Mainstream, VOL LII No 36, August 30, 2014
Analysing Anarchy: Aroma of AAP in Indian Politics
Sunday 31 August 2014, by
This article was written quite sometime ago but could not be used earlier due to unavoidable reasons.
The sensational debut of the AAP in the Delhi Assembly elections and the subsequent developments which forced the party to form the government in the national Capital heralding an era of transforming power from the elite to the common, from the rulers to the ruled, from the oligarchs of democracy to the objects of democracy, has also provided an alternative political space for the aam aadmi (common man). It has, somehow, moderated caste factors in India’s political arena, marginalised the class character of Indian politics, challenged religion as a weapon of political canvass, and bridged the gaps of regional variations in the landscape of politics. The styles and strategies of the Kejriwal Government in the decision-making process have evoked controversy among social scientists, analysts, media personalities as well as the elite and middle class intellectuals. Social scientists are divided on the theorisation of Kejriwal’s politics and administration, especially the ‘street struggle’ or protest of the Kejriwal-led AAP which had three major objectives: full Statehood to Delhi, the Delhi Government’s control over the Delhi Police and suspension of some police personnel. Some of the media and political analysts did not perceive the protest of the Delhi Chief Minister in a simple way and raised some political, constitutional, legal and moral questions. The opinion-making capacity of the electronic media through a very provocative and monolithic way branded him an ‘anarchist’ without realising the theoretical implications of the term which provoked an irate Kejriwal to rebut them by replying: “Yes, I am an anarchist!” (The Times of India, 22.1.2014, pp. 11, Delhi edition)
The concerned article examines the entire political occurrence and reality relating to the AAP Government’s policies, planning and ‘rational’-decision-making process in adminis-tration. An attempt has been made to observe the political strategies and styles of the AAP’s politics to reach the conclusion that the Kejriwal-led AAP Government in Delhi is not anarchist but a true defender of democracy and believes in restoration of democracy and popular participation through direct protest and movement. This is, indeed, the foundation on which the ideal of a people’s democracy by providing a ‘government of the governed’ in the sense of Rousseau’s popular sovereignty and the way of Gandhi’s Swaraj and Satyagraha (although in a moderate sense) can be based.
The previous ‘avatar’ of the AAP was an anti-corruption outfit intended to make India a ‘corruption-free’ country through a strong ‘Jan Lokpal’ Act which attracted common people from every section of the society. Consequently, a civil society member, Anna Hazare, took part in the drafting of an anti-corruption Lokpal Bill. This development offered the civil society a chance to play a greater role in the law-making process which was assigned earlier to the legislature only. In a simpler way the civil society can be defined as a non-political and non-state entity which acts as a voluntary organisation in public life and confines itself ‘in the space between the family on the one hand and the state on the other’. (Varshney, 2011) The political apathy of mainstream political parties to formulate and implement a strong Lokpal Act prompted the civil society members to translate the movement into organised politics within the mould of the party system which has ‘catapulted the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) from a non-existent political entity to a major contender for power in the State of Delhi and bolstered its possibilities in the Lok Sabha election’ (Bhattacharjee, 2013) this year. The appearance of the AAP has changed the entire dynamics of party politics and electoral management. It has provided every chance to the common people to choose their candidates through mahalla sabha and other such bodies. The manifesto of the AAP was solely based on transparency, accountability and good gover-nance which have disdained the value of caste, class and religion. The political eventuality of the AAP attracts more youth and non-traditional voters who did not show their interest in the earlier elections; this has helped in smashing the elitist politics of ‘money’, ‘muscle’, ‘dynasty’ and ‘liquor’.
The policy-making process of the AAP Govern-ment is generating the impression that it believes in participatory democracy in a substantial and pragmatic manner. The democratic ideas of Kejriwal are based on a delicate blend of innovative ideas of some theorists and a few democratic practices in states such as Switzerland. Kejriwal has been influenced by Rousseau’s General Will, Marx’s dictatorship of the proletariat, Gandhi’s Swaraj and Ahimsa, and Trotsky’s permanent revolution. For Gandhi, Swaraj is the real means of participatory demo-cracy where every individual must be in a position to rule himself/ herself politically and economically and participate in the functioning of the political system. He rightly argued that ‘true democracy cannot be worked out by twenty men sitting at the Centre. It has to be worked out from below by the people of every village’. (Quoted in Pantham, 1986: 334) Hence, he said ‘swaraj of my dream is the poor man’s swaraj’ and it comes after ahimsa which is a means to abstain from violence.
