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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 12, March 14, 2015

Did People Opt for a High-Command Party? History Won’t Wait for Kejriwal. Nor Voters

Saturday 14 March 2015, by T J S George


There are two reasons why the split in the Aam Aadmi Party should not worry the general public too much. One is that this is, after all, politics Indian desi-style; for all the hopes it raised, the AAP is “maturing“ into the usual pattern of political parties—splitting as they grow and growing as they split. Secondly, the AAP’s electoral triumph was an expression of the people’s desire for change. That desire will continue and, if the AAP falters, the people will turn to others until the system stops criminals from becoming “elected representatives of the people”.

The AAP looked like a route to that destination. Hence the enthusiasm it generated across the country. That enthusiasm is bound to dim as a result of the leadership breaking up so early in the game. The bone of contention appears to be Arvind Kejriwal’s rise as a kind of Sonia Gandhi of the AAP, his word being final in all matters. He was indeed the party’s face during the campaign and his persona, complete with muffler and cough, won a lot of votes. If that is interpreted as reason enough for his turning into a one-man high command, then what is the difference between the AAP and Congress, or indeed between the AAP and BJP where, too, one man’s writ runs at present?

The elimination from the core team of two of the party’s founders will strengthen Kejriwal inside the party, but weaken him outside. Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav were not populist vote-catchers, but they were good thinkers and good articulators who contributed significantly to the credibility and substance of the AAP. That the votes were eight in their support and 11 against showed that Kejriwal’s was a pyrrhic victory. Large segments of the young volunteers who made the AAP phenomenon possible were dismayed. Ironically, it was left to Yadav to tell them not to lose heart. He announced that he himself would stay within the confines of the party, carrying out whatever assignments were given to him—words and actions of a leader who attracts respect.

If his nature-cure days give him time to reflect, perhaps Kejriwal should reflect on the story of the Green Party. In many parts of the world many NGOs came up with environmental protection as their principal programme. In the 1980s some of them formed political parties. Almost all of them took false steps initially. “Adjusting the mindset from protest groups to mainstream political parties” was the main problem. There was also the problem of “low levels of tolerance between activists who disagreed”.

Eventually the problems were sorted out because all agreed that political action had its own logic which had to be accepted. Accordingly, they went for an organisational overhaul. The idea of a single national party was abandoned in favour of the regional route. Today the Green Party of Australia is a confederation of separately registered State parties. The Green Party (UK) was disbanded in 1990 in favour of the Green Party of England and Wales, the Scottish Green Party and the the Green Party of Northern Ireland. They also set up a Disputes Resolution Committee to resolve internal differences. All this worked because there were no serious infighting by leaders for dominance. Some founding leaders voluntarily made way for people more effective in political campaigning. In 2013 as many as 11 Green members got elected to the Australian Parliament. The first Green MP was elected in England in 2010. With a new election due in May this year, there is already a “Green surge“ in Britain with membership of the Green parties rising to 55,000, well above that of the Liberal-Democratic Party, currently a partner in government.

This is a big change in a country accustomed for long to a traditional two-party system. Change of the kind the AAP is supposed to usher in will happen only when people of differing views stick together for a cause that is bigger than them and their views. The confederation idea, inevitable in a country of India’s size, was implied in the suggestion by the leader of the Kudankulam anti-nuclear agitation that in the deep South the Aam Aadmi Party should not even bear that name, but be called Sadharana Makkal Katchi, the ordinary people’s party. Some approved AAP leaders such as the freewheeling Kumar Biswas may not even understand such a proposal. Where understanding and adjustments are essential for moving ahead, who will lead, who will deliver? History knocks, and having knocked, moves on.