Ball in aam aadmi's court, democracy knocks at doorsteps

AAP’s move to ask Delhiites whether it should form the govt with Congress alliance gives electorate a direct say in governance; may open up other efforts to involve the people

jasleen

Jasleen Kaur | December 20, 2013



Democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people may be an age-old dictum but it perhaps being seen in practice for the first time in Indian politics.

Here’s why: in a move that has been criticised by the established parties, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has decided to go door to door in Delhi constituencies and ask the electorate whether the party should take Congress’s support to form the state government. Party leader Arvind Kejriwal has asked for people’s opinion through text messages, on facebooks, through phone calls and during ‘jan sabhas’ AAP would hold till Sunday evening.

But despite the large-scale criticism – which many on the other side of the fence put down as yet another move by the established parties (read BJP and Congress) to lampoon the fledgling outfit, threatened as they are by its sudden rise – after voting for the party of their choice, Delhi’s electorate would now have a say in government formation as well.

While the BJP has decided not to form the government despite being only four seats short of a majority, experts say AAP is banking on the fact that the people have taken well to the party’s promise of offering a new way of practicing politics, and lending a fresh meaning to the idea of democracy. Ergo, the decision to reach out to the people for deciding the next step.

AAP insiders say they are not rattled by the criticism – even jokes being made on social media of the party’s decision to reach out to the people. They say every “innovative step” taken by the party in the last one year raised eyebrows and attracted criticism and cynicism: right from raising funds for elections by asking people for donation to the personal and low-cost form of campaigning; and from telling people that AAP members of Delhi legislature would be their representatives and not their rulers down to selection of candidates. Each of these steps has been unique and different from usual choices made by the traditional parties.

Even the party’s campaigning was different: it was supported by volunteers and not paid professionals. AAP also came up with different manifestoes for constituencies, reflecting that every constituency has a different need, prompting others to think along similar lines.

In sum, AAP is a new force trying out experiments in participative democracy – by decentralising it and taking it quite literally to the doorsteps of the aam aadmi, the much-discussed common man.

Their approach to the whole system may seem to be somewhat simplistic, depending largely on the power of people, but party sympathizers say in reality AAP is “actually practicing” what it had preached all along. And the move to get a voice vote from the public is another step in that direction of empowering the people.

Anjali Bhardwaj, member of the working committee of the national campaign for people’s right to information, says that asking people whether AAP should form the government or not is certainly an “interesting experiment”. But the party has to bear in mind several critical factors: what mechanisms it would seek to reach out to people, how many people would actually participate, and whether that would be the right representative.

“They have brought in several innovations in the political system through various initiatives. This whole focus on engaging people at this level is certainly a welcome step,” Bhardwaj says. “It (the step to reach out to people) will also put pressure on the traditional parties in engaging people and becoming more responsive. However, these are very initial set of innovations; only time will tell how these innovations are going to change the system.”

Chakshu Roy, head of outreach at PRS Legislative Research, a Delhi-based think-tank, says the recent assembly elections have signalled a weakening of the connect between voters and the political class. “In a participative democracy attempts by a political party to elicit public opinion on political or policy issues is a welcome step,” he says. “It strengthens the connect that a party has with the people and enables it to get a feel of the pulse of people that they represent.”

No matter what the mandate of the people is, this effort, too, will potentially open the doors for other efforts of this kind.

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