ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Of Radical Democracy and Anti-Partyism

The populist notions that underlie critiques of the practice of representative democracy made by groups like the Aam Aadmi Party have some worrisome aspects. Their ideas of expanding the democratic involvement of citizens are not only romantic, they also tend to undermine political equality. The question that supporters of such "more democracy" need to ask themselves is, do we want to expand democratic rights but effectively restrict their scope?

It is not very often that a political party is discussed even before it has made its electoral debut. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), formally launched in late 2012, seems to have acquired that distinction (see the two articles by Anand Kumar and S P Shukla in EPW, 16 February 2013). While Shukla (pp 16-18) takes a careful look at the vision document of the party, Anand Kumar (pp 11-15) presents a formal statement on behalf of the party. But such politically correct statements and intentions are not adequate grounds for the assessment of parties and organisations wanting to intervene in the political process. The ability to intervene, the direction of intervention and, above all, the social character of that intervention constitute the criteria for such assessments. For such an assessment, it is necessary to turn to the context that produced this new party and the issues that the founding group raised even before it was formed.

As of now, the AAP is an addition to the already crowded list of “registered unrecognised” parties. In January 2013, the Election Commission of India listed 1,392 such parties.1 Will the AAP be just one among this lot? And if it is indeed a “different” party, what exactly is the difference? As Anand Kumar makes clear, the party itself would like to be different in that it is a combination of a party and a movement. As a party it pitches itself against all other parties, not just as another competitor, but also as a force that seeks to undermine the bases of existing party politics. As a movement, it intends to sustain the momentum for the urban protests that it triggered and turn those protests into something more tangible and durable.

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