Aam Admi Party (AAP) – Hope Among the Hopeless?

February 6, 2015

Aamlogo

(A note on upcoming Delhi assembly election, February 2015)

By Aloke Bhattacharya

1.

The upcoming Delhi assembly election on 7th February 2015 has drawn sizeable attention of national media, particularly in tv channels with national coverage. All tv channels having national footprint are devoting a large portion of their news hour and are fiercely competing to provide the details of campaign trails of major contenders for state power in this election. This is an interesting development considering the fact that this is an assembly election for a region that does not even possess full statehood and is being followed by a number of state elections in very recent period those did not draw the kind of attention and national coverage the campaign trails in Delhi are enjoying.

The holding of Delhi assembly election has some recent background. It is a sequel of one year long interregnum as the reigning Aam Admi party (AAP) abdicated power of state government after a tumultuous 49 days’ rule with support from Congress party. The mandate that AAP received was a fractured one when it was not even the largest political group. The largest group of MLAs came from BJP with 32 members elected to the assembly whom both AAP and Congress considered untouchable and on their own BJP was not in a position to stake claim for government.

In this interval of suspended assembly for one year, BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi emerged as the largest political party in national Loksabha elections in May 2014, and formed the first ever majority government at centre in independent India’s political history without any linkage to Congress party. Continuing its victory rallies BJP won in subsequent Maharastra, Haryana, and Jharkahnd state assembly elections and for the first time in independent India is close to form government in Jammu and Kashmir in alliance with PDP that is a Muslim majority party in Kashmir valley.

Going by these electoral victories and results of recent Loksabha elections in Delhi where all the seats were won by BJP by considerable margin and had handsome lead in 60 assembly segments, the upcoming Delhi assembly election in common sense logic should have been a cakewalk victory for BJP as Delhi represents the seat of power of central government of India. That this is not the case is very evident as 7th February 2015 is approaching when most of the pre-election surveys sponsored by the media houses are predicting at least a neck-to-neck competition between AAP and BJP to grab the seat of state power with Congress party being a distant third. This development of a non-traditional political party overwhelming a very recently victorious national party with huge administrative clout and financial capacity and pushing the largely entrenched traditional Congress party to distant third position in the race has raised considerable curiosity and interest among political commentators.

2.

It is true that electoral successes and failures of political parties particularly those of traditional, well-heeled parties representing for long the establishment have got little relevance towards the course of struggle of the working class and working people of this country as rarely elections are fought on the burning issues confronting them. Electoral campaigns of these parties rarely touch the issues of the working class, ignore even their basic existence in their discourse and concentrate heavily on topics those fit sensationlization and division among the working people.

As seen by everyone the recent blitzkrieg of political campaign by BJP and their leader Narendra Modi during the Loksabha election in May 2014 depended heavily on issues of corruption among the high and mighty, on creating division and fissures among the working people based on religious, communal campaigns, and significantly promoted the interests of big corporate and captains of industry in the name of ‘development’. All actions of their government after the national elections are emphasizing their clear intention to bulldoze the interests of the working class and to revoke whatever little protection the organized working class found in the prevalent laws.

All these measures are pronounced in the name of ‘development’ that promote only the interests of the big capitalists, and the people are being deceived with the assurance of job creation as if the campaign of ‘development’ is motivated for job creation and primarily not for making super profit and for unbridled rule of capitalists. Therefore, in most of these elections and also in recent parliamentary elections the role of the working class is confined to that of passive onlookers. At most their role is limited to casting a vote to a party symbol that gets most effectively branded and marketed on the day of election. Effectively the election process fails to enthuse, activate or rouse expectation among the vast masses of working people towards actively participating in the process to monitor or provoke their role in governance.

3.