Direct democracy was first practised in the Athenian city-state of ancient Greece during the 5th and 4th century BC for popular participation in civic life. In the contemporary world, mainly two countries have provisions of direct system of democracy: the Swiss system of ‘direct democracy’ via referendum and signature campaigns, and state and local level votes on “proposition” in US politics. Kejriwal’s plan to “ask the people of Delhi” whether the AAP should form the government has practised these two countries’ direct form of democracy. The distribution of party tickets to aspiring candi-dates through popular consent reminds us of the practice of “primary” in US elections. The two major Bills—Jan Lokpal and Swaraj Bills—are the collective effort of the Kejriwal Government to transfer power to the people in both direct as well as indirect ways by helping people to take part in governance, that is, in enacting, implementing and adjudicating laws by which they could achieve freedom. For Rousseau, ‘individuals are free only when they participate directly, actively and continuously in shaping the life of the community especially in the making of laws’. Kejriwal had written a handy book on ‘Swaraj: Power to the People’ in 2012 which has many suggestions for trans-parent governance and participatory model of democracy. The book also strongly argues for the Swiss model of direct democracy in India’s best interest. But Kejriwal intends to achieve his model of governance and democracy by Gandhi’s methods of Ahimsa and Satyagraha. In short, he wants to follow the principles of development administration through social welfare schemes and policies for greater participation of the common people.
Kejriwal’s strategy of achieving Swaraj is a method of continuous Satyagraha which has made him a proprietor of permanent revolution. Gandhi’s Satyagraha implies ‘relentless search for truth and a determination to reach the truth’. It was also a technique of resisting all that is evil, unjust, impure and untrue. On the other hand, Marx asserted on the need of making the revolution permanent until at least the decisive productive forces are concentrated in the hands of the proletarians. (Marx, 1950: 102) Leon Trotsky followed Marx’s notion of Comm-unist revolution in many countries and urged that the Soviet Union should encourage and help the outbreak of Communist revolutions in the developed countries of Europe. He also expressed fear that the Communist revolution in Russia could not be safe if there were no similar revolutions in other countries. Stalin fiercely attacked Trotsky on the concept of ‘permanent revolution’. The basic idea of Trotsky’s theory is that ‘the future revolution must be led by the proletariats who would not only carry through the tasks of the Bourgeois Democratic Revolution but would commence a struggle to surpass the bourgeois democratic revolution’. (Trotsky, 1931) Trotsky’s theory was developed in opposition to the Social Democratic theory that underdeveloped countries must pass through two distinct revolutions. First, ‘the Bourgeois Democratic Revolution, which socialists would assist, and at a later stage, the Socialist Revolution with an evolutionary period of capitalist development separating those stages’. (Ibid.) This is often referred to as the Theory of Stages, the Two Stage Theory or Stagism.
Kejriwal’s call for Swaraj is nothing less than a revolution—a permanent revolution—for a clarion call to bring changes in the status quo which is based on corruption, favouritism, nepo-tism and red-tapism. Like Trostsky, Kejriwal thinks incremental changes are as bad as the status quo. He has instrumentalised his govern-ment for continual changes in the established institutions of electoral democracy; correctly understood that India’s organised politics is full of ‘scoundrels’, who are slowing the system for achieving their vested interests. Hence, a Swiss-style referendum will be the best solution for expediting development administration for the advancement of the aam aadmi. Trotsky wanted working classes everywhere to lead global Communist revolutions. Gandhi visualised that the rural poor (daridra narayan through
village panchayats) should lead the nation and Marx was very keen for dominance of the proletariat. In the same vein, Kejriwal entrusts the ‘aam aadmi’ for leading or ruling the nation.
Anarchist or Political Reformer?
