Aam Aadmi or Mere Bust

In the throes of a political upheaval caused by the unexpected success of the Aam Aadmi (common man) Party (AAP), the country may soon begin to resemble, in its outline if not yet in substance, Nabokov’s Padukgrad ruled by the “Party of the Average Man”, its ideology of “Ekwilism” based on everybody being like everybody else, drawing the masses. In his 1947 novel, Bend Sinister, Nabokov sketched a political system in which the clever leader, Paduk, having installed the “average man” on a pedestal felt free to ignore him and pursue his own personal agenda.

The AAP has so far indulged in public relations fluff—invoking the average man as the all-purpose sanction, seeking street referendums (“mohalla sabhas”) on decisions its representatives have been elected to make, conceiving large tableau dramas regarding the prospective Lokpal Bill (to be enacted at the Ramlila grounds in Delhi), and newly installed ministers when not pulling off the Abbasid Caliph Haroun al-Rashid-type antics with surprise visits to public facilities and upbraiding, for the benefit of television cameras, petty officials for being on “picnic”—but done little to positively impact the aam aadmi’s life. For instance, the AAP has put the onus of fighting corruption on the citizen (with the helpline), decreed a 50 percent cut in power rates in anticipation of the audit of distribution companies showing unwarranted hikes in charges. What happens if the audit indicates only marginal price-gouging; who’ll make up for the lost revenues and the budgetary deficit, and will the subsidy then be terminated? It delivered on free water except it did so for customers well-off enough to afford houses, water connections and, therefore, water meters. This has left the bulk of the impoverished Delhi populace sheltering in shanties and slums who voted for it high and dry, and the AAP looking like any aam party–indulging in lofty rhetoric and low practice!

Quick to close the gap in the “visibles” separating them from the AAP, the established parties are divesting themselves of symbols of power—red beacons on cars, for instance, and in tactic—plastering autorickshaws with posters, doubling their mass-contact efforts, and rushing through anti-corruption legislation. They realise that the AAP, which they had seriously underestimated, has with considerable cunning capitalised on the opportunities it was afforded.

The Congress party’s support for the AAP to form government—to avoid another election and prevent the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from assuming power, has backfired. Its implied backing for the AAP’s 18-point plan has inoculated its supremo Arvind Kejriwal and Company against any failure in delivering on it by installing the Congress party as scapegoat.

The BJP is better off. Deciding to forsake power lest it be charged with luring independents and AAP representatives to obtain a majority, it can relentlessly attack the AAP-Congress combo, even as Rahul Gandhi’s brain trust apparently hopes that by stoking the AAP’s ambition and helping it win 20-30 especially urban seats in the general elections, Kejriwal’s gang will be instrumental once again in keeping the BJP out of power this time at the Centre, thus easing the Congress party’s task of cobbling together yet another corrupt and malfunctioning coalition government—UPA-III. The trick for the BJP will be to make the charges of amateurism and non-performance stick to the AAP and of cynical and moribund politics to the Congress.

Two basic sets of weaknesses of the AAP are now evident. The senior leaders of this ragtag outfit have already revealed a penchant for taking radical, when not whimsical, positions on issues, eroding the party’s goodwill and credibility. Prashant Bhushan’s ejaculation about Kashmiris having a veto over the army’s counter-insurgency deployment and his equally foolish opposition to nuclear power plants in general, which puts the future of indigenous technology and energy security in peril, has exposed the AAP to ridicule, which the BJP should remorselessly pillory hereafter to keep in public eye the dangers the AAP policy inclinations portend.

Then there are the differences in views of the rich lawyer, Bhushan, and Kejriwal, which will only grow with time, highlighting a related major weakness—the AAP’s complete lack of ideology. Well, yes, in the Ekwilist vein we are all “aam aadmi” now. The G R Gopinaths, the V Balakrishnans, and the Meera Sanyals, the well-heeled and the well-meaning from amongst the upper classes yearning for a corruption-free state and good governance are joining the AAP, but so is the much larger horde of political discards, opportunists, and malcontents from other parties, and crooks and carpetbaggers from all over.