In spite of these limitations of the electoral process it remains a major event or platform where political questions and campaigns can be raised in a large scale particularly when a strong current of struggle of the working class or even a noticeable churning within them is not present. Moreover, elections to different political institutions of the state still now remain the only platform where people can register their choice for political representatives however distant they may be from the expectations of the vast majority of electorates. In this perspective, we possibly cannot overlook the possibility of AAP being a major contender of state power in Delhi and ignore the interests among the working people that is generated regarding their entry in an arena largely dominated by the vested interests of power. This is particularly true for Delhi where being the principal seat of power all vested interests are deeply entrenched in the institutions and establishments of Delhi that has kept the vast masses of working people disenchanted and aloof from the electoral process till the recent assembly election in December 2013 when AAP made its first entry in electoral politics.

4.

The formation of AAP as a political party with large support base among the underprivileged and downtrodden population of Delhi is a unique phenomenon in contemporary India. From the 1980’s Delhi has steadily grown as a vast metropolis state with population drifting mostly from the agrarian occupation from regions under the Ganga-Jamuna basin. Young population of all hues and regional bias ranging from vast non-east population to people from south eastern states flock to Delhi in search of opportunities because of huge infrastructure being built continuously in and around Delhi by the government and existence of numerous educational institutions. Being the seat of central power it is also the nerve centre of agitations that instantly become national news in electronic media.

The anti-corruption movement led by fasting of Anna Hazare in August 2011 at Ramlila Maidan ground drew active support from ordinary people of all walks of life and took the shape of a mass movement. In that daily protest gatherings that continued for three weeks at a stretch ordinary people of Delhi discovered the language and expressions of protest. Suddenly issues lying at the heart of people started finding new language of outburst. The institutions and symbols of power seemed easy to reach and near to be challenged. Just after this movement the fateful death of a young paramedic girl in December 2012 out of brutal rape by the scum of Delhi in a cold, wintry night in a private bus added a new dimension in the protesting mood of people. The question of women’s safety in every day social life became an urgent and ready to finish issue among the students and youth of Delhi that was unprecedented. New motifs of protests erupted, young population in Delhi looked rebellious who even broke the barricades before the palace of President braving the chilly winter of Delhi, chased the then chief minister of Delhi away, in fact started questioning every mandarin of power, and targeted every “VIP”.

These two significant events brought forth a new kind of mass agitation with which the traditional left parties who are long bonded to the comfort zone of parliamentary politics and wheeling-dealing were no match to provide leadership or provide momentum to the movement. Both these two momentous events in quick succession paved the road for the more confronting section of the civil society movement towards political formation as a logical conclusion. All these issues be it exorbitant and arbitrary power tariffs, scanty or no supply of water and widespread money making by musclemen out of water scarcity enjoying the protection of state, skyrocketing prices of daily vegetables, total insecurity of the millions living in shanties who thronged and barged in the capital in lure of livelihood were compounding and were looking for a political expression.

5.

This being the genesis of AAP its development is always in a cauldron. Its leadership mainly aimed for civil society protest movement but that took the shape of mass movement requiring political response. The party being a direct fallout of mass movement within the ambit of parliamentary democracy and the objective of the party being confined within the arena of parliamentary practices, it was bound to face hurdles with its momentum coming out of street agitations and aspirations of the working people in Delhi who were taking active part in these street agitations.

That AAP’s initiation in governance had spontaneous support of the working people of Delhi was evident from the participation index of Delhi election in December 2013. Voting continued till late evening with a remarkable 72% of electorate casting their votes in a largely peaceful election. The huge assemblage of people in the swearing in of ministers in Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan on 28th December 2013 probably had no parallel in Delhi. People were not ferried in hired transports of tycoons of political parties in the ceremony. They came spontaneously, lustily cheering the announcements from the new chief minister.