The President of India sounded the same bugle in his speech on the eve of the Republic Day 2014 that India should be cautious against and aware of ‘anarchy taking over constitutionalism’. (Gupta, 2014: 10)
At this point, it would be pertinent to pause and discuss the nature and structure of anarchy. Diverse theories ranging from the positive pluralist endorsement of liberal democracy to the Marxist and neo-Marxist reflect on the various forms of class domination which is reinforced through the different branches of the state. In view of the need for relations of power, authority and systems of administration which constitute essential parts of human conditions the above mentioned theories assume the significance of some degree of organised political activity. But not all theorists agree that formally organised political structures and systems of political power are necessary and inevitable. Some theorists, who seek ‘to challenge the assum-ption that structured relations of authority and power are necessary’, are branded as anarchists. (Knuttila and Kubik, 2000: 133) The word anarchy is derived from the Greek “anarchia”, meaning “without ruler”. The origin of the term can be traced back to the French Revolution of 1789. It was P.J. Proudhon, a French theorist, who was the first to call himself “an anarchist” and led the foundation of the modern theory of anarchy in his book What is Property? (1840). Proudhon is one of the best known anarchists because ‘of his long and sometimes bitter conflicts with Karl Marx’. (Ibid.: 134)
The anarchist is opposed ‘to every existing system of government not only because it exercises compulsion upon the individual without his consent and is therefore an enemy to liberty and genuine self government, but also because all governments without exception have proved themselves inefficient; they are arbitrary and tyrannical and therefore hateful; they are conducted in the interests of the privileged classes; the alleged equality of treatment which they profess to mete out to all has no real existence’. (Garner, 1951: 448) Anarchists are hostile to the ‘coercive state’ authority in an organised political system and advocate its abolition for maximisation of individual rights. The basic problem is the very notion of humans governing humans based on human systems of laws, because Proudhon argues that “the government of man by man is slavery”. (Proudhon, 1960: 47)
Michael A. Bakunin sees political power as a negative factor in human affairs. The ruling class is completely different and separate from the mass of the governed. Further, he says: “Here, as everywhere, no matter how egalitarian our political constitution may be, it is the bourgeoisie who rule, and it is the people—workers and peasants—who obey their laws.” (Bakunin, 1977: 109) To establish a social, economic and political order that would facilitate the fullest development of human potentials, all the various laws that have been enacted by humans over the years will have to disappear.
Peter Kropotkin argues that there are three basic categories of laws: “the millions of laws which exist for the regulation of humanity appear upon investigation to be divided into three principal categories: protection of property, protection of persons, protection of government”. (Kropotkin, 1977: 111) The anarchists also oppose organised religious authority and they too ‘have little faith in existing institutions—be it the family, the corporation or the state’. (Mahajan, 2014)
Gandhi and Mandela were also once called anarchists. People have forgotten it because times have changed and there are no more struggles against colonialism, dictatorship or apartheid. Nevertheless, the contemporary critics have also branded Kejriwal with the same tag. Today, democracies are troubled because their leaders wear earplugs and citizens shout in vain. When streets erupt in a rebellious mood since institutions are not delivering as they had promised, it is never a good idea to barricade popular voices by institutional walls. (Gupta, 2014: 10)
If struggling to achieve the goal of populist democracy is anarchism then how would we assess Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began?. In Comparative Government and Politics, we have also read about French President Francois Mitterrand. In 1983, he gave a hero’s welcome in the Elysee Palace, no less, to anti-racist protestors who were angry with his own government. In fact, in 1980, as leader of the Socialist Party, he joined a widely popularised street march against attacks on the Jewish people, along with Pierre Chevenement and Michel Rocard; Bertrand Russell also protested against the nuclear bomb. Can we label all these activisms as anarchist?
Here the Thailand issue can also be a reference point where Thais demand to oust the present government in Bangkok but ‘the leader refuses to budge till her corrupt brother is reinstated with full honours’. (Ibid.) The case of Kiev, Ukraine can also be examined where the democratic Opposition leader, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, protested against the government’s anti-protest laws.
In Indian political history, many Chief Ministers openly protested against the Central Government for their federal rights. More recently, in 2012, the Bihar Chief Minister, and in 2013, the Odisha Chief Minister organised protest meetings in Ram Lila Ground for special category status for their respective States. If Kejriwal joins the protestors in a bitter cold night for a common cause sacrificing his comforts and not for any vested interest, why question it? When there is nothing in the Indian Constitution to prevent the democratic right of people to protest, in this case, to make democracy more substantive, it does not stand to reason to raise trivial issues such as ‘anarchism’ to discredit such endeavours.
