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‘Corruption’ is an evergreen topic for politics. It is not a recent phenomenon because it was even found in the work of Kautilya during the ancient period. Kautilya in his ‘Arthashastra’ has talked about at least 40 ways of embezzlement of funds by treasury officers. Corruption was even prevalent during the British EIC, even though it was a private entity. Throughout history, corruption has been a major point for cornering the government. For instance, J.P. movement was against corruption which forced Mrs. Gandhi to step down.
With the same agenda, a movement led by Anna Hazare, India Against Corruption (IAC), was fought against the then INC-led UPA government in 2011. Similar momentum was built like India is fighting for the next independence. The movement was named as one of the “Top 10 News Stories of 2011” by Time magazine. It ended with forming a political party, Aam Aadmi Party (Party) without achieving the stated objective of getting Lokpal as per the original demand. However, the Government of India has tried to enact Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 to prevent the general election 2014 from being damaged. But it was not in the letter and spirit of the IAC movement.
Footprints of “AAP” in politics
The journey of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) can be understood in the following six steps – First: The Post Anna movement, AAP was formed with centralist ideology and bureaucratic skills. Consequently, in the 2013 assembly election, AAP secured maximum seats (28 out of 70) with good managerial power and promises. Second: It tried to move left on the ideological scale and that’s why it was termed as “new left” by the intelligentsia in India. Subsequently, it faced defeat in the 2014 general election – AAP secured only 4 Lok Sabha seats and those are in Punjab only. Rest elsewhere AAP lost all seats along with Kejriwal’s seat from Varanasi.
Third: The AAP chief asked the people to apologize and repositioned AAP to the center. In the next 2015 assembly election, AAP got 67 out of 70 seats. It was deemed as a landslide victory for AAP. Fourth: From there onward, AAP learned a lesson and became a “swing party” and conducted experiments during 2015-2020. He questioned ‘Surgical strike’ as well as supporting ‘Abrogation of Article 370’. Fifth: Eventually, AAP finds that being “right” is the right in its destiny. AAP won the 2020 assembly election with the help of lord Hanuman and nationalism. Sixth: With the help of the ‘Delhi Model’ based on welfarism, AAP won the Punjab election in 2022.
Learning rules of the conventional politics
With the formation of AAP on 26th November 2012, Shanti Bhushan donated Rs 1 crore to the party. People from almost all ideologies were there in AAP – Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Kumar Vishwas, prof. Anand Kumar etc. Thus, multiple centers of power were very natural in the party system. So, AAP failed to give a coherent stand on the ongoing current issues. That was the reason why AAP was in news frequently those days. This trend ended when Arvind Kejriwal started centralizing power in the AAP by flushing out antagonists. Thus, he ended internal democracy in the first place.
Subsequently, Arvind Kejriwal understood the role of the market. He found the best niche available for AAP – developmental politics. He worked at Delhi school which has been in good condition for years since it is in the capital city of India. He renovated Delhi school and revamped infrastructural conditions and matched it with private schools in terms of infrastructure. Then, he started selling photos of the renovated schools for electoral campaigning. In this process, he was successful in building a narrative for developmental politics.
Apart from the end of internal democracy and the marketing electoral process, AAP also focused on the ‘personality cult’ thesis in the parliamentary form of democracy. It is similar to other parties like INC, BJP, and all regional parties where the power of a party revolves around ‘one man’ or ‘a few men’. Also, the engagement of Kejriwal’s family in politics is a probable hint for dynasty politics that matches conventional politics. In the Delhi assembly election 2020 as well as Punjab assembly election 2022, Kejriwal’s daughter and wife were seen in the process of active campaigning.
Last but not the least, AAP lost the original theme based on which party was created i.e., clean politics. During the first election campaign, Arvind Kejriwal often used to say – ‘AAP has not given a single ticket to any candidate having criminal background. If I missed, then let me know I will cancel the ticket immediately.’ However, the ADR report shows that 42 out of 70 candidates in the Delhi Assembly election 2020 have criminal backgrounds with 36 having serious charges. Thus, it has embraced almost all qualities of the traditional political parties of India.
Realpolitik adopted by AAP: Following tight ropes
Anthony Downs in his 1957 book, “An Economic Theory of Democracy” developed “The median voter theorem” which says that ‘A majority rule voting system will select the outcome most preferred by the median voter.’ With the rise of the BJP, median voters have shifted to the right. BJP has fulfilled two major promises of its manifesto out of three except Uniform Civil Code (UCC) – Article 370 and Ram temple.