How will the thinking of the “privilegentsia” (a word coined by Pakistani columnist Ayaz Amir)—the entrepreneurs, information technology bigwigs, and bankers, who afford the newly founded party glitz and gravitas, and who will expect their slant on public issues to be reflected in AAP’s policies, jell with Kejriwal’s archaic Leftist-populist mindset?

Will Kejriwal, as in Bhushan’s Kashmir episode, always have the last word on every issue at every turn? That is unlikely to be tolerated by the members for long. Kejriwal as final authority and adjudicator undermines the AAP’s self-definition as a collegium of average citizens and street democrats, which permitted the deep cleavages and fault-lines in the society to be papered over in the Delhi elections, but will not work elsewhere nor help a distinctive AAP ideology to emerge from a melange of disparate and dissimilar interests. With intra-party differences set to grow, more clashing pronouncements, frictions, and mistakes can be expected, providing Narendra Modi with ample opportunities and arguments to cut the AAP out of the picture.

The greater problem for the AAP is that while its recent heady victory has fired up its national ambitions, it has a ramshackle party structure that is manifestly incapable of coping with the business of sustained politicking and of running government. Nor has its extant leadership thought things through, leave alone alighted on solutions for perennial problems of the aam aadmi beyond announcing free this and free that, without a clue as to how to pay for such largesse without increasing public debt. Kejriwal’s trademark scheme of giveaways resonates with Sonia Gandhi’s populism-run-amuck. The AAP as Congress party’s “B Team” then surely has merit.

[Published in New Indian Express, Friday, 10th January 2014 at http://www.newindianexpress.com/opinion/Aam-Aadmi-or-Mere-Bust/2014/01/10/article1991729.ece ]

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Indian Politics, Internal Security, Pakistan, society, South Asia. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Aam Aadmi or Mere Bust

  1. Ravi Senthil Kumar commented on Contact (reproduced below)

    I was delighted when i read your article today morning, the same was discussed with my friend who was planning to join AAP. They are destroyers than creators, I still wonder how Arvind Kejriwal aligned with Congress that easily. He became popular by exposing Robert Vadra and got good mileage out of that episode but today what had happened to those allegations. Where is Dharma / principle in his actions. He is more worse than any other crooked politician, If he is against corruption than he should take a stand like Khemka and ensure his allegations are proved in public. but instead he used those to win weak minded votes (Who don’t really analyze and decide). Last 15 years Delhi was ruled by Congress and there were visible corruption across. Despite all that he was in a hurry (Power hungry to grab the chair) don’t want to loose the opportunity to become Chief Minister. Again he cleverly portrayed to weak minded people to make them believe that he is consulting public. It’s all a very unethical, uncultured practices by these sect of power mongers. All media & spineless people simply praise them to destroy the strong alternate.

    At this point in time we need decent party with a good leader by far Narendra Modi is a proven leader with loads of experience in running government, administration & nation building. I strongly feel these AAP’s are used to divert the voters, reduce victory of leading parties & mainly spoil the chances of BJP to come to power. At this juncture if it’s very fractured mandate it will be disastrous to our nation and we can’t afford such things

  2. hemen parekh says:

    Dark Cloud Over Horizon ?

    Of all the countries in the world , America contributes most to the Global Warming

    As a result , over the past few weeks , a white cloud ( Polar Vortex ) , has enveloped entire America , plunging temperatures below zero

    In India , a dark cloud has been gathering over the past few years

    And it is caused by no ordinary ” Warming ” !

    It is caused by people’s anger ” Boiling Over ” !

    Boiling over the past 15 years , at the rampant ,

    > Corruption amongst law-makers / bureaucrats / low-lever government
    officers / black-moneyed businessmen / greedy industrialists etc

    > Criminalization amongst politicians – turned – mafia

    Now with the arrival of AAP government , this dark cloud has slowly started clearing in Delhi

    But a dense dark ominous cloud still envelopes rest of India

    Will AAP succeed in clearing it in April / May 2014 elections ?

    If opinion polls published on TV channels last evening are to be believed , it will

    And believe me ,

    Over the next few weeks , these opinion polls will get , ever more ,

    > Sharper

    > Shriller

    > Deafening

    The writing is on the wall !

    But the short-sighted politicians cannot read !

    And the far – sighted TV channel experts are refusing to read !

