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A Message to the Aam Aadmi Party

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The Aam Aadmi Party’s victory lends credence to the belief that idealism can triumph over established political parties like the Congress and the BJP and shows that violent and unscrupulous means are not the only way to gain electoral success. 

V Krishna Ananth (krishnananth@gmail.com) is at the Department of History, Sikkim University. 

It is indeed heartening to see a group of idealists, most of them new to the party-based system, making a huge impact in their first ever attempt in electoral politics. It is true that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) could not win an absolute majority in Delhi and in that sense the party is not in the same league as the Telugu Desam Party or the Asom Gana Parishad. These two parties wrested power from Congress (I) in Andhra Pradesh and Assam in the 1980s in the first ever elections they contested. But neither of the parties was powered by idealism and hence it would be unfair to compare them to AAP’s electoral win.

The AAP’s performance is commendable for another reason. This bunch of idealists was up against not just the established political parties. From the very beginning they were against a system that was loaded against any such idealist experiments.  When they asked for donations it was clarified that details of all donors will be put on the public domain. To be fair, this is not done by any other political party. AAP’s move to be transparent about their donations comes at a time when the established parties ganged up to legislate against a ruling by the Central Information Commission that parties and their affairs ought to be treated as public information, thanks to the Right to Information Act.

And in doing this, the AAP put idealism above what many would call pragmatism. It is a fact that many of those who look for a chance to fund parties, in anticipation of favours when they come to power, shied away from donating to the AAP. The fact is that such donors detest idealism and they were comfortable contributing to the established political parties. As for instance, those who made money through contracts in the Commonwealth Games G works or those who garnered contracts for such other works could not have given money to the AAP; and in the event, one of our TV channels would not have missed an opportunity to preserve the status quo!

This brings me to the role of the media - television channels in particular, in the run up to the elections.  All of them were consistently spreading a message that the AAP may do well but is sure to end up as a spoiler. Interestingly this was exactly what the BJP kept saying: that a vote for the AAP was going to help the Congress. This certainly was a conspiracy that at least a section of the media was guilty of being a part of. At a time when the Congress was sure to lose Delhi elections, such a campaign in the media with TV anchors driving the point that the AAP is certain to emerge as a spoiler, was indeed a conspiracy on the part of these anchors. Recall that some channels also went bending over their back to paint the AAP with tar and even relied on hatchet jobs to do this.

That Shazia Ilmi lost her election by a mere 340 votes can be seen as the success of such vested interests that are keen preserving the status quo; and to reiterate that politics and corruption  coexist and nothing ever changes. That these channels did not feel the need to apologise when it became clear that they were distorted and doctored footages is substantive proof that they were party to the conspiracy and not just unethical journalism.

The AAP has also proven analysts wrong on another count: that its appeal does not go beyond the middle classes. The party won in most of the constituencies where the poor and the dispossessed live in large numbers. It has also proved wrong a section of the left-leaning intelligentsia, most of them either running funded organisations in the name of social movements, that the AAP was anti-Muslim and anti-Dalit. The party has won most such constituencies. And if there is one area where the AAP did not do as well, it was in constituencies where the salaried live in large numbers.

There is another aspect of the AAP and its performance in Delhi that is far more important. It is about the categorical statement that came from its leaders and the ranks: that the party will sit in the opposition rather than resort to the rhetoric that it will explore all possibilities of forming a government even without attaining single largest majority in Delhi. . Recall the way the established parties had behaved in Jharkhand in the past five years; the two `national’ parties had propped up a Madhu Koda for different periods of time. That there was no ambiguity in the AAP even while TV anchors were desperate to convince them that they could wield power by cobbling up a post-poll arrangement with the Congress was indeed refreshing.

In all, there is hope for those who cherish the idea of Parliamentary Democracy and the party system that elections need not be fought the same way as most parties do; by distributing gifts and doling out cash to the voters. The AAP’s success is certainly a signal that violent means are not the only way out of the mess that our parties have landed the nation in. The Delhi voters have shown that some pollsters either got it wrong or rigged the data to yield results that they desired. The AAP may not emerge a national alternative in Lok Sabha elections 2014. But did anyone see the party emerging as the opposition party in Delhi when Kejriwal and people like him decided to launch a political outfit little over a year ago?

Meanwhile, Kejriwal and his comrades will find two things useful. One is a book, an autobiography of A K Gopalan, legendary communist who refused to be a prisoner of Parliamentary privileges and instead used them to further the cause of agitation-based politics in the cause of the people. And another is a song; John Lennon’s Working Class Hero. This might ensure that the Aam Aadmi Party does not turn into another Janata Party that failed.

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