Is the political elite hearing AAP's silent revolution?

With an ex-bureaucrat, a crusader-lawyer and an academic-turned-politician at the helm of affairs, the party’s imagination of politics as a democratic space for engagement with different institutions is different from what we are used to

manisha

Dr M. Manisha | December 3, 2013


File photo of Arvind Kejriwal during one of his rounds in the campaigning for the Delhi assembly elections, scheduled for December 4.
File photo of Arvind Kejriwal during one of his rounds in the campaigning for the Delhi assembly elections, scheduled for December 4.

The well-known scholar Chritophe Jafferlot referred to the political assertion of Dalits in the Hindi-speaking states in 1990s as India’s silent revolution. Murmurs of something similar happening can be heard in the portals of Indian politics yet again. This time it is not the assertion of any class or community but the gradual awakening of ‘Indians’ that seems to be ushering this change.


As Delhi goes to the polls tomorrow (December 4), almost all opinion polls suggest that the ruling Congress party and the principal opposition – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – will be challenged by a new entrant: the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Irrespective of the electoral outcome, the challenge of AAP suggests changes in the nature of India’s political discourse.


As is now well known by now, AAP is a product of split in the Jan Lokpal movement spearheaded by social activist Anna Hazare. Events preceding the formation of AAP gave a preview of the paradigm shift taking place in Indian politics. Large-scale participation of citizens from all walks of life in the movement was an indication of people’s dissatisfaction with the state of governance.


More important, however, was a deep-seated desire to engage with the state on a regular basis.


Historically, the criticality of state in India’s socio-political life was intentional and its intervention was planned. It was only in the post-liberalisation era that the middle class began to play with the idea of limited state intervention. The rendezvous, however, seems to have had limited life. The urban middle class, once a votary of non intervention, has also realised that the state is crucial to their well being.
Private responses to pubic needs were no substitutes to a responsive state.


The AAP has anchored itself on this need of engagement. Every single day, Arvind Kejriwal and his party holds a ‘jan sabha’ –small, intimate and interactive meetings that create a feeling of involvement and active citizenship. Public disclosures of its organisational structure, candidate selection process and even internal surveys have initiated a culture of transparency.


Separate manifestoes for each of Delhi’s 70 seats gives due recognition to constituencies as independent political entities with diverse needs. All these have been carefully planned to respond to the need for political involvement.


Not only this, the new party has challenged the imagery associated with Indian politics – that of opportunism, corruption, criminalisation, and money power. Our public life has come to be defined by a culture that does not bat an eyelid when principles are abandoned for the price. This has become the genuine politics of “ethical trade-off”, or the politics of pragmatic opportunistic compromise. As a large number of youth enter India’s electoral democracy, there is an idealism and freshness that it has brought with it – a yearning for principled politics over material gains, a “triumph for ethical resoluteness over pragmatic compromise”.


The AAP has been first off the bock to recognise this. With an ex-bureaucrat, a crusader-lawyer and an academic-turned-politician at the helm of affairs, the party’s imagination of politics as a democratic space for engagement with different institutions is different from what we are used to.


Challengers often mainstream issues, changing the trajectory of political events. BSP’s Dalit assertion, TDP’s Telugu pride movement and the PDP’s interpretation of Kashmiri nationalism are examples worth remembering. This time the challenger – AAP – seems to be shifting the focus of political discourse: from issues of governance and material gains to those of principles and ethics, from non intervention to active engagement.
Is our political elite hearing?

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