Political parties, some may argue, have been historically ‘undemocratic’ in their need for the reproduction of power to dominate the electoral system. The origins of their formation may well be rooted in high principles. But the logic of the electoral system is based on the compulsion of surviving in power. In other words, the order of winning elections seems to lead to an inevitable corrosion of the very ideas that generate the ‘party ‘with a difference.’ The history of the Communist parties — their evocative founding principles and then their slow but inevitable degeneration — provide disturbing testimony to this process of decay.
Is a similar process of early dissipation at work in the case of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that formally came into existence less than two years ago? The jury is still out on this one. But the telltale warning signs are becoming evident every day. It can be justifiably asked whether the AAP committed a mistake by joining the parliamentary process. Rather than remain outside of the system and act as an effective pressure group?
When a section of the Indian Against Corruption (IAC) entered electoral politics under the leadership of Arvind Kejriwal, many well-wishers watched the euphoric march of this new political entity with hope and scepticism. The hope lay in the AAP’s alternative politics. This alternative politics, Kejriwal promised, would be different from conventional politics and actions of political parties — in form and content. And to the AAP’s credit it must be said that the fledgling party did hammer away at the discredited contemporary political culture. Regardless of the controversies that surrounded many of its decisions and moves, the AAP pitched right at the centre of the national agenda a vibrant debate about the rotten political culture that has come to dominate today.
Yet scepticism remained. Will this party — claiming a high moral ground in more ways than one — be able to beat a system corrupt to its very core? In its own functioning as well as in negotiating the politics of the outer world, the AAP’s ideology is based on the principle of democracy. Or so the party has claimed. The recent events — exploding in the aftermath of its poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections — and now the exit of AAP’s founder member and one of its most prominent faces, Shazia Ilmi, should worry the leadership. Ilmi has accused Kejriwal of being inaccessible and surrounded by a ‘crony clique’. The selfless work by thousands of volunteers has been a unique characteristic of AAP. It has been a marker of the alternative politics they claim to represent. The widening gap between the top leadership and the party’s volunteers is a negative development. Before the systemic rot of political party structures derails the AAP, it needs to exorcise such undemocratic trends from its culture.
Several months ago, Madhu Bhaduri, a founder AAP member too had accused the AAP leadership of riding roughshod over her dissent over the handling of the controversy triggered by then Delhi’s law minister Somnath Bharti’s midnight raids in Khirkee village.
Given the BJP’s huge mandate, the need for a resilient, honest opposition party is now more acute than ever. To many observers, AAP fits the bill of such an opposition party. It’s obligated to rise to the occasion.