Is the Aam Aadmi Party sinking into the same mould as our “normal”, cynical, mainstream parties which routinely use doublespeak and venal means to make short-term gains? Recent developments suggest the answer is yes. Take how former diplomat and founder-member Madhu Bhaduri was heckled at AAP’s national executive for moving a sober resolution rightly calling for an apology to the African women in Khirki who were racially profiled by Somnath Bharti and subjected to degrading medical tests. When Bhandari reminded Arvind Kejriwal of his professed insaniyat (humanism), and pleaded that rape shouldn’t be linked to prostitution, she was humiliated.
Any minimally civilised party must unequivocally condemn khap panchayats, among India’s most retrograde caste/clan-based institutions which have no qualms about ordering killings in the name of male-supremacist “tradition”. But AAP benignly defines them as “cultural” or “civil-society” organisations and advocates a “dialogue” with them—because it wants to win the Assembly elections in Haryana, where khaps matter hugely.
Kejriwal must be complimented for boldly initiating legal proceedings against Mukesh Ambani for overpricing Krishna-Godavari natural gas — something no other party has done. He also rightly slammed “collusion” between Ambani, Gautam Adani, the Congress and BJP. But the next day, he reached out to industrialists at a CII meeting, saying business must be entirely in “the private sector”; AAP only opposes “crony capitalism”, not capitalism per se.
Kejriwal even asked for CII’s “help” to “write” AAP’s economic-policy document. He should know better: all capitalisms are inherently crony insofar as capital will try to resist market discipline and profit through political connections — unless regulated and deterred.
Worse, AAP continues to send ambivalent signals on Narendra Modi, who poses a far greater national challenge/threat than Rahul Gandhi — politically and electorally. The earlier “tactical” rationale, that many AAP voters are Modi supporters, no longer holds. But AAP has nominated the loutish Kumar Vishwas — notorious for his communal, racist and male-chauvinist remarks, and now for shamelessly parading his Brahmin credentials — against Gandhi.
However, Kejriwal ducks the question of which AAP leader, including himself, will take on Modi because he isn’t sure where Modi will contest from! Yet AAP targets individual Congressmen regardless of this consideration. For instance, it will chase Kapil Sibal no matter from where he stands. It doesn’t extend the same logic to Modi.
It might be argued that AAP represents something fresh and new; it’s still evolving; it could hopefully take some votes away from the BJP even if it damages the Congress the most. There might be some truth in this. But three special problems characterise AAP.
First, its double standards are unlike most other parties’ because it works both sides of the street, and plays to too many audiences. It’s still trying to win back the business and upper-middle-class support it lost because of its agitational “anti-system” activities and advocacy of mohalla-based democracy which our Residents’-Welfare-Association-represented urban elite hates. It cannot do this — and retain its core-support among the poor. It must choose the latter.
Second, AAP remains politically-ideologically amorphous, obsessed with narrowly-defined corruption, and hasn’t engaged with India’s great pathologies: inequality, poverty, mass deprivation, class, gender and caste exploitation, and growing communalism and authoritarianism.
Third, AAP’s priorities are confused. For it, the Lok Sabha elections should be far more important than the Haryana-Delhi elections. It can best concentrate on the former only if it identifies the BJP as its arch-adversary and puts its greatest energies into fighting it on an unabashedly anti-communal platform which includes the 2002 pogrom. There lies the litmus test.
The author is a writer, columnist, and a professor at the Council for Social Development, Delhi