Well-known psephologist, social scientist and former university lecturer in political science, Yogendra Yadav, 50, surprised everyone when he joined the Aam Aadmi Party. In an exclusive interview with The Hindu, he spoke about AAP’s plans for Lok Sabha elections and the likely emerging political scenario. Excerpts:
You have been assigned the task of drawing a road map for the Aam Aadmi Party for the Lok Sabha elections. What is the plan?
It is early to say. We have received an amazing, tremendous response. In Tamil Nadu, which is as far as you can travel from north-Indian politics, our people have had to open a special helpline to simply take the calls from people offering to become volunteers or members. In Karnataka they have registered 30,000 members. In Gujarat, in a couple of places, there were queues outside our office to become members.
Do you plan to put up candidates for all Lok Sabha seats?
The fact is that going by traditional political arithmetic, we were not much of a force even in Delhi. We could not compete with the political establishment. At some stage in the Delhi campaign, it ceased to be the campaign of the AAP. It became the campaign of the aam aadmi of Delhi.
So it is not the party organisation that won; we became an instrument for people realising their own aspirations. That logic applies to Lok Sabha as well. If you go by a strict calculus of organisational strength, recognisable faces and established leadership, even post-Delhi we are nowhere. But if there is that energy that you saw in 1977 waiting for a vehicle, then we can become that vehicle.
What was the mood in the party on government-formation in Delhi?
Speaking for myself, there are moments when what you decide is less important than how you decide. What matters is that for the first time a major political party is saying that for a vital decision we need to turn to people. The idea that once you have won an election then the people’s voice resides in your pocket, and that you can move it any which way you like, is what stifles people in representative democracy. If you read the first line of our constitution, it says the reason why our party came into existence is to restore power to people.
The Lokpal Bill has been passed by Parliament with a deafening silence from political parties on the role of Arvind Kejriwal and others in the anti-corruption movement. Does it look like a concerted effort to stymie the AAP after its debut in Delhi polls?
Of course, for political parties who think that by passing the Lokpal Bill they have regained the legitimacy that they lost two years ago, all I can say is that they would discover it [that they were mistaken] on the polling day. Timing is everything in politics. If the ruling establishment had given in to the Jan Lokpal movement during the Ramlila Ground agitation, it would have had a different effect. Giving in now, after the AAP victory in Delhi… people are not fools [not to understand that].
What do you make of Anna Hazare lauding Congress and BJP leaders?
Anna’s parting of ways with the AAP happened one year and two months ago, then why is this being released by media in some 24 instalments? From our part there was no attempt to use his name. I think there were other forces that were keen that Anna should become a factor — that his name should be dragged and he must be made to say a few things about Delhi [election]. That happened. To my mind the big picture doesn’t change. Yes, he parted ways with us. It led to severe disappointment and cost us some support there and then.
Does the AAP’s arrival signal space for alternative politics?
The last two decades have witnessed the expansion of the third space in Indian politics in the sense that new energies, new social groups, and new issues have entered politics which are beyond the Congress Parivar and the Sangh Parivar. The United Progressive Alliance and the National Democratic Alliance failed to capture that, so that third space has expanded in politics. At the same time, this third space has no political hope. The Third Front has shrunk and fragmented. The Aam Aadmi Party stepped into this political vacuum where the third space has expanded but the third force has shrunk and fragmented. In the last three decades the most creative energy in our public life has not come from within politics proper but from outside politics — from people’s movements on issues such as displacement, Dalits, farmers, women, right to food, right to information and above all, jal, jungle, zameen (water, forests, land). The difficulty is that this energy did not have a political expression, hope, and a political vehicle. In my dream script, the AAP is the natural political hope for these energies.
This most transformative energy of the last 30 years does not have a front-door entry in the political establishment. It has the backdoor entry, hence the irony of the last 10 years of the UPA regime is that the National Advisory Council says things that politicians should say and the ministers are saying things that bureaucrats should say. This tremendous transformative energy needs a political vehicle of its own. That energy must not end in Sonia Gandhi’s durbar. It deserves much better. It must reshape the nature of political power of this country.
Do you think in the forthcoming general election, there is a possibility of a Third Front with the involvement of the Left parties?
I don’t see much of that happening. I think the days of the Third Front experiment of the kind that we witnessed in 1996 are over. First, because there is no single axis around which the Third Front can be formed. Secondly, these parties which looked like an alternative in the 1990s look like the political establishment right now. They are as much an establishment as the Congress and the BJP are. They cannot be the carrier of the transformative energy that we think about.
Do you believe that in the recent Assembly elections, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi had any impact?
He may have played a marginal role. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP was to win anyway. In Rajasthan, the Congress was going to lose anyway. Mr. Modi may have contributed marginally to the technical victory of the BJP in Chhattisgarh. I am not sure if he was much of a factor in Delhi. What is clear is that the BJP did not put his reputation at stake.
Will he be a factor in the Lok Sabha elections?
Look, he is a factor. Sometimes, the secular establishment closes its eyes to the strongest challenge it has. I think the one force that should be credited with his rise is not Mr. Modi himself but the UPA.
How do you look at Rahul Gandhi in this context?
More than once he has said the right kind of thing but very often mistimed it completely. And as yet, he hasn’t shown either the capacity or the skills to be able to take on Mr. Modi. I personally feel that if the election becomes Modi versus Rahul Gandhi it will be a tragedy for the country.
Is there a possibility of the 2014 general election becoming a Mr. Modi versus Mr. Kejriwal?
It is too early to say that.
What brought you to the AAP?
Only one slice of my life (as psephologist) has been visible for quite some time. From the early 1980’s I have been part of Samata Sangathan and the Samajwadi Jan Parishad. I have been associated with the National Alliance of People’s Movements including campaigns for RTI and with the two failed attempts in 2004 and 2009 of creating alternative political fora which involved Justice Rajinder Sachchar, Kuldip Nayyer, Medha Patkar, Anna Hazare. In a sense, what I am doing today is what I wanted to do all along. I quit my job 20 years ago from the university because I wanted to go to my village [in Rewari district].
Do you intend to contest elections?
In principle, yes, I would like to, as an AAP candidate. I cannot advise everyone to do it and then not take the risk myself. The only question is which [place] and when and whether for the Lok Sabha or for Vidhan Sabha. That is not decided yet.
When the anti-corruption movement split why did you choose Arvind Kejriwal over Anna Hazare?
I have said from Day One that the logical culmination of a movement is politics. In fact, the anti-politics strain of the [Anna-Kejriwal anti-corruption] movement worried me enormously. I wrote [somewhere] that anti-politics is anti-democracy and that was wrong. The day they announced it [formation of a party], I thought I had no legitimate reason to stay out.