AAP lacks functionaries like RSS and foot soldiers which could able to create a ‘narrative’ and attract voters at its conventional position. So, AAP feels comfortable in shifting its position near to the median voters (which is ‘center right’ today). That’s why AAP’s stand on most of the issues seems closer to India’s right. For example, AAP has been vocal for full statehood in Delhi since the formation of the party. But paradoxically, AAP supported the idea of disintegration of former J&K – into J&K and Ladakh with the status of the union territory.
Additionally, AAP stayed away from negative politics. A study published in ‘The Hindu‘ claims with stats that ‘After calling the PM a “shameless dictator” and “psychopath”, the AAP chief has suddenly stopped attacking him.’ The Hindu has analyzed 45 speeches of Kejriwal in 2020, 2021, and 2022, he has used the name ‘Modi’ only once and that’s too on his birthday to greet him. He was even seen by saying to BJP and INC workers – ‘Stay with them, vote for us’ which is a sign of realpolitik. Thus, he backed away from revenge politics and started focusing on its strength – A major focus on Punjab rather than other states on the intention to defeat BJP.
Apart from these, AAP knows well how to correct mistakes. In 2013, AAP formed the government in Delhi in a post-poll alliance with the INC against whom all campaigning was done. To counter the allegation of ‘power hunger’, he feel sorry and swore on his children for the guarantee that he won’t take support from Congress in the future. Similarly, AAP used to mock BJP on Ram temple ‘Mandir wahi banaenge lekin date nhi bataenge’. The same party capitalized on the new reality and flags off the Ayodhya pilgrim train with 1,000 senior citizens. On the same line, AAP questions the first surgical strike and asks for ‘evidence’ but later in the second surgical strike (Balacot Strike), AAP openly supported the government.
‘Catch-all party’ phenomenon
The concept of the ‘Catch all party’ phenomenon was given by Otto Kirchheimer, a German jurist. It is basically the conception of a ‘Big tent’ where a party is flexible to position itself to maximize vote without caring about the core ideological stand. For example, the core ideology of AAP was to give clean and corruption-free alternative politics to India. Later, AAP learned the rules of dirty politics better than other parties and focused on electoral numbers rather than principles. Consequently, it broadened its denominator.
Subsequently, AAP has targeted the lower middle and middle class that are in majority. For example, the Delhi government gave Rs 5000 to auto, taxi drivers hit by Covid-19 lockdown. Auto has been a mobile medium for campaigning for Aam Aadmi Party. Similarly, to consolidate the doctor community, the AAP-led Delhi govt promised to nominate doctors for Padma awards. Further, during the Shaheen Bagh protest, AAP adopted a ‘principled distance’ stand. It refrained from visiting the protestor site because the party didn’t want to reduce the denominator by antagonizing the majoritarian community.
But in the case of farmer’s protest 2020, AAP visited protest sites not once but multiple times because it suited in the upcoming Punjab assembly election 2022. Thus, it learned which questions to attempt and which ones to skip in the electoral exam. Here, The party tried to increase the denominator by capturing the farmer’s communities. Similarly, to appease the Hindu community, AAP spent Rs 6 crore on Diwali for the Laxmi Puja event and television coverage in Akshardham Temple, Delhi.
Additionally, AAP didn’t lag behind in showing feelings of nationalism. Kejriwal rolled out of Deshbhakti Curriculum on the eve of 75th independence for nursery to Class 12. When the Indian government decided to help the world by sending vaccines through ‘Vaccine Maitri’, AAP started targeting the BJP government by saying – ‘Why are you sending vaccines of our children to foreigners?’ Similarly, on Rinku Sharma’s murder because of chanting the ‘Jai Shree Ram’ slogan, Manish Sisodia commented – “If we cannot chant Jai Shri Ram in India, will it be chanted in Pakistan?”
AAP knows very well that their political base is neither Muslim appeasement nor Hyper nationalism. Thus, the party tries to maximize its voters base through the ‘Catch all’ phenomenon. In this process, it has taken a complete 180-degree shift on many issues as discussed above. Parallelly, it has a good grip on local issues. Service delivery at ground level to the poorest section creates legitimacy of the government. Testimony of selected service delivery is marketed to buy votes of other communities and create a dream for government in other states like Punjab.
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