The AAP Dilemma
Media wild fire post Kapil Mishra episode seems to have subsided. Besides, Aam Adami Party appears to have got a brief, unexpected reprieve from the incessant hounding by the punitive arms of the BJP Government at the center. This is the time, Arvind Kejriwal and his team must use to reflect on the whirlwind developments and series of setbacks it received during last few months.
Speaking about setbacks, it is true that the party has not come out as heroes on horseback during the last three elections of Punjab, Goa and Delhi Municipal Corporation(DMC). But contrary to gleeful media prognosis of march to history’s dustbin, AAP has acquired firm footing as the centrist party in power in Delhi and leading the opposition in Punjab & DMC.
Hence, howsoever the combined opposition assembled to decide on the Presidential candidate may like to wish it away, AAP has pushed its way into the coveted club of the mostly aging political class currently leading the electorate, two third of which is less than half their age. It is time now the party leadership tries to consolidate gains rather than launching some Faustian quickies, hoping that they will bring within reach the dazzling Delhi performance magnitude of which was partly on account of conditions more akin to Delhi then but in the process, it skewed party’s self-image as the giant killer for all seasons.
As a sympathetic political observer, I take the liberty of hindsight, privilege of moral high ground and offer some ideas with rash & relish
The Duverger's law of political science states that in the present “winner takes all” system emergence and hegemony of a Two-Party System has been a universal experience. This is inimical to the large and diverse democratic set up that we have in India. But the other option of proportional representation has its downside in semi-literate and politically yet to mature Indian electorate. Consequently, in each post-Ayodhya Loksabha elections, voters perceive their options regarding a binary of Congress or BJP. It is true that the strident ascendancy of BJP and the lackluster response of Congress may have given erroneous impression that Congress is crumbling and on the way to extinction. But it was more in the minds of political pundits and some members of newly emerging political leadership. Hence, BJP and PM Modi became the major target of competing for political interest, and Congress enjoyed its absolution by default with quiet ecstasy and exhilaration.
I am not sure how much this has damaged AAP’s aspirations in Punjab and Goa. Nonetheless, the hard fact driven home is that any viable challenge to the binary option perceived by the electorate has to come from a single party with solid performance and strong leadership, and not a motley coalition.
And here lies the monumental potentiality created for itself by AAP if not nationwide at least in North India. If AAP fritters away this opportunity, the progressive and secular voter is unlikely to condone Arvind Kejriwal ,despite his unusual but adorable style of publicly accepting mistakes and seeking an apology and a second chance. I am sorry, but Arvind can’t say and be done with; Hum to Rajniti me naye hai ji.
Then how does AAP thrusts itself into the electoral binary at the national level? Thanks to the daily vendetta politics perpetuated by BJP since it came to power at the center, AAP has to only contend with Congress in this task.
A senior and politically astute member of AAP Maharashtra who had spent a long time in Goa during the assembly election once mentioned to me in private conversations, “You see, as a competing political proposition we do not have a substantive differentiator with respect to the Congress. After all, Corruption is too narrow an issue. Besides in many parts of India voters look upon it as a transaction cost with the hope that with the rising tide, all boats will rise”.
This is where the role of comprehensive party ideology becomes critical. AAP’s electoral prominence and its public acceptance has been on the basis of one or two issues. In Delhi, during the election, it was broadly corruption that resulted in high electricity tariff and availability of water. In Punjab, it was drugs and deterioration. In Goa, the pitch was clean: Good Governance. However, now that AAP is on the threshold of becoming a national party, it will have to address many larger issues and develop a comprehensive alternate World View which will be its key differentiator with respect to Congress.
Jairam Ramesh of the Congress party in his book, “To the Brink and Back: India’s 1991 Story” has described in detail how in 1991, our foreign exchange cover had dwindled to mere 15 days prompting a rush for joint BJP and Congress consultation. And instead of going to public and seeking a specific mandate for the decision of historic proportion, both parties sold India’s economic sovereignty for a song resulting in today’s neo liberal economic morass for which both BJP and Congress are jointly and severally responsible. Here lies the clue for a comprehensive differentiator that if communicated well, can provide voters a reason to vote for AAP.
Further such a comprehensive ideology document will not only provide a binding glue for the party cadre which has joined the party at different times and for different ideological reasons. After all, as one Spanish proverb puts it; “More grows in the garden than the gardener knows he has planted.”