Friday, January 3, 2014

The Challenge of the AAM ADMI PARTY; How to confront the Great White Hope of Indian Politics

A  look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Urban India is witnessing a novel political phenomenon: the rise and rise of the Aam Admi Party. The anti corruption movement launched by Anna Hazare was accompanied by a surge of civil society activism against corruption in India and the victory of the Aam Admi Party can be traced directly to the political consciousness roused by the movement of Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare. While the former supports the BJP under Hon'ble Narendra Modi as the political alternative, Anna Hazare decided to remain apolitical. His chosen disciple Arvind Khejriwal decided to break away and form a political party (the AAP) which rolled to power with the support of the Congress party and is now the ruling party in Delhi. It is time to assess the strengths of this new force and try to evaluate its impact on the 2014 Elections to the Lok Sabha. The BJP can ignore the AAP only at its own risk and must take steps to counter its appeal.

Until the victory of the AAP it was generally held that the BJP will emerge victorious in the 2014 General Elevtions with Narendra Modi as the next Prime Minister. Now the picture is not that sanguine. primarily due to the politics of the Aam Admi Party. Led by a former Indian Revenue Officer, Shri Arvind Khejriwal (around 45 tyars old). the AAP seized control over the reins of Government in Delhi after the BJP declined to form the Government. The BJP won 32 seats, a few seats short of an absolute majority. The AAP after declaring publicly that it will not seek the support of the Congress, a party with a national notoriety for Crime, Corruption and Communalism, had no problem in getting the support of the Congress which is extending crucial support from outside the Government to sustain the Government. This arrangement is neither politically valid nor an ethical one as both Parties snipe at each other all the time and yet the Congress voted in favor of the APP in the Delhi assembly a few days back. I do not think this arrangement will last beyond a couple of months as the Congress will be badly dented if the AAP succeeds.

Arvind Kejriwal played to the gallery like a pro. He rode a metro train to the Capital to take the vote of Office at Delhi's Ram Lila Grounds where he sat on dharna along with his mentor. Such a populiost gesture went down well with the people who love to see their "High Officials" appear ordinary. What is forgotten is the fact that to keep the pretence of Arvind Khejriwal's pro poor image huge public expenditure was incurred in order to secure the metro route. A mere gesture, a nod in the direction of the common man, a supreme act of condescension is taken as proof of the simplicity and honesty of Arvind Khejriwal. Let us give him his moment.

The policy initiatives taken by the AAP even before it secured a vote of confidence is proof of the absolute disregard for the public exchequer. Announcing subsidies to the tune of 3, 500 crore rupees, the electricity bills of the consumers in New Delhi got some relief. However, the long term solution to the problem of energy pricing lies not in subsidies but in augmented power generation and the AAP has no clue as to what to do. Arvind Khejriwal is a mechanical engineer trained in IIT, Kharaghpur in West Bengal and he may have some idea of the problems inherent in his solutions.

The political phenomenon called the AAP is new to Indian politics. For long the political discourse has been dominated by issues of personality and identity. The AAP has shifted the discourse to issues concerning the common man: water, electricity, public safety, and corruption. The shift to a non identity based politics is welcome. However, it was Narendra Modi who shifted the emphasis on Governance rather than identity. The appeal of this new kid on the block to the post 1990's generation is obvious. Liberalism initiated by Narashima Rao in the 1990's has spawned a whole generation whose politics is shaped by live issues concerning everyday life and problems. The network created by the AAP during the heady days of the Anna Agitation paid huge dividents. The AAP was able to articulate the problems of the people of small neighbourhoods because it had a dedicated cadres working here. This networked interaction with localities using GIS and other sophisticated tools of analysis makes the AAP a viable force/ The bJP will do well to invest more tiem amnd energy in drawing out local issues spread over 532 Parliamentary consituencies instead of banking entirely on the charisma of Hon'ble Narendra Modi.

On balance, the AAP is certainly a new force but its alliance with the Congress will spell its doom.

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