Frontline
Volume 29 - Issue 25 :: Dec. 15-28, 2012
INDIA'S NATIONAL MAGAZINE
from the publishers of THE HINDU
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COVER STORY

Promises to keep

PURNIMA S. TRIPATHI

Can politics be done without politicking? Can the Aam Aadmi Party change the system from within? The answers will come as the party begins to walk its talk.

AFP/PRAKASH SINGH

AT THE LAUNCH of the APP in New Delhi on November 26.

THE ANTI-GRAFT MOVEMENT IN THE COUNTRY HAS come a long way since its inception in early 2011, finally culminating in a fledgling political party, called the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). In this era of political cynicism, when the common man has been left feeling abandoned by self-serving mainstream parties, the Aam Aadmi Party offers hope. The logical conclusion of the India Against Corruption movement, which started off with the demand for a strong Lokpal, remains the same as that of the anti-graft movement led by Anna Hazare on January 30, 2011, the day the idea of a change in the system was conceived: “ Sinhaasan khali karo, janata aati hai” (vacate the throne, the people are coming).

Established with a vow to bring in real swaraj, real power to the people, the AAP, which officially came into being on November 26, promises to change not only the government but the system itself and implement in letter and spirit the preamble of the Constitution: “For the people, by the people, of the people.”

An alternative politics

The main protagonist of the movement, Arvind Kejriwal, said on October 2 that the anti-corruption movement would take the political route to achieve what it had initially set out to do. “We are not here to do politics but to change the way politics is done. We will provide an alternative politics which seeks to actually empower the people,” he said. He also assured his supporters that entering electoral politics did not mean the end of the anti-corruption movement but its continuation in a slightly changed direction.

AP/TSERING TOPGYAL

A supporter of the APP displays a membership form at the party's launch.

In the political arena, the AAP has identified the Congress as its main adversary. The party’s name suggests an attempt to rob the Congress of its main plank, the aam aadmi. Since 2004, the Congress’ electoral strategy has revolved around aam aadmi as a concept, as opposed to India Shining of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which failed to enthuse the masses. The strategy of focusing on aam aadmi paid the party rich dividends in 2004, when it registered a surprising victory over the BJP. Since then the party has gone with the slogan: “Congress ka haath aam aadmi ke saath”. The unease in Congress circles with the name of Kejriwal’s party was clear. The new Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Manish Tewari, fulminated: “They cannot use the aam aadmi concept; this concept has been coined by us.” Senior leader Digvijay Singh described the name as “mental bankruptcy” on the part of Kejriwal if he could not think of something original.

Kejriwal, however, remained nonplussed. “They had kidnapped the aam aadmi word only, not the real aam aadmi. The Congress used the aam aadmi as its monopolistic property right without doing anything for their welfare; now they have lost the aam aadmi,” he told Frontline. In keeping with his Congress-bashing, his party’s electoral debut is to be the Delhi State elections next year, followed by the general elections in 2014.

“We are in the process of forming our State-level, district-level and mohalla-level committees. Similarly, our vision documents on various issues of concern are being drafted by various subject committees,” Kejriwal said. In Delhi, he said, committees have been formed for all the Assembly seats and the members are being trained. All issues concerning the common man, such as corruption and price rise, will be their talking points.

R.V. MOORTHY

Anna Hazare with Arvind Kejriwal during the last day of the fast at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on August 3.

Promising real democracy

What sets the AAP apart from others is the fact that it has consciously avoided getting caught in the high command and VIP culture. There is no president or general secretary, no party hierarchy, no hangers-on around leaders; a national executive will take care of the party’s routine work. This body is drawn from a national council, which has 320 members. The council will have the power to recall national executive members in case there are complaints against them.

The party will only have a national convener, secretary and spokesperson. While Kejriwal has been elected the convener, Pankaj Gupta is the secretary and Gopal Rai the spokesman.

AFP/PRAKASH SINGH

ARVIND KEJRIWAL addressing a rally after the launch of the party.

The party promises to enforce real democracy through local self-governance at the gram panchayat and mohalla levels and advocates referendums for laws concerning the lives of people. The right to recall, the right to reject and a decisive mechanism to handle corruption would remain its guiding principles. The party promises total transparency in functioning, decision-making with due participation of members and the shunning of the VIP culture of red beacons and special security. An internal Lokpal will keep a vigil on members. “There is too much of VIP culture in politics today; we will change that. Even decisions like who can be an active member, who can get the ticket, who can occupy the convener’s post, etc., will be taken after the members vote on them,” Kejriwal said.

But is he not scared of the targets he has set for himself? After all, it is for the first time in the history of post-independence India that a political outfit has taken birth against the idea of corruption, without any ideological “ism” or icon. “What I am actually scared of is doing something wrong. True, it is unprecedented that a totally new political party has sprung up literally from the streets, out of an idea, but I am not scared of victory or defeat. Success and failure is immaterial; what scares me is the huge responsibility that is now on all of us and the fear that I may do something wrong,” Kejriwal said to Frontline. In his opinion, since their leitmotif is empowering the aam aadmi, what bothers him is the possibility of getting cut off from the aam aadmi, as it normally happens in politics. “If that happens, we are doomed. We will have to have a mechanism which will always keep us in touch with the aam aadmi,” he said.

For now, his politics of exposes will continue. The latest on his list is Narendra Modi, whom he has accused of doling out huge natural resources to a non-existent company in Gujarat. On January 26, 2013, the AAP will have yet another public programme to make people aware of the details of their journey. The party, which has already enlisted over 20,000 members, plans to complete its organisational formation across the country by the end of January. It is, however, yet to decide on its flag, symbol, slogan, etc.

SANDEEP SAXENA

KEJRIWAL ADDRESSING HIS SUPPORTERS a day before his party's launch.

A dampener to the heady start, however, has emerged in the form of corruption complaints against two of its key members, the noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan and the social activist Mayank Gandhi, both of whom have been accused of using their influence to grab land, Bhushan in Himachal Pradesh and Gandhi in Mumbai.

Though Kejriwal had declared, in October, that their internal Lokpal, Justice (Retd) A.P. Shah, was looking into the case, that process never took off. Justice Shah excused himself from the case and now Justice (Retd) Bhagwati Prasad and Admiral (Retd.) Ramadoss will be looking into it. The process, though, is yet to begin. Kejriwal needs to have this matter sorted out fast with due transparency; otherwise his credibility will be at serious risk. “Yes, I am aware of the questions being asked about these two people and I am confident our investigation process will be completed by the end of January,” he said.



ALLEGATIONS OF CORRUPTION have surfaced against the AAP's Mayank Gandhi (left) and Prashant Bhushan.

Whether the party will succeed or fail will depend on how well they articulate real people’s issues, says the political analyst Yogendra Yadav, who is now actively associated with the party. In his opinion, this is an idea whose time has come. “The youth of the country have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change things for the better. In every era there comes a time when the traditional rules of the game go out of the window and change takes place. In this change, no money or muscle power plays a role. In post-Emergency India, this is the era of change, and I am confident this will happen, irrespective of the scepticism about it,” says Yadav.



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