Edited Excerpts from an interview
You say that AAP failed to realise its potential as an alternative political force. What makes you say so?
In one sense it succeeded like nothing did, which is succeeding electorally. Where no previous attempts could cross the threshold of viability, which isn’t easy in electoral politics, AAP came up as an alternative, just like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party earlier. But it failed to convert the possibility of alternative politics into presenting a new vision to the country and an alternative value based organisation that brings together a band of idealist, committed volunteers. It failed in providing the vision because it never took the task of creating an alternative agenda for the country seriously. There were attempts, but it was continuously delayed. So what we have today is a series of populist ad-hoc slogans that are picked up today and changed tomorrow. We do not really know what the vision of this party is. Today it is pro-business, tomorrow it is pro-worker.
Why Swaraj Abhiyan?
Because the journey that began with the Jan Lokpal movement is so critical to gathering citizen’s energies for creating a new India, because conversion of that energy into alternative politics was and continues to be so vital for the future of the country, and because that experiment of Aam Aadmi Party failed to realise its potential and got delayed, that’s why it is important to continue that journey (as Swaraj Abhiyan).
Don’t you feel this was the very reason for its success? That it proved too slippery for any label?
I say it doesn’t have a vision. I do not mean that it should have replicated one of the readymade boxes of the 20th century. I thought AAP not fitting in with the straitjacketed Left or the straitjacketed Right was not just clever but appropriate. It was needed. But not to have an ideology at all, not to have a coherent vision for the country, is to do grave injustice to the potential of transformation.
Where would you put AAP on the Left-Right spectrum?
As I said I believe that it was necessary to go beyond the readymade boxes of the 20 century. Right, in any case, was ruled out, because India has never had a serious political Right. Left was an option. But the orthodox Left of the 20th century has proven to be inadequate to the task — it lacks a coherent and viable economic vision for the future. Its economic tactics and tools are wooden and not appropriate to the changing realities of the market economy. And its cultural politics has been unsuitable in the Indian context. Its political strategy was not flexible on the ground. So we need something else.
The trouble is that the moment we say we need an ideology, we immediately take it as a need to go for one or the other “ism” of the 20th century, hook, line and sinker. That is not the case. We need an ideology in the sense that we need a coherent vision. We cannot be saying today that we are defending the minorities and tomorrow go all ultra-nationalist on Yakub Memon, and on Kashmir, echo the sentiments of the RSS, and suddenly start getting sentimental on Irom Sharmila. That is incoherent vision. We need a coherent vision — suited for the 21st century.
What, in your eyes, could be that coherent vision?
That is the job of future historians. The coherent vision must have an element of the Left, because the new ideology of the 21st century must speak about the last person. It must have a shade of green because not taking ecology seriously is no longer an option. It has to have an element of Periyar and Ambedkar because in the Indian context egalitarianism cannot be understood without taking in the caste angle. It must have an element of Gandhi. And it must take feminism seriously. So it has to be a new combination of various ideologies from the 20th century. In fact, if you look at any of the existing “isms”, they all had picked up interesting ideas from the previous generations of thought. This is exactly how new ideas are manufactured all the time.
Do you think Arvind Kejriwal is wary of talk around the party’s ideology? He doesn’t tire saying that he doesn’t want to stick to this or that ideology. Why does he say that?
He is absolutely right to say that he doesn’t want to fit into any of the existing ideologies. But that cannot justify an absence of any coherent frame, any vision. An elementary requirement of politics is to be able to tell people the direction in which we want to go, what we would like our destination to be and how we plan to get there.
Is Swaraj Abhiyan a step towards implementing the vision you describe?
That is precisely what we are trying. We redefine the word Swaraj. It does not mean the same to us that it did when it was used 100 years ago. Swaraj for us is not what the freedom movement meant by it, not what Gandhiji meant by it. For us it is a nomenclature that we use for a new ideology of the 21st century. We have put this in the public domain so people can read what is our stand on agriculture, defence or economic policy. We are open to criticism and correction. That, I think, is the minimum to expect from any serious political player. Because if you don’t have an ideology, you practise populism. The cheapest variety of populism becomes your default ideology.