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AAP, Left and Their Cultural Tools

Reflections on the Delhi 2015 Campaign

Goirick Brahmachari (goirick@gmail.com) is a writer based in New Delhi. 

The Aam Aadmi Party’s campaigning style, particularly in the run-up to the 2015 Delhi elections, has been drawn largely from the Left's cultural organisations. Yet its electoral success and popularity in Delhi has far outreached and outwitted the latter. 

It was just another weekend evening at the Select Citywalk mall compound that stretches from Khirki to Hauz Rani Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus stand.  People thronged the entrance; security guards carried out their routine security drills.

A group of five boys broke away from the crowd and started to dance. A Bollywood-like tune played along. It sounded similar to a song from Satyameva Jayate, a popular television reality show. The crowd gathered at the basement, now standing in a circle, begun to wonder what this was all about. As five girls joined in, the song gathered tempo and the singer went, Aam Aadmi aaye hein, Aam Aadmi aaye hein (The common man has come).

AAP and Flash Mobs

Flash mobs have been a part of malls, markets and streets in urban Delhi in recent times. They raise awareness on social issues like gender discrimination, rape, corruption, police brutality but are also used as part of electoral campaigns.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the last few months has worked effectively to suit the genre of flash mobs to their style of campaigning. A group of college-going volunteers, who danced to tunes composed by Bollywood composer Vishal Dadlani and others (sometimes with their symbolic Gandhi cap and broom in their hands) at a shopping mall is sure to catch anybody’s eye. They talked of corruption, social issues and campaigned for AAP. Few others within the crowd stood with placards and posters displaying the party’s election campaign slogan 5 Saal Kejriwal (Five years for Kejriwal).

Neither the quality of music nor the form of dance sequence is artsy or intelligent per se. They use popular Bollywood songs or campaign songs specifically composed for the party to reach out to the young voter. This is the same constituency that loves Bollywood and mainstream American pop—a crowd that consists of a sizeable voter population of urban Delhi.

Though AAP has a campaign design committee that decides on the ways of campaigning, they mostly take suggestions from the general public and their supporters, and carry them out.  Probably they resort to these techniques because they would not be able to match the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the donations they receive. But, this interestingly works out for them.

Non-Traditional Campaigning

Apart from the flash mobs, AAP has also experimented with other techniques of campaigning for the Delhi elections in February 2015 and in the past. Nukkad natak, street plays, art competitions, wall art, music videos, Google+ hangouts, innovative posters and sloganeering, friendly conversations with commuters in the Delhi Metro by AAP volunteers—they have utilised all possible means. They have bolstered this non-traditional campaigning with some creative campaign advertisements.

In fact, AAP runs a practice centre for various styles of protests named Santosh Koli Centre for the Protest Arts in Sunder Nagri, North-East Delhi. Sunder Nagri is where Arvind Kejriwal worked with Santosh Koli and Manish Sisodia for his non-governmental organisation (NGO) Parivartan which played a vital role in the right to Information (RTI) movement in India.

AAP – Imitating Left Parties?

The campaign strategies are very similar to how NGOs work and how some of the core left parties campaign. Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had accused AAP of imitating the left parties on more than one occasion.

The Indian People Theatre Association (IPTA) and Jana Natya Manch (JANAM) have been working in Delhi for more than four decades. Their street theatres have also reached the slums and villages within Delhi. Famous theatre activists and film actors have been involved in their early years with the Jana Natya movement.

Street theatres, protest songs, murals, innovative posters and sloganeering have also been a part of the culture of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and its students’ union elections. Some of the posters and murals across the JNU campus by All India Students Association (AISA), Students Federation of India (SFI), and Democratic Students Union (DSU) volunteers have always drawn attention.

AAP’s Appeal among Young Voters

One basic difference in the campaigning style of AAP’s cultural volunteers and that of the communists is AAP’s simplicity of language and mediocre style. AAP mixes a commercial, urban middle-class touch to the old forms of advertising and in reaching out to the masses—techniques that NGOs and campaigns on social issues have tried and tested successfully. The left parties, on the other hand, tend to focus on rural and slum population in and around Delhi.

A lack of interest among the young generation in Delhi towards communism as an ideology has further caused politically powerful theatre groups like IPTA and JANAM to perform only to a niche and a select group of audience.

JANAM released a silent short film titled Safdar Lives by Srinjay Thakur to help spread the word about Safdar Hashmi’s struggle in Delhi and to commemorate his death anniversary on 2 January 2014. AAP leaders too, have been filmed for another non-linear film titled Proposition for a Revolution by Vinay Shukla and Khushboo Ranka which is awaiting a commercial release.

AAP has been often accused of focusing only on the dharna-something that communists in West Bengal have also been largely accused of by the mainstream media. Further, Jantar Mantar—a monument that saw many protests from both left and other organisations across the ages in the city, is now closely associated with AAP. Thus we see that the popular forms and sites of protest, long associated with the left, are now identified with AAP.

Conclusion

It is interesting to observe that  AAP is resorting to the experimental techniques that the left cultural organisations have practised for years and is obtaining better results compared to their communist counterparts in Delhi. Their reach and effective customisation of strategies used by the left to suit a wider demographic which stretches from the urban middle class to the poor, working class and slum population has helped them gain popularity among all these sections.

Can cultural organisations aligned with the left do more especially in these last three years of Indian polity that saw a mass rejection of mainstream parties? Possibly yes. Probably then, the Left Front could have created a parallel noise in the national capital, even if it were a symbolic gesture.

 

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