Shahidur Rashid Talukdar
The Aam Aadmi Party deserves a chance because it has brought about some refreshingly new changes in Indian politics. Because it is pro-people. Because the AAP derives its strength from the people and directs its energy and efforts to serve people. Because it is not playing politics in the name of religion. Because it does not follow the usual dogma of divide and rule. Because it is not relying on the ‘fear of others’ that the mainstream political parties first create, then propagate, and then reap the benefits of people’s insecurities! Because it seeks to unite people on common concerns and not divide them on the basis of religion, caste, etc.
The evolution of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating incidents of our times. Regarding the new political entity AAP, a large number of questions are being asked, some of them are purely out of inertia with the status quo (why the new party AAP? Are they anarchists? etc.), some out of genuine concern for the country’s present and future (AAP’s lack of experience and long term vision, broader goals other than curbing corruption, inclusion of women, issues related to inequality, economic growth and development, etc.) and some other questions that specifically asks what is AAP’s position on national security like Kashmir issue or revocation of AFSPA, etc. Yet another set of questions come from the left-liberal-secular and minorities: what is the position of AAP on minorities? All these questions are pertinent and deserve some answers.
Since I am neither an official spokesperson, nor an AAP leader, I can’t speak on their behalf, with any inside knowledge. However, observing the evolution of AAP from a revolution, namely, the anti-corruption movement, and then asserting itself as a political party, I have developed a sense of affiliation with the party, as well. Thus, I will try to answer these questions briefly from my perspective.
Experience, Long Term Vision, National Security, Development, etc.: It is not a sensible idea to expect a year old party to have developed all of these things. The AAP is still very much in the formation stage. With more and more people joining AAP, and some with more experience than others, I am sure AAP will develop those perspectives. We have many newer parties emerging each election season. Some of them make a mark on the political landscape, and some of them don’t. Those that get to enjoy politics for some time – develop their vision or get lost because of the lack of it! So I am sure the AAP is in the process of developing their vision. At present, I don’t think we need to worry too much about their “national perspective”. They are not going to rule in the Parliament on their own. Either they will end up supporting some other older parties, or they will get supported by some other party, or they will be just another party in the opposition – making hue and cry at the drop of a pin! I hope they will do a good job of the latter!
As far as their mode of functioning is concerned, they are being accused of being non-traditionalist, doling out freebies, and that they are a bunch of anarchists. While each of these accusations has some merit, the counter-arguments also have takers. The cabinet ministers not flaunting red-beacon-lights in their cars, refusing to take adequate security measures and the Chief Minister choosing to stay in the house of people’s choice – all these actions are highly non-traditional. On the one hand, these decisions look clumsy and populist, but on the other hand, by adopting the minimalist ways, the elected leaders are trying to live up to their pre-election promises which is a great indication. Most mainstream political parties and leaders forget those the very moment the election is over. Within one month of coming to power, the party has implemented policies according to its manifesto and within the promised time-frame which is praiseworthy. The criticisms that these freebies in the form of free water, and subsidized electricity, are going to make the state bankrupt does not hold, as the CM himself is saying that once loopholes in the existing policies and practices are fixed, there will be more ways of generating revenues.
Activism, Populism, Anarchy: Coming to the question of anarchy, anything that disrupts the status quo seems anarchic. However, which response we prefer from our elected leaders: deafening silence on our legitimate demands or concrete action when the situation demands. As of now, the AAP leaders are doing the latter according to the best of their capacities. While delivering their duties, if their means are not according to the tradition, it is not always anarchic. That is why I can’t pass a judgment on their recent episode of activism, populism, stupidity, or anarchy – whatever you want to call it – because every move against the status quo initially looks disruptive and ugly but if it succeeds, in the end, it looks constructive and beautiful. However, if they do something wrong during the process, we have an established system of rule of law. The police administration and the judiciary should take care of it.
