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Delhi assembly elections: AAP as a harbinger of ‘new’ politics and change?

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The Delhi elections have come as a landmark break in Indian politics. An all-time high percentage of the voting population at 67% combined with the humiliating defeat of the two major national parties, appears to have made the Delhi elections representative of the seemingly larger changes in the Indian polity. Displaying one of the traits of a typical parliamentary democracy, in India it is often the case that the substance of our democracy is judged and measured in terms of numbers alone. Not only is this based on an ignorance of functioning of a good democracy, but is entirely inappropriate in the present context. Yet, despite the presence of a number of other factors, the sweeping mandate achieved by the AAP has been interpreted prematurely by many leading political analysts of the country – especially those on the Left – as a harbinger of new politics in India. Based mainly on wishful thinking and less on reality, they even view AAP as a revolutionary party, albeit one that is not based on class. Others view it as a bastion of renewed secularism and socialist values in the country. Within the realm of politics, the regional parties that were marginalized after last year’s Lok Sabha election now sense an opportunity to finally strike back at the seemingly invincible Narendra Modi; this is particularly crucial given the historical failure of the Third Front and the inability of the Janta Parivar to come together. Regional parties in Bihar and West Bengal, which are due to go to polls, now sense an opportunity to be exploited due to a weakened BJP.

None of these current speculations, especially the renewed hopes of the Leftist intellectuals of the country, are based on solid ground. On the face of it, the mandate of the Delhi elections was clear – a humiliating defeat for the BJP and a Congress wipe-out – based on the fact that the AAP won 67 out of 70 seats in the Delhi assembly, while the BJP won just 3, and the rest were completely wiped out. However, the implications of this point in a different direction altogether. This is true at both immediate and deeper levels.

First, at an immediate level, the mandate for the AAP was both against the BJP and the Congress. This is because although the BJP’s vote share in the 2015 and the 2013 Delhi assembly elections remains nearly the same at 32-33%, it was a significant climb down from its level of 46% in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The AAP’s vote share increased by nearly 24.8% between 2013 and 2015 elections. Significantly, the Congress’s vote share has gone down by nearly 15% between the two elections, and the other parties, independents and NOTA vote share combined has decreased by about 7.7% between the two elections. The AAP has gained mainly due to the complete Congress wipe-out and shifting of the Congress support to the AAP, and not that much by the BJP’s vote-share loss.

Second, at a deeper level, the AAP victory can, if at all, only potentially be a harbinger of a new kind of politics in the country. Practically, however, the Delhi elections cannot become a model to predict national politics since the mandate was mainly on local and populist issues. Delhi is divided on class lines rather than identity lines, with welfarism, income inequality and ambitious backlash against the elites, being the defining political ambitions of the population. Not all Indian regions are dynamised by this urban mobility politics of ‘roti, kapda, makaan’. So, it is too early to predict whether AAP victory can shape national politics. Many revolutionary parties, more radical and movement-based than the AAP, have emerged in the past, especially in the southern states in the post-Independence period. These parties had a far more clear ideology and a much better grasp of how to mobilize identities, and far more radical mass support than the AAP. Yet, they finally proved powerless in the face of the lure of liberal parliamentary democracy and its narrow set of values, ideologies and ethics.

The AAP’s structure and ideology is certainly radical in that it promises to cleanse the system of decades of public corruption. It appears to be vigorously challenging the system, but is it really doing so? Not likely. At a deeper level – and this extends beyond the AAP – the perspective by which the AAP’s apparently well-meaning spirit is guided is essentially flawed. Its ideological motivation is to liberate the system from corruption in the public sphere, but it fails to realize that public corruption cannot be separated from religious, cultural, social and individual forms of corruption, and above all, it cannot be separated from ideational corruption. These are the obvious micro-units that are the building blocks of public corruption. By claiming to be secular, socialist and liberal, the AAP is obviously under the impression that these are just neutral terms that it can use at its convenience to gain votes, while using strong institutional measures to weed out public corruption. What it fails to grasp is that these ideas are so strongly present in the public sphere and the liberal thinking perpetrated by the media and institutions have so strongly shaped individual attitudes among the urban, educated population that they are never just empty or neutral catchwords for getting votes. In today’s world of increasing psychological degradation, liberal attitudes have become a mask for the social, cultural and individual corruption and decay that we are facing. Does the AAP think that it can simply promote the existing corrupt forms of secularism and society on which current divisions are based while isolating political corruption for effective institutional treatment? Neutral and unproblematic forms are often the ones most susceptible to the worst kind of falsehood since they are incapable of taking a clear stand on the truth. So, such a model can never succeed. The Congress was based exactly on this all-accommodating type of model to expand its support base, and failed miserably.

The AAP presents a substitute to the Congress only in its surface aspects and immediate spirit, since the Congress had degraded into an explicitly corrupt and opportunist organization, while the AAP may be well-meaning. But by accepting the current political constructions of liberal ideas, the AAP has sealed its own fate as any other ordinary political party in a liberal Parliamentary system, be it at the national or regional level. On the other hand, the BJP, obviously displaying a remarkable lack of perspective in its policies and implementation, lies on the other end of the political spectrum, but is now beginning to be confined by the current politics. It is increasingly coming under the sway of the RSS, and the RSS, despite its ideology of cultural revivalism, is no alternative to the liberal corruption of today. It has defined its goals and ideas in opposition to the main liberal symbols of today, rather than on an independent or truly Indian spiritual ground; the RSS has, thus, shaped its cultural radicalism in accordance with the ideas of Western cultural radicalism. Where is the real alternative in that? The BJP, especially Mr. Modi, is dangerously falling under its spell. The winning mandate given to the Modi government in the Lok Sabha elections and the successful by-polls that followed was not due to its allegiance to the RSS ideology, but due to its potential for contributing to an alternative restructuring of society. However, now that the party is increasingly being constrained by the RSS and displaying ineffectiveness, its mandate can be revoked at any time. Serious change is required, not in the direction of a more efficient pursuit of the Western materialistic ideals but the one which aims at a revival of the true spirit of Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Religion. This alone can keep India from becoming a replica of the organised selfishness, cruelty and greed which is dignified by the name of Industry in the West. This alone can enable India to create her own conditions, find out the secret of true order by harmonizing the world and the spirit. BJP must take serious cognizance of this and reorient its thinking and policies accordingly. The extent to which it can do this will be the measure of its relevance for the future of India.

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