24-30 January 2014 #691

All about roots

Aam Aadmi Party’s national vision must be refracted through the prism of the local
Ajaz Ashraf
THE ENDING: Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal (centre) ended his dharna against the police on Tuesday after violence broke out between his followers and the security force.
Even as politics in Kathmandu looks to simmer down with the first session of the second Constituent Assembly commencing on Wednesday, the Indian capital found itself in the grips of high drama this week. Delhi’s newly-elected Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) sat on dharna for 33 hours, protesting against the reluctance of the state police to raid a place allegedly running prostitute and drug rackets.

The uproar came at a time when heavy criticism is being leveled against top AAP leaders. The shrill denunciation of lawyer Prashant Bhushan for his remarks on Kashmir and then, subsequently, Delhi law minister Somnath Bharti for his alleged vigilantism, are illustrative of the pressure on the party to abandon concepts forged in its ideational foundry and embrace those not its own.

Partly, the pressure on the AAP arises from the sheer momentum it has gathered, goading its rivals into attempting to cage the political fledgling insistent on flying in the General Elections and spraying its droppings all around. This is precisely why the existing political formations have been taunting the AAP for its lack of a national vision. Partly, their criticisms arise from their keenness to ensure that the mainstream consensus over what constitutes national politics isn’t broken.

Thus, the BJP projects the AAP as a disparate group of secessionist sympathisers, closet communists opposed to the market, and misguided activists wishing to diminish the Indian state’s prestige. The BJP fears Kejriwal’s party could become a seductive alternative idea to its pitch on economic growth.

The Congress, until the Delhi shock, portrayed the AAP as a lightweight having the temerity to fight in the heavyweight category. Now chastened, it hopes the AAP will gather heft to produce a badly hung Lok Sabha and check BJP’s rise, but will trip and fall in wielding power. The Congress fears its base among the urban poor the AAP could cannibalise.

The Left smugly lectures the AAP for not perceiving the link between corruption and neo-liberal economic policies, for not firing booming volleys against Modi. Kejriwal’s men and women threaten the Left’s status of being the lodestar of alternative politics.

It is with this backdrop that the controversy over Bhushan’s remark on Kashmir was stoked, even though his was a measured shift from his earlier position. Two years ago, he had favoured a referendum to determine whether or not Kashmir should stay with India. By contrast, he now wanted the deployment of security forces in the northern state to have the people’s consent.

A pressing need to generate headlines can only prompt a journalist to ask Bhushan a question on Kashmir, for his stance is too well-known to believe he would echo, parrot-like, the mainstream consensus on it. Perhaps such a question was asked to gauge whether his radicalism has been tempered because his party governs Delhi and nurses national ambitions. Implicit in this expectation is that a person in power should speak contrary to his belief. This is what TV voices in primetime shows meant as they cautioned Bhushan to speak with responsibility.

Momentarily, a rattled AAP seemed inclined to echoing the national consensus on security, but then quickly turned to insisting on the democratic right of individuals to voice their opinion. It couldn’t have taken another line considering it propagates participatory democracy and emphasises conscionable political conduct. Nevertheless, the Bhushan controversy underscores the perils of responding to the agendas of political rivals whose endeavour would be to reduce the AAP to a poor imitation of them.

This is why the AAP will have to sharply portray its attributes about which have the Indian voter is visibly excited. Its uniqueness stems from according primacy to what is local and immediate, namely, the provision of water, electricity, health, education and security through transparent, responsive, and clean governance; of promising to vest the oversight of local development in the inhabitants who stand to gain from it.

Ironically, it was in response to the pressure from his constituency that Somnath Bharti mounted pressure on the Delhi Police to carry out a raid, triggering a crisis underlying which is the issue of whether or not an elected government should control the city police. The AAP wants police officers to be suspended. No, says the central government, which controls Delhi Police.

In the emerging conflicting narratives, Bharati’s enthusiasm does seem to have an echo of vigilantism, endorsed though it has been in his constituency. But it also points to the patronage the police provide to dubious and powerful interests. AAP’s politics of making governance count at the local will bring it into conflict with the existing arrangement and trigger controversies.

Nevertheless, the party must not forget that the local is also the site for fostering democratic spirit, for the local is where India resides.

Read also:

Next stop: Haryana

For the Aam admi

Diminished by triumph

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