He is now doing a PhD in Physics at Clemson University and hopes to make a career out of physics research.
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