A question about the nature of politics in India today elicits both positive and skeptical responses. Generally, we can delineate four broad forms of the prevalent politics. The Congress, despite its wide spread and longevity seems to be struggling to maintain its popularity.
While the party`s rank is gaining enthusiasm, as the general-election becomes more and more Rahul vs Modi, this has also sparked the old charges of dynastic politics, which may exacerbate existing charges of inflation and corruption. However, Congress needs a positive sentiment to mobilize party workers and its sympathizers, which Rahul Gandhi may very well infuse.
On the other hand, the main opposition BJP has been galvanized by Narendra Modi’s quest for power and this is best reflected by its aggressive campaign that’s aimed primarily at the Congress and its leadership. However, the surprise emergence of the AAP and the “game changer” Arvind Kejriwal has put a spanner in the works. Defeating a three-time heavyweight by a huge margin, Kejriwal also became the Chief Minister of Delhi (although some have pointed to the limited nature of its politics by referring to the outside support it took from the 8 Congress MLAs).
AAP’s rise signalled two important trends; firstly, for the first time, people preferred new techniques and a presidential-style of campaigning over the conventional electioneering and secondly, that a non-BJP alternative to the Congress is highly desirable for urban India.
This third and relatively new form of politics highlights the importance of offering something new and bold for urban India, something that the BJP and INC would do well to remember. For the ease of political prediction what has always been termed as the possible third-front, may very well become an alternative in the upcoming general elections if numbers are the only criterion. This political force comprises what Indian political commentators have long romanticized as local satraps. Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, J. Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu, Naveen Patnaik in Orissa, Jagan Mohan Reddy and K. Chandrasekhar Rao in Andhra Pradesh, and India’s Left may very well seal the fate of Indian politics.
In this context, it is important to look at the questions that arise from post-Delhi’s elections. The new government in the capital has given enough evidence (of its functioning and its aims) to gauge what it seeks to achieve. While the outcome of Delhi elections seems remarkable to many, the real problem is still untouched. With his own style of working, Arvind Kejriwal has already started disappointing many, some within his party.
Chaos in government processes is pervasive; his recent dharna drew more negative than positive remarks. And perhaps the worst outcome is that Kejriwal`s Aam Aadmi Party is trying to institutionalize a snooping citizenry rather than a vigilant one. The charges that the AAP seeks to implement plastic changes and employ theatrics in politics have certain credibility. It’s obvious that post this honeymoon period, the AAP will very much be part of the very same problem on which they proposed themselves as alternates to the mainstream parties.
What brings desired change is the combination of strong will to institutionalize change and having the available means to effect it. Without this combination any change will not necessarily be an improvement. Changes effected by insurgent citizenry are short-lived and the leadership has a natural tendency to distant itself from the masses.
Most of the world has reached a conclusion that change is good if it’s coming through progressive quarters of the establishment. Therefore, the smart choice available for the people is to create and sustain a demand for change, and to pursue the establishment to bring about that change. Fortunately, in India, we have the wherewithal to do this without being anarchic. The problem with both the AAP and BJP is that they currently depend on a single man, something which is very unhealthy for a democracy like India. While one individual is leading us towards chaos, another is leading us towards authoritarianism.
In India, we are confusing the real fight with the proxy ones. Our idea of change seems to be limited to a change in government. India is again on the verge of missing a precious opportunity as it did in 1977 after JP’s movement, which eventually turned out to be a mere change in the government from what it initially termed as Sampurna Kranti.
The anger India has been displaying from the last few years needs to be channeled into responsible action. India needs to carefully weigh the options available to and decide what change it wants to institutionalize? Is it only a political change, which they want to bring by changing governments and electioneering or are they pained at a deeper level thus want deep changes in the social, political and economic systems of the nation. What has been experienced in post-election Delhi, can happen everywhere if the political parties as well as the voters fail to construct a rational choice out of the prevalent public anger. And this is the most difficult task for all.
I don’t buy the argument that Delhi has voted for cheap electricity and water. I don’t even buy that corruption was such a big issue for Delhiites. What has moved Delhi away from traditional parties was the anger against the system in general. The aam aadmi is fed-up with the traditional political party systems. What political parties need to do urgently is to be sensitive to the earnest desire for change and then become active facilitators of that change.
I believe this will afford the aam aadmi to have different options without compromising on dreams of change. Towards this end, Rahul Gandhi’s push for the Lokpal and other anti-corruption bills was in sync with this sentiment. The Congress as a party needs to understand that the AAP’s rise is a timely manifestation of the form of change that Rahul Gandhi has envisioned ever since his entry into politics. One can hope the Congress will now pay heed to his argument. Unfortunately, rather than participating in this story of change, one of the major political forces, the BJP and its leaders continue to live in denial.
(Sunit Madhur is an active worker of Congress party. Formerly he was the founding director of Cicero Associates and Consultants Pvt. Ltd., a Delhi based public opinion and consulting firm.)