Inclusion of Elderly, Women and Minorities: Since AAP was formed with support from hyper active protesters on the street, given the Indian social structure, it’s very likely that most of the initial enthusiasts of Anti-Corruption Movement, or first group of supporters of AAP, are young men from India’s social, economic, and cultural middle class. Since women typically don’t participate in public and civil agitations, they were not as much visible as men from similar background. So AAP can’t be blamed for this. It just reflects the societal nature. Which political party has too many women, frankly? So AAP is a case in progress. Once they are in power they will realize what else needs to be done. For most of the elderly, it’s running too fast. Let them wait and take their time before they join the young men’s bandwagon.
When it comes to minorities, they (we), in general, don’t participate in the mainstream discourse unless it concerns specifically them (us). The anti-corruption movement, being of a more general concern, did not attract minorities in the beginning. When people started realizing that it is a good thing (rather cool thing!) to join anti-corruption movement, minority youth also did join the movement but because of the strong association of BJP/RSS/Anti-Congress forces with the movement (supported mainly by the middle class youth, right-of-the center political formations, and the corporate), the minorities – both educated and not so educated ones – became a little cautious. This, in a sense, reflected their position regarding the movement – that it was apparently more of an anti-Government movement rather than anti-Corruption movement. So not many faces from the minorities were to be found within the core of the movement. However, there were quite a few minority members associated with team Anna.
At a later stage, when Arvind Kejriwal decided to form a political party, and fight corruption politically, the BJP/RSS/Anti-Congress lobbies dissociated themselves from the party, and under the leadership of Kejriwal a secular political party, the AAP, came into being. At this stage, minorities with their usual cautiousness, largely, avoided the AAP. The result is clear from Delhi elections – five out of the eight Congress MLAs are from minorities. As of now the newly-born-party has elements from left-right-center. However, the fact that so far it is not supporting the right-wing-forces is clear from its stance in Delhi. The future of the party is up to the people of India as to how we shape it. Whether the AAP will remain a secular party or it will get a non-secular identity is a matter of how we deal with it. If it is left to the hands of right-leaning leaders, it will incline towards the right. If enough secular people join the party, and work actively, it will remain secular and inculcate stronger values.
Any party with secular leaders is a secular party. Unless the AAP adopts discriminatory policies against minorities, it is secular. Expecting special treatment or assurance thereof or explicit minority-centric policies, from the party, at the present stage is a little too much selfishness and shortsightedness on the part of the minorities and their well-wishers. I think, so long as the party does not take an open anti-minority stance, it deserves a chance. Being a new party, and given the fact that most of its leaders are first timers in politics, they probably don’t even have a good idea of the minorities concerns. While some of them may have an idea of what minorities’ concerns are, some of them might be thinking “why minorities just think about themselves?” At this point, if the party speaks explicitly about the minorities, it is going to alienate a section of its voters that it could otherwise get. So I think without taking a test of their secularism, before they enter the national politics, we should give them a chance. As far as their religion neutrality is concerned, in Delhi they have not excluded the minorities from free water or subsidized electricity! So I think they won’t deprive the minorities from what is rightfully theirs.
In addition, one point is noteworthy. We have been under Congress rule, which patents itself as the greatest caretaker of minorities and we know how exactly it is. We have experienced NDA regimes at the center and in different states. Except Gujarat, things in the BJP-ruled states are not really different from non-BJP governments in other states. So the worst they can do is side with BJP or behave like BJP. They can’t do worse than that. Normally, I would expect them to behave as other secular parties do. The good thing with AAP is that it apparently is showing that it cares for Aam Aadmi and is fighting against corruption. If they really care for the poor and the oppressed, then they can’t ignore the minorities. The minorities, especially the Muslims, form a principal sub-group of Aam Aadmi everywhere. So programs aimed at Aam Aadmis are bound to help the minorities. Eradication of corruption helps everyone, including the minorities.
That is why the Aam Aadmi Party, I think, deserves a chance!