Political Villainy, UPA’s Fall, AAP’s Surge

Book: INDIA: Political Villainy, UPA’s Fall, AAP’s Surge
Author: P. Radhakrishnan
Publisher: Y S Books International, New Delhi,
Year: 2014
Pages: 202
Price: Rs. 495
ISBN-13: 9789383793150 

India has entered the new millennium without the aura of the much-touted millennium. Indian democracy is shallower and hollower now than a decade ago. If India has to develop into a full-blown democracy, instead of merely gloating over sustaining democracy as its greatest achievement, India ought to strengthen its democratic structures and institutions and work overtime to offer, among other things, clean, efficient, secular, transparent and corruption-free governance; rapid expansion of civil space for rapid secularisation and democratisation of state and society with secular public institutions mediating between both; equip and energise the judiciary for expeditious justice delivery, especially for the masses who cannot afford to spend and cannot afford to wait; and protect and uplift the weaker sections from poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and social oppression.

As the nation has been caught between the two evils, Congress and the BJP, making the hapless masses forlorn, team-Anna’s anti-corruption surge, launching of the Aam Aadmi Party led by Arvind Kejriwal who played a major role in team-Anna, and the AAP’s stunning performance in the Delhi Assembly elections held last December, all happened in quick succession. The AAP “model politics” tried out in Delhi, and soon to be tried out in Parliament will decide the nature of the future of Indian democracy. There is much to be said in favour of and expected from the AAP’s “alternative politics”. For this, understanding the perception of reality is as important as understanding the elusive reality itself. That is best done by identifying the fault lines in governance, the perfidies of the governors, and the pitfalls of the governed, through critiquing the system, seeing it through the common man’s “looking glass”.

The author, P. Radhakrishnan, was a professor of sociology at the Madras Institute of Development Studies. His research experience spans more than three decades. His publications include Religion, Caste and State, The Perfidies of Power: India in the New Millennium, Peasant Struggles, Land Reforms, and Social Change: Malabar 1836-1982, and Progress Towards Education for All: The Case of Tamil Nadu (with R. Akila). He has to his credit several other publications, which include articles in edited books and leading journals, research notes, working papers, and reviews. In the opening paragraph of one of the essays in this book, the author says that the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare is the best thing to happen to India since its independence in 1947. He goes on to say that the surge in Delhi of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) launched by the Arvind Kejriwal team barely a year ago, doing virtually the impossible in the Assembly polls and the unthinkable thence is the best of the best things to happen to India since its independence.

Aam Aadmi Party’s arrival: With a band of dedicated persons, mostly young, thrown up by the Anna Hazare movement, in which Kejriwal played a major role; with no funds, experience, and muscle power, through hard, sincere, well-thought-out and well-coordinated work, the AAP has shown the possibility of extricating the nation from the morass into which successive governments have pushed it, with Kejriwal proving to be a historic game changer or change maker. Since the Anna Hazare movement politicians, Delhi’s bumbledom and crony capitalists across the country have been a worried lot because of the fear of Kejriwal exposing their corruption, money-laundering, and other crimes.

It is impossible to take on the might of a byzantine state which has surrendered national interests to crony capitalism, and is pervasive in corruption, undemocratic, unscrupulous, disdainful and insensate to constitutional morality and people-centric governance, and frighteningly turning more and more autocratic and fascist with every passing day. It is in this calamitous context the work of Arvind Kejriwal and team has to be understood. It is idiocy to dismiss it as expression of political ambition. Even if it is political ambition instead of speculating it may become power hungry it ought to be encouraged; for India is badly in need of young, well-informed, upright, upfront and no-nonsense politicians committed to cleansing its political Augean stables.

The youthful AAP and the young: Though half of India’s population is young and by 2020 India is set to become the world’s youngest country, as The Economist of June 15, 2013 reported, yet it is the young who should really moan: about the elderly who clog Indian politics, and a stultifying culture of deference to the old. Manmohan Singh, at 80, is one of the world’s oldest leaders and his cabinet creaks with pensioners. Pranab Mukherjee, the president, is 77.

As sections of the media reported, the AAP Cabinet was not just the youngest ever… The AAP has begun to create the much-needed political space for the youth across the country, beginning with Delhi. The significance of this can be understood only if we bear in mind that, going by estimates reported in the press, of India’s 833 million voters in 2014 about 47 per cent are in the age group of 18-35 years. So any political party that can capture the imagination of the voters in this group will have an edge in elections. And there is none other than the AAP to do so.

That apart, as politically important and meaningful gestures can do a lot to strengthen democracy and youth power, with austerity as watchword, demonstrating the ordinariness of the Aam Aadmi Party (literally, the commoner’s party) as a first step to put an end to Delhi’s “VIP culture” the Kejriwal team taking Delhi Metro to reach the Ramlila Maidan on December 28, 2013...without any fanfare and VIPs, in the heart of the capital that was thronged by over a lakh of people hoping to see a new alternative political system, with Kejriwal’s impassioned speech after the swearing-in in which he spelt out the rules by which he would govern Delhi, promising an end to corruption. Capping his speech with a Manna Dey song (from an old Bollywood film “Paigham”): “Insaan se insaan ka ho bhaichara, yehi hai paigam hamara (people should have brotherly relations, this is our message),” sang to loud cheers, Kejriwal struck an instant chord with the masses, especially the youth.

