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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 9, February 21, 2015

AAP Politics: Paradigm Change in Indian Politics

Monday 23 February 2015

by Saumitra Mohan

With the mainstream national political parties losing to a greenhorn Aam Admi Party (AAP), a political coup d’état has been witnessed in the just-concluded Delhi Assembly elections. The AAP has actually overshot its own expectations by bagging as many as 67 seats in a 70-member Legislative Assembly. Many established, mainstream political parties were decimated in the process. It was a fictional David versus Goliath battle where the former always wins the day owing to the latter’s arrogance. The truth, however, remains that a few months back few political pundits were willing to believe that the AAP would ever win even a respectable number of seats after Arvind Kejriwal resigned as Delhi’s Chief Minister last year, not to speak of being in a position to form the government for the second time in a row.

The observers felt that the AAP should have consolidated on its gains before quitting prematurely or before plunging in parliamentary politics all over the country without also consolidating its organisational base. While everyone was pouring ridicule on the AAP for its suicidal surrender of an opportunity to further strengthen itself, everyone simulta-neously appreciated the path-breaking politics that the AAP brought in. However, many of our mainstream parties were still missing the wood for the tree. They refused to see the writing on the wall when the AAP won 28 seats during the last Assembly elections in Delhi and they continued doing so thereafter. While everyone had his calculations, the AAP had its own. Learning from its mistakes, it slowly but steadily picked up the threads to do a gruelling groundwork to achieve the jaw-dropping feat while others allegedly took the voters for granted.

The Indian political landscape has been gradually changing with a conscious and much mature Indian voter refusing to eat out of condescending political palms. The voter has always responded to the needs of the time and returned a government which it found most suitable to represent its interests. The time of the one-party dominant system (also called the Congress system by the ilks of Rajni Kothari and Atul Kohli) was long replaced by the multi-party coalition politics in the late eighties, reflecting the plural character of the Indian society. This system continued for quite some time till the voter got really disgusted. The coalition governments were often found deficient in delivering on the various developmental goals tied as they were to the coat-tails of ‘Coalition Dharma’, to use the phrase of the former Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. Hence, the renewed trust of the voters was reposed in the single-party system in the search for good governance.

The thumping victory handed to the AAP by the Delhi voters irrespective of caste, language, region and religion gives a lot of hope for the future of our ‘democracy’ as the latter has been found to be on discount in recent times. While we have had a democratically elected government at all levels, the ‘demos’ and its interests were often divorced and sacrificed at the altar of political constraints which was nothing but a euphemism for selfish marriage of political conveniences. A democratic India was actually undemocratic at all the levels beyond its governments at the Centre, States or local bodies because once elected, most of the parties or formations in power would allegedly not care two hoots for the interests of the people. Most of the elected representatives have been alleged to treat the voters with utter contempt. The lip-service paid to the people’s welfare seldom got translated into actual public service. And where it has been, the voters have also returned them back to power.

The common voters have rightly been fed up with the populist politics to cater to a particular vote-bank thereby throwing the larger interests to the winds. The politics of divide and rule no longer finds favour with the new-age electorate or neo-Indians. The neo-Indians are thoroughly fed up with the cantankerous divisive and disruptive politics of the day. The voter has been equally pissed with the monarchical, dynastical and feudal manner in which some political parties have been running their business. In fact, it has been one of the biggest criticisms of post-independence Indian party system that it has never been in sync with the political system of the country. While our political system is democratic, most of the political parties running the democratically-elected governments have been allegedly undemocratic with no system of regular intra-party elections to the various party positions. The democratic deficit has been more pronounced among our political parties running democratic governments all over the country.

The various party positions in most parties are allegedly filled by the so-called ‘High Command’ through a decision-making mechanism which has always been opaque. And more often than not, these positions have allegedly gone to the kins or trusted courtiers, who have evinced the ability other than those required for running a system of governance. In fact, a criminal record, a penchant for vandalism and such other negative qualities are often considered the desideratum before you could even think of entering Indian politics. And this was why, the common man was slowly moving away from participatory politics, not to speak of a saner person deciding to contest or ever making it to the portals of power on his own given the massive play of money and muscle-power.

Even though the monarchy ended long back, the same made a backdoor entry through democratic politics where some families and dynasties evolved their ‘democratic fiefdoms’. Just because they happened to be close to the dominant political family, things were easier for the scions of these families. The common man never knew how to make it to the rarefied precincts of politics even if one wanted to do so. The common man lives with an impression that either you have to be in the ‘good books’ of the entrenched feudal lords or you should be having really deep pocket before deserving a political party ticket for contesting an election. Of all the electoral reforms effected by the Election Commission of India or by the subsequent Supreme Court judgments, the reforms in the Indian party system have been long overdue.

Be it the parties or the candidates, the mainstream dramatis personae have often forgotten the voters once they have won the elections, with the voters left high and dry. Once elected, these leaders allegedly do a ‘Houdini’, being nowhere in sight. The voters keep running from pillar to post to get even their rightful work done and feel crestfallen when confronted with the irksome bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo.

It is here that the AAP appeared to make a refreshing difference. They were seen to be visibly working among the people. Most of the AAP workers are young, educated voters who would not lure or threaten voters into voting, but would try to convince them through workable solutions to their problems. The AAP was seen to be speaking the lingo of the common man and its 49-day political sojourn in its first avatar gave a glimpse of the shape of things to come. Hence, the massive landslide victory for it. Having said that, the electoral victory was the easier part of the political game; the AAP’s real test will start when its takes the reins of power to deliver on a slew of seemingly ‘impossible’ poll promises it made in the run-up to the elections. It remains to be seen how the AAP delivers on the huge popular expectations. Whether it slowly adopts the modus operandi of the mainstream parties or really maintains its connection with the common people by remaining grounded and rooted in people’s welfare also remains to be seen. Its success or failure will really decide the fate of the AAP brand of politics in this country.

What happens in future, only time will tell. But one thing can be said very safely that the AAP represents a major paradigm change in Indian politics, giving the classical Indian politician a run for his money. The mainstream political parties, almost all of them, need to do serious soul-searching to reinvent themselves to retain the political space they have occupied all along; otherwise it won’t be long before they or their politics becomes obsolete. ‘Shape up or ship out’ is the message on the wall which they can ignore only at their peril. Whatever be the case, that voter is the ultimate sovereign, has been vindicated once again. You can no longer take the proverbial common man for granted.

Dr Saumitra Mohan, IAS, is the District Magistrate and Collector of Burdwan (West Bengal). He can be contacted at e-mail: saumitramohan@gmail.com The views expressed in the article are his personal and not those of the government.