It may be rational to admit that all actions and decisions of the AAP cannot be defended and one can also debate over the matter that the AAP is not truly and adequately representing the Gandhian principles. “But that hardly makes them anarchists. The methods the party has chosen may be unusual, but common wisdom and traditional modes of action hardly find favour with the liberal disposition.” (Mahajan, 2014)
The party opposed all forms of institutions which are not delivering the just service to the people in a just legal framework. The AAP Government in Delhi intended to change the structure of power in organised politics. Kejriwal’s party expressed its specific desire to change the means and methods that the democratic institutions—state and government—adopt in their functions being disillusioned with these institutionalised forms. Moreover, they were trying to bring some political reforms in the established political systems while installing a new system in place of the older one.
It would be wrong to presume that he rejects an established order in every anarchic sense and also favours abolition of state authority for self-rule and self-mastery. He made several political reforms as part of organised politics, that is, brought an end to the VIP culture of red or blue beacons on official cars and so on (for more information, see The Hindu, February 15, 2014, pp. 4, Delhi edition) in a very short span of time, that is, from December 28, 2013 to February 14, 2014.
Finally, the AAP is a democratic political outfit for just politics and for a just political order which is committed to bring reforms through continuous political revolution and that would be only possible, as this party perceived, when the issue of effective governance and administration would occupy a prominent position in political expression.
(The writer began a discussion while teaching ‘political system theory’ in the Comparative Politics class of Miranda House on ‘Is Kejriwal an anarchist?’ in a packed class room of BA Honours, IInd year students on a very chilly, hazy and foggy Saturday of February 2014. The entire class room was divided into two major groups: one favouring and the other opposing the term ‘anarchist’ which led to a fierce debate among them although a few of them remained silent. A small group of students took the stiff stand that “he is an anarchist” and the majority of the students present there opposed the motion and took a stand that “he is a true democrat”. The cordial exchange of arguments and counter-arguments soon turned into verbal abuse and heated exchange of words among them that forced the writer to intervene and stop the discussion. The cold weather abruptly turned into a very warm and hot one. I understood the political zeal of these young political scientists in the making. Finally, both the groups provoked me to respond to them on the subject. Such dialectics with my students provided me the necessary spark to write this piece on the contemporary political reality in Indian politics—K.R.)
Varshney, Ashutosh (2011): ‘State of Civil Society’, The Indian Express, June 14, Delhi edition.
Bhattacharjee, Manash (2013): ‘Aam Aadmi Party: Government of the Governed?’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.—XLVIII, No. 52, December 28.
Pantham, Thomas (1986): ‘Beyond Liberal Democracy: Thinking with Mahatma Gandhi’ in Thomas Pantham and Kenneth Deutsch (ed.), Political Thought in Modern India (New Delhi: Sage).
Marx, Karl and Fredrick Engels (1950): Selected Works, Vol. 1 (Moscow: Progress Publishers).
Trotsky, Leon (1931): The Permanent Revolution: Results and Prospects (re-translated by John G. Wright) (Moscow: Progress Publishers/Militant Publishing Association).
Gupta, Dipankar (2014): ‘Anarchist or activist?’, The Hindu, January 29, pp, 10, Delhi edition.
Knuttila, Murray and Wendee Kubik (2000): State Theories: Classical, Global and Feminist Perspectives (Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing, Zed Books).
Garner, J.W. (1951): Political Science and Government, first edition (Calcutta: World Press).
Proudhon, P.J. (1960): Anarchism (London: Freedom).
Bakunin, M. (1977): ‘Church and State’, ‘The Illusion of Universal Franchise’, ‘Perils of the Marxist State’, ‘What is Authority’ in George Woodcock (ed.), The Anarchist Reader (Sussex: Harvester Press).
Kropotkin, Peter (1977): ‘The Uselessness of Laws’ in George Woodcock (ed.), The Anarchist Reader (Sussex: Harvester Press).
Mahajan, Gurpreet (2014): ‘Dissent in Democracy’, The Indian Express, January 23, Delhi edition.
Aam Aadmi Party: Hamara Sapna Rajnitik Kranti, a broacher published by the Aam Aadmi Party, A-119, Kousambi, Gaziabad, UP, Pin code-201010).
The author teaches Political Science in Miranda House, University of Delhi. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org