The push of popular support made the leaders vulnerable to taking risks those are not accepted within the ramshackle barriers of parliamentary government practices. The whole government went for sit in demonstration (dharna) from 20th January 2014 in the cold winter of Delhi near Rail Bhawan with a frivolous demand of suspension of four police officers who ostensibly did their duty to prevent the law minister of Delhi government from evicting a few African ladies at the dead of night! Beneath such petty demand of settling egos lied the more vociferous aspiration – to have control over police that was equated to the autonomy of state government of Delhi for supervision of law and order that is still under the control of central government. In essence, the government of Delhi was looking for being more armed with power of state and therefore put the central state machinery in tumble in their agitation! As the Republic day was approaching and central government was dithering in the face of stern warning from Army to clear the dharna for rehearsal of Republic day parade, the Delhi government was merrily seating on a charpoi, clearing administrative files, its chief minister famously declaring, “Yes, I am an anarchist”.

Of course, the much vaunted anarchism cheekily melted out as the gathered crowds steadily became thin, the chief minister himself was taking shelter elsewhere to protect from the chill wintry nights on the road, and central government offered a safe passage by offering to send the said police officers on leave from duty for a few days! The government of Delhi buckled under pressure from all corners of parliamentary opposition after being 49 days in power, and the leadership of AAP took resignation as a bail out to jump in full-fledged manner to contest Lok sabha elections in over 400 seats all over the country to stake its claim as a national political party.

6.

This brief description of the racy developments of the phenomenon called AAP is to show the amorphous, heterogeneous character in its composition. The more its leadership vie to prove that it has moved away from its prodigal nature, assure everybody under the sun its obligation to the rule of the game, the more its opposition wielding all the tenets and rulebooks of the game cry hoarse to prove its ‘anarchist’, ’irresponsible’, ’naxal’ nature. The chief ministerial candidate and main protagonist of AAP has now sweared in writing that he will never now abdicate power if elected to be the next chief minister, has gone umpteen times on record accepting his mistake in resigning after 49 days in power. Yet the ghost of his misdeed (!) of violating the rulebook runs after him. After all, the strength of the system appears to be a divine power as the cacophony of mudslinging from all sides reaches its sharpest peak, however one attempts to appease the system, the system does not condone the recalcitrant.

It is an irony that the election cries in Delhi has a Bengal simile in near history in the decline of communist parties. Old timers in Bengal will recall how the good intention of protecting workers’ rights of trade union and living were proclaimed from the rotunda of Writers’ Buildings in 1977, and how the fate of industrial workers’ were sealed in absolute treachery in the next three decades. The very first proclamation the then communist (!) Chief minister made before the workers in Bengal was that the experiment of ‘gherao’ and militancy of the workers in the factories in the past decade of 1960s “went too far”, the historical lesson to be drawn by the workers was that strike is their ultimate weapon in this system! After the fiasco of 49 days in power the AAP leadership try to prove in all harness that they are not the gate crashers to the parliamentary system, they are obedient disciples of the rulebook! Their new pledge before the assembly election to the Delhi electorate even went to proclaim that they will turn Delhi a glamorous ‘world city’, they will create the right ambience to pull in all investments, and not to forget they will put VAT minimum to allure the trading community!

7.

Still the appeal of AAP is intact among the poor, underprivileged, labouring millions of Delhi the majority of whom vouch to vote for AAP on 7th February 2015. They are actively participating in the mohalla meetings that AAP calls as part of their Delhi dialogue, are participating in the election campaign as volunteers, agreeing to put the posters of their Chief ministerial choice behind their carriers. This is noteworthy as AAP is not a cadre based party like the erstwhile left or its obverse in the BJP nor they can flaunt the power of moneybags as vaunted by other contenders in BJP and Congress.

This is significant that even after the huge investment of money, muscle, organisational, administrative power by BJP that has now reached a crescendo, AAP is a major contender of votes from this huge segment of Delhi population (possibly 40% of voters) who live under constant threat of eviction and insecurity. BJP has put its might to a frightening proportion for an assembly election that has strength of meagre 70 and has not being even granted full statehood. It appears this election is a fight to finish battle for them, and they will leave no stone unturned in the trick book to intimidate these teeming millions for whom AAP looks to be the protector of their vital interests. These interests are of having right to livelihood, drinking and usable water, electricity at subsidised rate, security of living, and particularly for women safety to use the roads in Delhi. Because of relentless campaign of AAP all its opposition are now forced to keep the demand of electricity at subsidised rate, drinking water, safety to women, employment opportunities, regularisation of unauthorised colonies in all their promised goodies.

