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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 32 New Delhi July 30, 2016

Historic Departures

Tuesday 2 August 2016

by Vinita Chandra

Swaraj Abhiyan arose out of a historic split in the AAP, a party which itself was the product of a ‘split’ in opinions among the leaders of the India Against Corruption movement. Answers to the following two questions may bring insights for understanding the nature of Indian politics—What do these two splits signify? And what makes these two splits historic?

The first split was effected due to a divergence of opinions between Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal. While Anna wished the IAC to remain ‘politically unaligned’, Kejriwal believed that direct involvement in politics was necessary as nothing could be achieved by way of agitation and talks regarding the Jan Lokpal Bill. In the wake of irreconcilable difference of opinion regarding their role in politics, Anna and Arvind parted ways. Arvind declared the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party on November 26, 2012, the day on which party’s Constitution was adopted in Delhi. India Against Corruption fizzled out with this, Anna having declared the formation of Jantantra Morcha. Big questions loomed large on the horizon of Indian politics; fading away, however, with what seemed as the dawn of new hopes in the form of AAP. The questions remained ignored, although they have retained their significance. Making inroads into the Legislature was considered the only remaining option, after the movement by way of agitation on the roads seemed to fail. However, the trajectory of AAP while making way from ‘Road to Legislature’ signifies a metamorphosis of AAP itself.

It was during this metamorphosis that the second split was effected. This metamorphosis also brings one back to Anna’s inhibitions in acceding for a political turn, that is, it would be difficult for activists to contest in elections which require huge expenditure without com-promising on their values. Two questions need answers here. One, should it mean that the capacity of movements to effectively intervene in politics in India has been exhausted by now? Two, does it imply that the nature of politics in contemporary India is such that it cannot be carried out without being corrupt? We will come back to these questions later.

The reasons for the second split, that is, the split between the leaders of AAP, may be traced to tensions between notions of ‘pragmatic politics’ and ‘alternative politics’, welfarism and complete overhaul of the political system, a ‘short-cut strategy’ and a ‘long-term approach’. It were these shifts to the former from the latter which prepared the base for the split. Short-term political gains could only be made through pragmatic politics. This also accounted for sidelining of the previous members of AAP who were still grounded in idealism and wished to pursue alternative politics, while making way for new entrants into AAP. The former included those like Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav and Anand Kumar, and the latter included those like Ashutosh and Ashish Khetan. Pragmatic politics (the phrase used by Ashutosh) may not only demand compromises, but also seek to justify them on grounds of pragmatism.

AAP succumbed to the inherent pressures of pragmatic politics aimed at making political gains in a short time, and in the Delhi elections of 2015, parachute dropping of candidates was rampant. These included candidates who had questionable political backgrounds. In a bid to protect itself from charges of internal corruption, AAP did away with its own Lokpal along with the idealists. Pragmatic politics also demanded taking up newer issues for election like distributing freebies (water and electricity) at the cost of substantial issues like corruption, and in due course work for electoral, judicial, educational and economic reforms. The reports of 27 committees formed to research on these and other issues were quickly thrown into the cold storage.

Also, an important role was played by the tensions existing on the Indian socio-political scene since colonial times like that of the ideological divide between the Left and Right, defined in terms of binaryism instead of an ideological spectrum. Although the AAP professed to be neither Left nor Right, gradually Arvind seemed to wish to part with the Left, which echoed in his conversations as well as actions.

Being an ‘insider to AAP’, I know by way of personal interactions with Arvind that he was caught in another dilemma. This was regarding the role of ‘work on ground’, and ‘theoretical work’ in politics. Arvind seemed convinced that those who work for him on ground (I believe people in AAP started believing that it is only sadak which forms the ground), who are his ‘real workers’. In this illusion, he very easily wished away those who defined ‘ground’ alternatively, or provided the ideological ground to AAP. He seemed to forget that both the brains and hands are important organs of the body. Similarly in the making of a building, the role of architects is no less significant than those who actually build it. Arvind seemed to be swayed away by the conviction that he no more needed intellectuals in the party. He only needed ‘ground workers’ and contractors like those of Sanjay Singh. This resulted in doing away with the brains of the party—those who were behind the drafting of the Constitution and Vision Document of the party, those who provided AAP with a design that could have made it a vehicle suitable for carrying out alternative politics in India.

The mindless and heartless departure of AAP from the path of alternative politics grounded in idealism and values, was perhaps the precondition for its entry into mainstream politics. This was the cost Arvind was ready to pay. Or perhaps it seemed no cost to Arvind at all. The body of AAP, however, was devoid of the functional brain and heart, and leftover for predators and parasites to thrive on it. Even though AAP may seem to be thriving, I could see the shadow of decay on its face.

The nation, however, had a much bigger cost to pay. The faith of millions in politics was shaken, and many hearts were broken. The indiscriminate throwing away of some of the founder-members from AAP, meant a final departure from politics for multitudes of people who had dared to enter politics with hopes for a ‘new politics’ where they could find a place. This also meant a very unhappy divorce from a marriage marked by complementarity. AAP united was a force to reckon with on the Indian political scene. AAP divided lost its halo, becoming just one of the many parties in India, instead of being a political party ‘with a difference’. Arvind’s hasty departures both the times, from the Anna Movement, and then from the path of alternative politics; swept many off the ground.

Restoring the Ground: Swaraj Abhiyan

The leftovers gathered up, taking up issues that were abandoned by AAP...

While AAP hastily dropped the word ‘Swaraj’ from its website, the very term became the founding ideal of the Swaraj Abhiyan. Dropping of the ideal of Swaraj by AAP signified the ‘arajakta’ that had deeply penetrated AAP. However, taking up of the ideal of Swaraj by Swaraj Abhiyan not only symbolises the persistent zeal of those who survived the aftermath; but also symbolises the persistent appeal of the ideal of Swaraj.

Swaraj Abhiyan, since its inception, has shown commitment to fulfil the agenda left incomplete by AAP. Accordingly, the issues taken up by Swaraj Abhiyan include—the question of ‘the Indian farmer’, the question of the youth of India rendered directionless because of a corrupt education system, the question of extremism in India. These have culminated in the ‘Jai Kisan Andolan’, the movement for ‘Shiksha Swaraj’, and the formation of the ‘Umbrella of Peace’—Aman Chain ki Chhatri.

Having suffered abandonment themselves, the leaders of Swaraj Abhiyan spent no time in espousing the cause of the Indian farmer, who seemed to be abandoned by all the others. The movement for Shiksha Swaraj is premised on the idea that while education in India needs to be based on the ideal of Swaraj, Swaraj itself cannot be achieved without the expansion of education in India. While the ‘Umbrella of Peace’ is an inter-organisational initiative, Swaraj Abhiyan has its own definition of Aman, which is an important means of realisation of Swaraj.

Taking sure and steady strides, the Swaraj Abhiyan has raised hopes for the path of alternative politics in India.

Dr Vinita Chandra is an Assistant Professor and Assistant Director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Faculty of Social Sciences, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi.