The India Against Corruption (IAC) movement started when the UPA government was reeling under a series of corruption charges. It was clearly a political movement but its organisers sought to avoid like the plague any reference to the party ‘doing politics’. After the IAC rallies died down, the Sangh Parivar leaders admitted that they willingly sent cadres to the venue where Anna Hazare and team staged dharnas demanding the constitution of the Janlokpal with overarching powers. The Sangh’s supply of ‘troops’ to the movement yielded them great dividends in the 2014 General Election. The venue for Hazare’s satyagraha featured a Bharatmata cut out in the background and chants praising ‘Mother India’ — markers hitherto associated with right-wing mobilisations in the country.
Mainstream media in general and the electronic media in particular covered the movement and the effect it was having on the civil society extensively, ensuring that corruption became the central point in the 2014 General Election. As it become clear later, the civil society movement which later led to the formation of AAP, had a political ideology inherent to it despite its leaders clinging on to the ‘apolitical’ image with a fierce sense of morality.
Though Arvind Kejriwal and his associates parted with Hazare on the question of forming a political party, they were careful to present the new party as one which did not want to be strait jacketed into conventional ideological camps. This conscious ‘ideological neutrality’ had a role to play in AAP’s win as it appealed to the middle class. Even after running the government in Delhi for a year, AAP has managed to maintain this ‘ideologically neutral’ image.
Now that the euphoria around the Modi government is fast fading due to its saffronisation policies and sour promises of development, the talk of a national alternative is gaining momentum among political parties. Where does AAP stand in this? Does a party, born out a civil society movement, which still presents itself as a party sans ideology, have a chance at becoming a national alternative? The party’s Delhi report card speaks of ‘solution based’, pragmatist approaches and an inclination towards what one could call an ‘ad-hoc’ method — a ‘taking things as they come’ approach. Though such methods have gone well at some levels with the specific urban pool of Delhi, AAP’s perpetual ambivalence on a host of more ‘political’ issues ranging from caste to economic policy is a limiting factor if one thinks of national appeal.
“Even if they win in Punjab next year, it cannot be treated as an indicator that AAP is emerging as an alternative political force at the national level,” says political scientist Achin Vanaik. “It is one thing to have a movement on a single issue to which you can bring a diverse set of people but, to sustain it for a longer period is difficult. So far, the party has failed to show a strong democratic character. It does not have a clearly defined policy on many issues. The need to politically survive as the ruling party in Delhi has pitted it against the BJP, but on other issues like economic policies, there are no clear cut strategies. At best what can be said about them is that they stand for liberalism along with humanism.”
When AAP emerged, many saw it as a result of the people’s anger against the disjunction between the ideals set out in the constitution and the reality faced on the ground. A participatory democratic model was projected as an answer to the evils of parliamentary democracy.