Where Lok Satta failed to do AAP
Where Lok Satta failed to do AAP, The victory of Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi has once again triggered a debate on politics and democracy in India.
The victory of Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi has once again triggered a debate on politics and democracy in India. This massive mandate reflects a strong displeasure of the people towards the prevailing political culture. The BJP’s claim of a party with a difference did not receive the approval of Delhi electorate. The prevailing political culture is riddled with corruption, dishonest politics, political opportunism and politics of parochial mobilisation. But, AAP’s success not only inspires those who want to change this political culture but, create confidence in them that alternate politics can also receive people’s mandate. Lok Satta led by Jayaprakash Narayan represents a similar brand of politics. But, Lok Satta not only failed to succeed but started losing the limited ground it enjoyed till now. The victory of AAP may even see defections from Lok Satta to AAP. But, Lok Satta leadership seems to be in no mood to seriously introspect on why did Lok Satta fail when AAP registered such a remarkable success. There are many striking similarities between the two parties. Arvind Kejriwal and Jayaprakash Narayan both have left a lucrative civil services career to enter civil society movements and latter joined politics. Both the AAP and the Lok Satta have transformed from civil society activism to electoral politics. The issues like corruption, good governance, decentralisation honest and clean politics form part of the agenda of both the parties. But, AAP registered significant electoral victories while the Lok Satta failed to make even a modest show in elections. Where does the difference lie?
Lok Satta chief Jayaprakash Narayan’s response on Delhi elections is curious. The Lok Satta leader termed AAP as the flawed champion of new politics. Jayaprakash Narayan said AAP's focus on anti-corruption, clean elections, civic amenities and local governance were in the right direction and the people endorsed this. But he said that AAP's "stridency, anarchic anti-institutionalism, freebies and reckless populism are troubling". "There is a deep desire to end plutocracy and kleptocracy. People want growth and jobs. People also want new political culture,” he further said. Oligarchies and traditional politics must end. "Dynasties, money bags and politics as business have no place in a mature democracy,” Jayaprakash Narayan remarked.
Precisely this vagueness is the problem with the Lok Satta. AAP and the BJP were locked in a fierce contest in Delhi. The people gave AAP a massive mandate by rejecting BJP. But, Lok Satta chief refuses to identify who presents plutocracy, kleptocracy and oligarchies. Who is promoting politics as business and who is fighting against it? In fact, Arvind Kejriwal could catch the imagination of people by concretely addressing the issues. He literally ran a tirade against BJP and Congress who according to him represent traditional politics. But, Jayaprakash Narayan refuses to call spade a spade.
It may be recollected here that Lok Satta tried in vain to have an electoral alliance with AAP in 2014. But, Jayaprakash Narayan started publicly attacking Arvind Kejriwal only after the latter rejected the offer of electoral alliance citing it as his party policy. Subsequently, Jayaprakash supported Narendra Modi even when the BJP did not back his candidature in Malkajgiri. On the other hand, Kejriwal stridently opposed the BJP and Narendra Modi. While Lok Satta largely confined to idealism, AAP combined it with activism and symbolism. Philosophical discourse cannot win votes.
Lok Satta did not believe in agitational politics and mainly adopted Western style advocacy politics. On the other hand, Kejriwal’s obsession with agitations even while in power earned him the criticism as anarchist and anti-institutional. But, democracy is the art of political mobilisation of people. A political party need not shy away from mobilising people. Street protests are part of long-held democratic traditions. An elitist approach of discarding such public action without suggesting proper alternative has cost the Lok Satta dearer though the party has committed and honest cadres and leaders.
In a society plagued by humongous inequalities, people require relief. The process of development should provide both ‘transactional and protective’ freedom as Amartya Sen calls it in his thesis on Development and Freedom. All such relief to the people cannot be dismissed as freebies. Arvind Kejriwal promised to reduce the prices of power and water. Jayaprakash Narayan has an ideological aversion towards such promises. Private appropriation of public resources is defended in the name of reforms.
While relief to the people is dismissed as populism, Kejriwal did not have this kind of an ideological bias. The Lok Satta should have differentiated between populism and safety nets to the poor. Good governance is not just a process. It should be measured in terms of what it delivers to the people. The AAP and its leader has steadfastly opposed crony capitalism while Lok Satta called it reforms and hesitated to oppose it with similar commitment.
However, AAP also demonstrated political opportunism when it supported khap panchayats calling them a tradition. But, Lok Satta never displayed such compromise with socially conservative forces. But, Lok Satta never took a strong position against fringe elements inciting obnoxious agenda.
With all its limitations AAP represent a new politics. The rise of AAP even in electoral arena gives new confidence to those who consider politics as a transformatory institution. In fact, Lok Satta also represents a similar trend in politics. Its retreat is not a happy augury for politics. Such initiatives have their unique role in Indian democracy. A critical appraisal of the policies and politics of such initiatives aims at strengthening clean politics.
By: Prof K Nageshwar