'On economy and corruption, BJP is no different from Congress'

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has emerged as the third front in Indian politics, fully participating in the ongoing general elections.

The prevailing political dynamics left no room for the usual third front made up of conventional politicians with unbridled ambition and corrupt records coming together on expediency and hope of electoral gain.

In its place, the Aam Aadmi Party has risen and this is remarkable in every sense. It is important to reflect on the development and its potential for India’s future.

The origin of AAP is an interesting story.

It did not start as a political party but became one, morphing from a social movement that arose to promote cleanliness in public life.

In the process, AAP’s current leadership parted ways with Anna Hazare, the Gandhian social worker, who launched the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement.

The pattern has a precedent in the Dravidian movement of Tamil Nadu.

C N Annadurai left the fold of ‘Periyar’ E V Ramasami Naicker to launch DMK as a political party because Annadurai believed social reform needed political power and government engagement.

In a similar vein, AAP was formed in 2012 as a political party with a mission to tackle corruption and provide clean government.

Surveying the political landscape, the two major players are obviously Congress and BJP. The Congress with its 100 years plus standing is a seasoned player.

BJP is among the country’s oldest, and home-grown, political organisations, perhaps the only one that has stayed together with no splits and having pan-Indian presence.

Pitted against these old timers is the fledgling, unconventional AAP made up of a rough-and-ready mix of accomplished individuals united by their disenchantment with current political classes and corruption.

In no particular order, leadership, economic development, and corruption can be termed the major issues.

There is obvious disillusionment with the weak and proxy leadership in the current UPA administration and endless corruption scandals over the last ten years.

The meteoric rise of Narendra Modi, a strong individual and a self-made leader, to the national stage indicates a yearning for effective leadership.

On the leadership front, the AAP candidate is obviously Arvind Kejriwal who is the party’s most visible face and vocal spokesperson.

Kejriwal is arguably an effective warrior for his cause, but his ability to govern is yet to be proven. Just to remember, India is a complex country and difficult to govern.

An important question is how effective a good warrior for a noble cause can be as an administrator when put in a position of responsibility and power.

If his brief stint as Delhi chief minister is any example, then probably Kejriwal has some distance to cover in this area.

Equally corrupt

On the other issues – namely, economic development and corruption, there is little difference between BJP and Congress.

They both believe in the same FDI-driven, stock market-centric, flashy corporate model of economic growth that has been pursued aggressively since 1991.

This model has obviously benefited the middle classes whose lifestyle has changed considerably over the last two decades, at least from the materialist standpoint.

But it is debatable whether the nation has made a holistic progress in the quality of life of the people measured by living conditions and availability of basic infrastructure – namely, roads, power, water, and sanitation – not to speak of values and ethics in life.

The case is no different with corruption.

If the UPA administration has been corrupt, the record of NDA led by BJP during 1999-2004 was not very different.

It is significant that the corruption issue, which so exercises the mind of the general public and largely explains the rise of AAP, is absent from the list of slogans found on top of BJP’s 2014 manifesto.

Clearly, the powers-that-be do not see corruption as an issue and prefer to drown the debate in platitudes about growth and catering to the Hindutva market.

It is in the corruption debate that AAP makes a big difference.

Indeed, the entire corruption debate can be attributed to AAP and its predecessor, IAC.

It is obvious that other political parties, led by BJP and Congress, prefer not to talk about the issue and let the status quo continue as long as it will.

A second major contribution of AAP has been its ability to galvanise the general public and draw them into political action.

This inspires the hope that for a good cause, the people of India are willing to participate and make personal sacrifices, if necessary.

However, to reiterate, it is one thing to put up the good fight but another to make a solid contribution to progress after scoring some gains.

The second part – which involves responsible governing – can be more challenging.

Significant skills and patience would be needed to make an impact without totally, or even substantially, compromising the principles for which the fight was waged in the first place.

It is not clear how equipped AAP is for the task of governing and the Delhi experience is dampening.

The general election of 1980 which brought Indira Gandhi back to power showed the value people attached to stability, even if the government was not above reproach in other respects.

One can only speculate on the success AAP will attain in the current elections.

An equally important question is whether it has the leadership and endurance to remain active and continue as a political party with its chosen mission of cleansing public life and providing clean governance.

To a large extent, the answer depends on Arvind Kejriwal – and his ability to handle his own mercurial temperament and build an organisational structure for the nascent outfit.

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