In keeping with the AAP’s promise to end Delhi’s “VIP culture” as a second step, Kejriwal declined the offer of official bungalows to the AAP ministers, official security, lal battis (red beacons) that signal VIPs’ cars and confer right of way, and escort vehicles, to ministers and officials.

The AAP’s contribution in too short a time is too big even to imagine. That is, the new political space and the new political culture it tried to create devoid of the VIP syndrome, with aam aadmi or common man or commoner at the centre of governance. Delhi Secretariat was thrown open to public on the AAP’s maiden day in power - an unprecedented act. Within a few days, the AAP began delivering on its big ticket promises on which it had wrested power from the Grand Old Party of India - the Congress - which has ruled the country for over five decades.

Contrary to the expectations of its critics and political opponents, who had termed its promises impractical, the AAP delivered on cheap water and power. The government worked on weekends, giving a tough but exciting time to journalists who were never short of stories. Even a single line statement by the Chief Minister was a story for journalists. It seemed like a carnival.

Obviously by his stormy exit from as by his stormy entry to power in Delhi Kejriwal cast a long shadow on which the hide-bound and opportunistic would fear to tread. That explains the criticism by sections of the media, politicians and some individuals of Kejriwal going by Delhi Metro for the swearing-in; swearing-in at Ramlila Maidan; Kejriwal as Chief Minister of Delhi leading a group of some 150 cadre from his AAP on January 20, to launch an unprecedented protest outside Parliament House, demanding executive control of the Delhi Police and transfer of the police personnel who defied his government’s orders; filing FIRs against Mukhesh Ambani and cabinet ministers for flouting the contract, increasing the gas purchase price and hence causing loss to exchequer; Kejriwal’s resignation when the Jan Lokpal Bill was stalled in the assembly by the Congress-BJP combine; and so on.

It is not that the Kejriwal team was in perfect harmony in running the Delhi government, for which the Centre has to be squarely blamed as the Delhi assembly is still an appendage of the Centre. As beginners in the theatre of the absurd, the team might have had introspection, and having realised when and where they were blunderbuss they are expected to be better politicians in the making.

By resigning, Arvind Kejriwal had clearly made Corruption, Clean governance and Crony capitalism (three “C”s) as the main issues for the 2014 parliamentary elections. It will clearly resonate well with larger sections of the electorate who are honest.

End of the road for UPA and Congress: Indian democracy has over time shown a resilience that has been marvelled at the world over. Yet, 67 years after its birth, the world’s largest democracy is faced with a crisis of faith too scarily large to be ignored. As the 15th Lok Sabha comes to an ignominious end, it is no longer possible to put off the question: are we a democracy only in name? Without a proactive course correction, India’s robust record in conducting elections could end up being just that - a ritualistic, five-yearly obeisance to democracy that hides the appalling state of the country’s institutions, in particular Parliament which today resembles a wrestling arena....

By the time the 15th Lok Sabha completed its last day, the UPA government had virtually surrendered the nation’s sovereignty to the US through its instrumentalities like the World Bank (as evident from the essay “The World Bank as Imperialist Instrument”), and crony capitalists; and continued with its venality by playing its age-old caste, communal, and other cards of political opportunism, such as the surreptitious illegal hanging of Afzal Guru; putting its weight behind caste quota by its announcement on January 30 of approval to the amendment of the Central list of Other Backwards Classes to ensure reservation benefits to around 60 more castes/communities; UPA President Sonia Gandhi’s reiteration on February 5 that the caste quota, “introduced” and “strengthened” by her party, would continue to be “championed” by it; UPA’s decision on March 2, to give reservation to Jats in nine northern states; and Parliament’s last minute passing of the AP Reorganisation Bill for the creation of the Telangana state, all apparently with an eye on the 16th Lok Sabha elections.

AAP’s alternative politics: Going by the trends the AAP leaders have reason for optimism that the party could contest 330 seats or more in the general election if they get the right candidates. As in the case of the Delhi election donations have been pouring in for the general election also; and in the election the AAP may turn out to be not only a “giant killer”, but more importantly, “a giant game-changer” - as it has stunningly done in Delhi as a debutant; for it has a clear vision, clarity of thought, great ingenuity, uncanny ability to mobilize the masses, especially the commoners, and the techno-savvy youth solidly on its side. Its straight and sincere message to the electorate across the country of the importance of returning to power a clean, corruption-free, people-centric and youthful party is bound to make AAP the rallying point for the electorate, especially the youth. A new kind of political churning to that effect is already taking place. Even if the AAP does not make it to the seat of power at the Centre as a strong and well-meaning opposition it would ensure genuine secular democratic governance at the Centre.

As Fali Nariman would have it, power has overtaken ability; we have fallen on evil days; there is a crisis of competence, along with a conspicuous lack of integrity, in almost all fields of activity - more markedly in the political; and the entire country is submerged in a tidal wave of corruption; the public is fed up with politicians as a class.   

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 April 2014 on page no. 21

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