Hit or flop, AAP's democratic ingress here to stay

Aam Aadmi Party would be administering Delhi by the time you read this. But here’s how the party took democracy to people’s doorsteps before taking that step

jasleen

Jasleen Kaur | December 26, 2013


Arvind Kejriwal held jan sabhas in various areas of New Delhi to seek public opinion on government formation
Arvind Kejriwal held jan sabhas in various areas of New Delhi to seek public opinion on government formation

It was five in the evening on a cold December evening. At a time when most people prefer to stay indoors – the day being a Sunday – a motley crowd of around 300 gathered around a small stage near a milk booth in Vikas Kunj, a residential society in west Delhi’s largely middle class Tilak Nagar constituency.

For anyone who thought urban India is disinterested in anything political that is outside the purview of social media, it would have been quite a sight. On December 22, they had gathered to get their take-home and give their take on the first-of-its-kind referendum – a raw exercise to seek public opinion on whether the debutant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which had won 28 seats in Delhi assembly elections, should form the government, with the Congress lending outside support. The gathering comprised people from all age groups.

With his enthusiasm enough to keep the chill at bay, Pulkit Singhal, 20, who had voted for the first time when Delhi went to the polls on December 4, said he had never imagined this could “also” be a way to form a government. “It’s a democratic process; they are seeking our opinion at every step,” he said. “I have heard from my father that it (government formation) has always been decided behind closed doors. But what they (AAP) are doing is actual democracy.”

Alleging that the big parties have looted the country and that the people have for the first time got an alternative, Singhal said, “This new party is finally talking about people like us.”

Ten minutes past five, a man stepped on to the stage along with the area MLA, Jarnail Singh, a businessman. Welcoming people to the “historical referendum”, he congratulated them to prove that the “aad aadmi (common man) can form the government even without muscle and power”. He said, “You have shown tremendous support to the party by voting for it. But we are short of eight seats and are under the dilemma whether to form the government or not.”

Soon, the AAP volunteer handed over the mike to Jarnail Singh, who read out an 18-point charter that the party had sent to both the BJP and the Congress. It included, among others, the end of the red beacon days for VIPs, reduced prices of electricity and water, a strong jan lokpal, and full statehood for Delhi.
Only 14 people raised hands to show discontent to the idea of forming the government; all others supported it.

Harleen Chauhan, 17, who had supported the idea of an AAP government, reasoned that this “whole idea of a common man running the government is new”. “I couldn’t vote to show my support to them but I did not want to miss this opportunity,” the teenager said.

Meena Singh, 55, an associate professor at Moti Lal Nehru College of Delhi University, also supported government formation but added that the party should not lose its focus on strengthening the roots. “Their objectives are right but its implementation would be difficult,” Singh said. “They should not lose focus and try and spread in other parts of the country as well. Forming the government would mean they are restricting themselves.”

While the BJP decided against to form the government despite being only four seats short of a majority, experts say AAP banked on the fact that 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 them for deciding the next step.

AAP insiders say they are not rattled by the criticism. 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.

Meanwhile Sanjay Kaul, member, Delhi BJP executive committee said that it (asking people on government formation) is an eyewash – a predetermined decision that was made to look like a democratic process. “They (AAP) have joined hands with a party (Congress) whom they fought against. Why didn’t they agree re-elections? They are ready to give Rs 800 crore subsidy on electricity. What is the harm in spending Rs 200 crore for elections again?”

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