There can be no two views on the fact that Indian politics has witnessed phenomenal changes in the last two years. These changes, some believe, reflect the vibrancy of the Indian democracy. The decimation of Congress, BJP’s ascendency and Aam Aadmi Party’s (aap’s) historic victory in Delhi, according to many, reflects the pluralistic nature of Indian polity.
When many felt that the political wave unleashed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was here to stay at least for some years, Arvind Kejriwal scripted history of sorts by sweeping to power with a majority which is unheard of in Delhi’s political history. Every historic moment is bound to produce analysis of varying kinds. But when an exhaustive analysis comes from someone who has watched history unfold from close quarters, it is quite certain that our understanding of the present will be enriched. In recent times, many journalists and political observers have come out with many studies on current Indian politics, some making good additions to the literature of political history. Saba Naqvi’s Capital Conquest on the rise of the aap and Arvind Kejriwal is a welcome addition to this category.
History is a product of evolution. As Karl Marx put it: Man does not make history as he pleases, they do not make under self – selected circumstances but circumstances existing already. This is true to those who created history of sorts in the Indian politics recently. Narendra Modi, and Arvind Kejriwal were making use of the prevailing political circumstances in their own way. Saba Naqvi traces how an anti-corruption movement evolved into a political party. The author, a political editor of the Outlook magazine, in the beginning of the book tries to understand the ideological positioning of the Aam Aadmi Party and she goes on to say the party is “potential danger to the Left and Right as it combines notions of patriotism and public service along with populist measures and solutions that are radical in their implementation”. Saba Naqvi rightly says in the beginning that aap is all things to all people. Its fundamental article of faith being its anti-corruption position.
According to many, aap was able to emerge as a political force to reckon with, because they are bereft of an ideology. Many who celebrate the emergence of aap seem to think that subscribing to an ideology by itself makes a political organisation incapable of reacting constructively to people’s demand and woes. Going through this book, one gets the feeling that Saba Naqvi, who had watched the political developments closely also seems to project aap’s nonadherence to a particular ideology as their forte. The denunciation of ideology may be helping aap to project it as a pragmatic party, and they may be using it as their usp, but for individuals as well as for organisations, ideology is one thing that can’t be wished away. ‘We have no baggage of ideology’ slogan itself carries a political thinking that gained currency in the post liberalization era. ‘We have no ideology’ itself is a proclamation of a political stand, the nuances of which can be best understood when AAP practices its alternative policies.
It is mainly the youth who were disillusioned with the present system and those who do not have any ideological inclination that have worked for AAP as volunteers.
In this book, Saba Naqvi cites the stories of two youths who plunged into politics after meeting Kejriwal, leaving their high paid jobs. When Narendra Modi prepared to start his campaign, he also got support from many technocrats and other high-salaried individuals who have found a saviour in Modi. They worked to ensure Modi’s victory. Like Kejriwal, in 2014 Modi also succeeded in roping in those who were fed up with the system albeit on a lesser degree. How the youth, who were drawing good salaries resigned from their jobs and worked for aap, is pointer to Kejriwal’s ability to connect with people who were apolitical throughout their life. But those who aligned with Modi and BJP in 2013 and 2014 worked strategically in a more conducive atmosphere. For those who worked with aap that was not the case. This book explains in detail the role of volunteers in AAP’s incredible victory in Delhi. By narrating the story of Nandan Mitra, an IITian and Raghav Chadha, a chartered account, the reader gets to understand how the volunteers of aap are different in commitment and dedication, from the cadres of other parties.
After the aap’s set back in the Lok Sabha elections, there were not many who thought Kejriwal would make a comeback so soon. Everything was working against him, even the prominent members of the core group Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan were not happy with the way the party was being led. Rather than engaging with inner party issues that they raised, Kejriwal opted to move ahead with his own team and started readying for the next battle. Apart from the systematic and unorthodox campaigning, the changing political atmosphere also helped him create history.
This book, perhaps the first comprehensive analysis on aap, addresses some of the challenges Kejriwal will face in putting in to practice an alternative form of governance. The author, who many a times extols AAP for being pragmatic without subscribing to any ideology, is apprehensive about how they will translate their idea of swaraj (self governance) into practice. She rightly asks how the AAP would get the views of those who best reflect the aspirations of their poor voters. “There is after all a very valid critique of the existing gram panchayat model that it perpetuates the status quo, reflects local prejudice..” writes Saba Naqvi and citing the Delhi’s Khirki village incident that happened in AAP’s first tenure, when Somnath Bharti (law minister then) displayed racist and sexist attitudes towards the members of the African community at the behest of local people. The author seeks an answer from Delhi’s deputy cm Manish Sisodia on how they are going to address this issue. The answer he gives is that they will go beyond MLA’s opinion in all issues, including matters relating to budget allocation to get the opinion of the different sections of the local people. In actual practice how this will materialised remains to be seen.
The book sheds light on the official point of view of how the internal bickering started in the party. The inclusion of letters written by Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav and Admiral Ramdas as appendix, helps the reader get a fairly balanced idea on what went wrong between Kejriwal and other intellectuals in the party. If one is to go by AAP’s statement, they are trying to churn out an alternative form of governance. Whether they succeed in their attempt or not, this is bound to generate enormous interest not only among politicians but also among the social scientists. This will definitely result into more academic works on AAP brand of politics and governance.
As the first book on this subject, Capital Conquest is an essential read for all those who are interested in alternative politics.