It is to be emphasized that unlike all other elections in states or national elections, there is no such so called “political” issues in Delhi assembly election. Apart from personal innuendos that competing opponents are throwing at each other the issues are mainly of municipal nature, the issues are of living those are very close to the heart of the labouring people of Delhi, they are dear for their existence in Delhi. Many of the 70 point charter of AAP for implementation of their poll manifesto is a detailed graphical exposition of these municipal demands those labouring and hugely underpriviledged class in Delhi could find something to champion, and therefore are willing to face the blitzkrieg of campaign of BJP and its central power for realising them.

8.

These being the essential features of societal response of the workers and working people of Delhi, the question that needs to be confronted is how this election helps in more awakening and for more strident footsteps of the working people of Delhi? The question may also be put in the way that whether at all electoral campaign and electoral process has got any relevance in consolidation towards more awakening? In general, the answer cannot be straight jacketed to binary ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

We may point out that the arena of parliamentary democracy in India has been extended to this extent that voter consolidation can also be done to campaign for NOTA symbol on the voting machine that signifies casting vote for None of Them Above. Many may interpret this option as institutional licence and recognition to anarchy, but to many others this being the opportunity to register protest against absolute hypocritical, banal and exploitative class nature of the state, elections of the representative being only shadow boxing the system. Therefore, consolidation and urging voters for voting on the NOTA symbol does not disown the electoral process, rather this action puts the system into dire questioning by being even part of the process.

In the specific case of current assembly election in Delhi we must point out the largely urbane nature of the electorate who are aware of their circumstances of existence. The issues those are highlighted or are forced to be recognized are essentially very close to urbane working people daily harassed and insecure in their existence under the rule of the grossly insensitive system. Distinction of AAP from traditional parties of so called ‘left’ or ‘right’ varieties lies not in their current unswerving allegiance to the banality of government formation but in their amorphous nature declaring their refusal to follow any current ideological path. Their avowed declaration is to provide solution as the problem arrives and thereby reduce every question that requires a societal response with a class bearing to a municipal level solution or execution.

Definitely this view of the AAP leadership is bound to hit the wall as it confronts the system nurtured assiduously by the vested interests of the big capitalists, but in the specific situation of Delhi it also represents the spontaneity and real nature of the class issues as perceived by the working people of Delhi. It is interesting to observe that at the end of every jansabha the call raised by the AAP leader are ‘Bharatmata ki jay’ and ‘inquilaab zindabad’ in togetherness without ever pondering how a nationalist and an internationalist call can coexist together.

9.

AAP leadership is able to merge together the two calls as they have to concede to nationalist sentiments so as to emerge victorious in the competition being fought bitterly by ultra jingoist BJP who sees in AAP the forces of ‘inquilaab’ that may let loose the so called ‘anarchy’ if at all BJP loses the election. Even after thousand times repentance the AAP leadership is under surveillance of the capitalists, and BJP is shaken whether the confidence of the capitalists they have so much struggled to acquire lest diminish if it emerges defeated in the number of winners.

In this competition to win the confidence of the capitalists lays the crux of the battle between the leadership of AAP and BJP, but at the same time by casting vote towards AAP the workers and working people of Delhi are going to register their hope for a sustainable living. We do not yet know how this hope will materialise towards their struggle to end the rule of capitalists, but at present we know the awakening of teeming millions of Delhi is riveted to this election and they are keen to see whether AAP is winning or not. Advocating for casting for NOTA on the day of election in Delhi delinks this aroused awakening of the working class of Delhi who in this current electoral battle sees the ray of hope towards alleviating their living, and a hope to struggle for their class rights.

Who knows the future of the working class in Delhi lies not in rejecting this leadership of AAP for a more democratic and just way of living whose taste they may get through this election and as the leadership gets exposed in its ruling in the near future.

No Comments »

Leave a comment