    Every Saturday ( starting tomorrow ) , Arvind Kejriwal and his Cabinet colleagues , will sit on a footpath outside Delhi government Secretariat and face the public

    They will make themselves ” Accessible ” to people

    They will ” Listen ” to people

    What next ?

    Holding a cabinet meeting in Chandni Chowk ?

    Or , a Delhi Vidhan Sabha session at Rajghat ?

    AAP says ,

    ” To hell with procedures / precedents / barricades

    Hail , the power of People

    Come out on the streets

    Clear the Dark Cloud ! ”

    * hemen parekh ( 10 Jan 2014 / Mumbai )

  3. krishnakanth says:

    Sir dont u think that rise of smaller parties can be nipped in the bud if a rule is introduced in our constitution as proposed by Ex-CEC Shri N.Gopalaswamy that for a candidate to win an election in a particular constituency,the candidate should secure 50% of the polled votes.
    This rule/law can help in minimization of Vote Bank Secularism (in which politicians of all hues and cries indulge) na Sir.
    Request you Sir to comment on this please:

  4. Shaurya says:

    There is one thing that many AAP voters represent that BJP has to figure a way to win over. It is the average urban, professional non-Hindutva Hindu voter. This urban Hindu voter is not comfortable with the negative view of Hindutva – that the BJP to its credit has tried to allay, but with mixed success. Modi has not been able to shed this image, partly thanks to the media and partly to his direct and non-emotional approach that many emotionally minded are not able to connect to in this age of hyper communications.

    What the AAP proves – regardless of its merits – is that the silent urban educated majority Hindu vote is NOT with the BJP.

    • You may be overstating the educated middle class’ antipathy to BJP and its RSS connection and Hindutva philosophy. AAP in ,my view is a passing phenomenon. More this section is exposed to the frailties in the AAP’s system of anarchic- street-dictated governance, the more it’ll turn against it and towards Modi.

  5. Guru says:

    Undoubtedly the average urban, educated Hindu voter is sick and tired of the corruption that has pervaded almost every aspect of daily life. It is equally true that he is uncomfortable with the negative view of “Hindutva”. In the same breath, he seems to be suddenly questioning the credentials of AAP as a mature party capable of governance. At this stage, only time can tell as to which way the AAP party goes- will it gets its house in order and articulate its position on important security and economic issues or will it pander to only populist issues?

  6. From Brigadier (Retd) Ajit Nair [emailed from subhash@newindianexpress.com]

    Well said, Professor,

    Somebody needed to deconstruct the euphoria being generated in urban centres all over the Country, especially amongst the youth over the AAP’s success in Delhi – and its possibility of making a difference in the coming Lok Sabha elections.

    But I think we need to clearly differentiate between Politics and good Governance, Populism and Pragmatism and between Short Term and Medium/Long Term measures to uplift the people. In all three, the former will win votes and power and the latter will lift the Country out of the trap of poverty, hunger and ill-health that India has fallen into. Unfortunately, in our brand of Democracy, the former will always be rewarded and the latter punished.

    So like Sonia, the AAP will also offer populism, but being seen as different will win votes. No use castigating them for doing what everyone is doing. But even while doing so, they bring to the table a different brand of politics. Like you said this “rag-tag outfit” just does not have leadership or governance skills – they really are a bunch of novices and they will quickly learn in Delhi that populism may be good for winning votes, but if tried while running the Govt – will speedily impoverish the State. But frankly, I think they will try this in Delhi – because the timing of their victory is such that whatever they do in Delhi will resonate in the rest of the Country in time for the coming elections – but is not a long enough period to have serious adverse effect in Delhi (that will come, if they persist long enough).

    You’ve succinctly brought out their many deficiencies, I’d like to focus on their positives. You’ve briefly touched on some like forcing other Parties to emulate their simplicity etc. The major fallout is, I think, is that they’ve shown that elections can be won without established vote banks. That corruption can be an election-winning plank. That big names are not needed, that focus on policies is better than focus on personalities. That big money is not always needed, that it’s better to make people voluntarily mobilise through ideas rather than mobilizing them through subsidies and freebies.

    If the established parties learn from this and eschew vote banks politics, then we may enter a new era in Politics. In the meantime, here’s wishing them well and hoping that they win about 50 or 60 seats in the coming elections !! The possibilities are interesting……

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