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Mainstream, VOL L, No 51, December 8, 2012

Whither the Quest for an Alternative Political Party (APP)?

Wednesday 12 December 2012, by Bharat Dogra


Contrary to the criticism voiced at several levels about the decision of Arvind Kejriwal and his colleagues to form a political party (AAP—the Aam Aadmi Party), there is nothing inherently wrong in social activists and movements opting for electoral politics. Indeed, the need for some kind of alternative politics has become more pressing over the years. The high level of corruption, at the Centre or in various States, is only one reason for this. The absence of a policy framework that can give genuine hope of removing poverty, hunger and other basic problems is another, perhaps the most important reason. The inability of the existing political leadership to become a source of inspiration for the people, motivating them for greater achievements, is yet another serious weakness of the existing political system.

There is thus a real need for a ‘political alternative’ in India. By ‘political alternative’ we mean a political party that differs from the existing political parties in some significant ways. This alternative political party (APP) must be completely transparent in all its financial transactions, receipts as well as expenditures. Each and every paisa should be accounted for and all accounts should be open for inspection and taking copies under RTI, regardless of whether the law stipulates this or not. Acceptance of any unrecorded money (for which receipt is not issued) should be treated as corruption requiring strict action within the APP.

Secondly, any APP should be able to present an alternative policy framework which gives genuine hope of tackling basic problems like inequalities, poverty, ecological ruin and corruption and is widely seen to be free from the stranglehold of vested interests. Also, the conduct of any APP should be based on strict adherence to principles and policies instead of being influenced by narrow considerations of electoral or financial gain. Any APP should be fully committed to the equality of all human beings, and absolutely free from any religious, communal or other narrow sectarian bias or prejudice. Last but not the least, any APP should show sincere commitment to democracy (in the larger sense which includes justice and equal opportunities for all) and democratic norms.

WHILE the APP by itself is a very good idea, the prospects of the AAP evolving towards a genuinely democratic, secular, equality and justice-based APP are not so good. Here we need an evaluation of both the strengths and weaknesses of the AAP.
Recently, the AAP’s leading members made several exposés about the corruption of senior politicians and business houses which became headline news. On the whole they should be praised for these efforts manifesting their courage as well as ability to check some serious corrupt practices. While the overall move was praiseworthy and had a positive impact, some negative aspects should also be mentioned. For example, to come out on the streets with posters calling the Prime Minister a ‘coal thief’ (koyla chor) was clearly not justified on the basis of the existing evidence. Similarly, demanding Salman Khurshid’s immediate arrest was not justified on the basis of the evidence put forward regar-ding the allegations of corruption. There is ano-ther risk in such selective exposés: that politi-cians and businessmen will leak and feed only that information about others that is beneficial for them.

There are also some lingering doubts about the secular, non-sectarian credentials of the AAP. One can’t forget that earlier Arvind Kejriwal had publicly spoken in favour of a joint leadership of the movement by Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev.
Baba Ramdev is a man of many talents—yoga, oratory, charisma, sharp political acumen and business sense. But his overwhelming ambitions came in the path of personal integrity and have made him a rank opportunist. To get big in a short time, he adopted many dubious tactics and practices. Closer to the point here is the fact that he can be dangerously close to communal forces, may even completely join hands with them. So associating with Baba Ramdev is full of pitfalls and some senior members of Team Anna now seem to belatedly realise this.

Also one cannot forget that at the time of last year’s great Anna show at the Ramlila Maidan, rabidly communal organisations took charge of several responsibilities like cooking and distri-bution of food without any effective objection being voiced by senior members of Team Anna including the present-day top leaders of the AAP. So while these senior leaders are not communal, it is quite clear that they have not accorded adequate importance to distancing themselves from the communal forces. This doesn’t seem to be a priority for them even though the history of South Asia during the last century reveals that in this part of the world communalism has been one of the biggest causes of human distress and any APP to be credible should be completely free of this virus.

The AAP evolved from a movement which was focused entirely on fighting corruption. Its focus was thus relatively narrow. It is one thing to expose some politicians and businessmen, quite another to formulate alternative policies on a complexity of issues and even more difficult to reach a consensus on them.
The AAP’s ability to come up with an adequate and convincing policy framework is also suspect as the team was not very convincing even in the much narrow responsibility of pre-paring anti-corruption laws which could have wider acceptability. Several eminent persons involved in anti-corruption efforts for long raised serious objections to the Jan Lokpal draft prepared by the AAP’s top leaders.
On August 3 at the time of ending their fast, senior members of the team mentioned the agenda of four specific issues of topmost priority for them. These were—the Jan Lokpal Bill, right to recall, right to reject, and a law to provide a bigger role for the gram sabhas. While the utility (and compatibility with a functioning democracy) of the first three are doubtful at best (the reference here is to the original Jan Lokpal draft), the last mentioned issue has to be integrated with a much broader process of decentralisation as well as reduction of rural inequalities.
So despite the presence of some highly talented members, the AAP at present does not appear to be in a position to provide a credible APP.

However, it should be emphasised that there is certainly room for more than one APP and if other efforts are made for a broad-based, Left- of-Centre, truly secular APP, these would be welcome.

The author is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.

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