Locating AAP in the political spectrum

STANLY JOHNY | Updated on December 12, 2013

A lot of space left   -  The Hindu

AAP’s best bet is to position itself as a Left-of-Centre force.

Arvind Kejriwal was giant-killer-in-chief in the just concluded state elections. Whether you like him or not, it can’t be denied that he's done something that seemed undoable till a few months ago. The elections results in general show widespread discontent among voters, which translated into a strong anti-Congress wave. And riding on this wave is the Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Narendra Modi.

The only break in this macro-trend is the rise of Kejriwal. His Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) rise is spectacular on at least two counts — it shows the people are ready to go beyond traditional parties and that the defeat of the Congress doesn’t necessarily mean a clean victory for the BJP. In other words, the Delhi poll results signal a time for change.

The government’s inability to check spiralling prices and its insensitivity towards addressing the issue seem to have turned the people hostile. This, coupled with corruption scandals, has merrily contributed to the discontent. The unprecedented mass protests Delhi saw in recent years are a pointer to how impatient and agitated people are.

The BJP’s Outlook

For the BJP, Modi is the answer to all these problems. And it hopes to form sweep the upcoming general elections, something which financial markets and global investment giants are upbeat about. That said, it’s worth noting that despite the the support of the financial markets, the BJP-led National Democratic Government was routed from power in 2004. Not just that, the BJP took years to recover the losses.

One can still argue that a BJP government under Modi could perform better than the previous NDA regime. But the fact is, there’s not much difference in terms of the economic outlook of the NDA and the Congress-led UPA. The BJP under Modi doesn’t represent any paradigm shift from the UPA’s policy framework. The BJP’s attack is not on the UPA’s economic paradigm, but on the “inefficient execution” of it. That’s perhaps the reason the business community and international finance capital want to see the BJP coming to power next year.

This is where Kejriwal set out to sell a non-BJP, non-Congress dream. To be sure, he’s not the only politician appearing on an alternative political plank. But besides the Left parties, most non-Congress, non-BJP parties are powered either by identity politics or chauvinism. What makes the AAP different is the time of its rise, its idealism and the possibility of evolving itself into a clean, efficient Left-of-centre political force.

The outsider

Kejriwal’s transformation from an anti-politics social activist to an ‘outsider’ politician is remarkable. Anna Hazare, with whom Kejriwal had been associated for a long time, presents himself as a supra-Parliamentary guardian of political morality, which is inherently anti-democratic. Though Kejriwal’s party doesn’t deny Hazare’s legacy, his decision to enter politics is itself a counter to the social activist’s ‘no-to-politician’ stand. And building a political movement, facing elections and winning the people’s support through the parliamentary process is not as easy as sitting on frequent fasts under glaring media spotlight.

Kejriwal created this ‘outsider’ image by targeting several bigwigs. He raised corruption charges against Nitin Gadkari, former BJP president; Robert Vadra, the son-in-low of Sonia Gandhi and accused both the UPA and the NDA of favouring Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries. The AAP website says both the Congress and the BJP are “equally corrupt and follow very similar practices”.

A closer look at the party’s manifesto offers an indication on how its leadership thinks on core issues. Besides its promise to pass the Lokpal Bill, the AAP promises to audit power distribution companies, which are blamed for slapping consumers in Delhi with inflated bills. It’s opposed to privatisation of Delhi Jal Board, and promises to supply water to every household, even those in slums and unauthorised colonies. The AAP also wants more government hospitals schools. These promises, if put together, offers an alternative course, even though the party is yet to adopt a programmatic approach on economic and social development. No wonder, the AAP has got a significant share of the votes of the poor and workers.

The Challenge

Economist Prabhat Patnaik recently wrote that while the AAP’s leadership is broadly Left, the ideology of its support base is largely right-of-centre. This has perhaps happened because the AAP does not project itself as an ideology-driven party. The absence of an explicit ideology was on display the day after election results were announced, when the media reported party leader Prashant Bhushan as saying the AAP would extend issue-based support to the BJP. Kejriwal, however, rejected this later.

Going ahead, the biggest challenge before Kejriwal is to expand his support base in keeping with the generally Left-of-Centre leanings of the party. Given that India’s right-wing political spectrum is already crowded, Kejriwal’s best bet would be to evolve AAP into a social democrat outfit. On the Left, there’s a lot of vacant space. But that space cannot be occupied without AAP being more upfront on the social and economic questions of the day.

In sum, Kejriwal’s idealism, transparency and social-democrat ideological positioning can emerge as an enticing proposition. Will the angry common man bite the bullet?

Published on December 12, 2013

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