The AAP as only its leader’s voice

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) sprang from the Anna Hazare Movement in much the same way that the Janata Party emerged from the JP movement of the mid-1970s. Both movements were about issues, issues that were agitating the public mind — corruption, maladministration, political betrayal. And they demanded that the voice of the people be heard above those of politicians, especially those in power. The movements resonated with the people because they — we — felt that those intoxicated by power and wealth were now listening to “our side of the story”.

‘I’ and being heard

As Anna Hazare >fasted on his stage at Jantar Mantar for a Lokpal to stem corruption, the high and mighty mingled — competed — with ordinary folk to extend support to the new leader. The appeal of homespun truth-telling by a man whose English was absent — what a refreshing change! — and who spoke in a refreshingly homespun Hindi — another huge relief — was now calling the shots. As the fast progressed, the common man and woman craned necks to glimpse the leader, and the powerful sent quivering messages: “We need you, the country needs you, please do not endanger your life”. He obliged, broke the fast and announced that if within a date stipulated by him, “the needful” was not done to give India a Lokpal plus meet other “new” demands, he would take the masses to the Lal Qila. Now that was something. Delhi’s Red Fort is not just a former palace but an all-time palladium of India’s sovereign power, known to be the citadel that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was to reach, and Jawaharlal Nehru actually did. Now that was where Anna Hazare seemed to be going as the movement’s flag and flagmast.

Audi alteram partem, the Latin maxim meaning “Hear the other party” (and now the name of a magazine of the National Law University, Delhi) was seen, suddenly, as actually happening in the country. The people — the other party — were being heard. But there was also something that was not alteram, something very “I”, about the Anna Hazare movement. The movement personified the people’s dissent, and did so powerfully, but did it admit of variation, dissent within itself? Were Anna’s supporters his colleagues, or were they his disciples? Were they the movement’s soldiers or the leader’s footsoldiers? Did it share its platform with other dissenters in the country? It did not. It had a team, of which Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan, Kiran Bedi were the more visible of them, but they were more like satellites than associates. Other dissenters, from outside Team Anna, were permitted on the stage only as guests offering solidarity. It was becoming a one-man movement.

Team player?

Until, that is, Arvind Kejriwal began coming into his own, and it began to be said Anna is not JP but Vinoba and what JP was to Vinoba, Arvind Kejriwal is to Anna Hazare — the young petrel impatient of the ways of the guru. Just watch him, he is not one to remain in the older man’s shadow. No one was surprised when Anna Hazare did not quite anoint Mr. Kejriwal his second-in-command.

Many of those who had known Arvind Kejriwal from earlier days knew that he was no pushover, that he was quick to learn, quick to implement. But was he a team man? Would he share his new platform with men and women who think like him, and yet think autonomously, boldly? When Prashant Bhushan, a freethinking and respected dissenter, found pride of place in the new party and Yogendra Yadav joined it, it looked like Arvind Kejriwal was indeed a team man. Admiral (retd.) L. Ramdas becoming the party’s conscience-keeping ombudsman was another reassuring sign.

Elections were coming, to the Delhi Vidhan Sabha, and who did not want the AAP, to make a good showing? It did and how!

The history, saddening and elating, in turn, that has followed needs no recounting.

Becoming another voice

Audi alteram partem is not the philosophy of the new ruling formation at the Centre, nor is it to be found in the chemistry of the Congress today. The BJP is Narendra Modi, Narendra Modi is the BJP. He is a democratic supremo. And as for the Congress President, despite her own instincts, the nearly 40 years old, post-Emergency culture of sycophancy in that party has made her and her son, democratic monarchs. Both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress are on the same page when it comes to dissent within their ranks. They would see dissent as dissidence, dissent in the country as disturbance. The Left is frozen in a paradox of its own in being, in itself, not “ audi alteram”, but “ audi Politburo”. The RTI Act is not likely to be selected by the CPI or CPI-M as one of its favourite laws.

The AAP, especially after its resounding victory in the second Vidhan Sabha elections in Delhi, has everything in it to be “the other” voice. It is now in the process of becoming just another voice — its leader’s voice. I would like to believe that Arvind Kejriwal is strong-willed but is not a dictator. Is it not because he disliked authoritarian ways that he moved away from Anna Hazare? Can one who so effectively says “boo” to the strong and the mighty, to mini-tyrants and major ones, want to be one himself? Is he not intelligent enough to know that the India which admires “strong” leaders hates tyrants?

The second chance

At a time when the two national parties are not internally democratic, the Left is unable to be one, and several regional parties are led by local supremos, Arvind Kejriwal is invaluable, in fact, irreplaceable, as a democrat. A democratic promise should not become a democratic lament. He must remind himself that some of the greatest liberators in Asia, Latin America and Africa have ended up as one of the most hated and bigoted dictators.

The people of Delhi voted for Arvind Kejriwal, let us acknowledge that. They have given him, not his party, another chance. A leader, especially a hugely popular one, needs a House of the People in terms of popular backing. But he also needs a Second Chamber, a Council of Elders, in terms of un-“popular” advice-sharing. He has gatekeepers, he needs conscience-keepers.

Arvind Kejriwal should know that applause can be music, but advice is medicine. The removal of Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav and now, of Admiral Ramdas, from their positions in the AAP does not strengthen his “hold” on the party’s functioning as much as it weakens his grip on the nation’s political imagination. All cults are wrong. Cultism in the AAP is wrong.

But the fight for inner party democracy must not weaken the fight for democracy in the country. Internal democracy is vital but there is something called the wrong time for right things. At the present moment, when the country is looking for an alternative to the majoritarian ego of Hindutva now riding high on the BJP’s electoral victory, the AAP’s dissenters will be playing into the hands of totalitarianism if they make Arvind Kejriwal’s “dictatorial style”, their driving passion.

So, what are Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Admiral Ramdas to do? Just keep quiet? Must they suffer great and painful provocations in silence? No, they cannot and should not. They should make their point about intolerance within the party but without ingratiating the larger intolerance beyond the party. There is a greater intolerance around in India now than the one they are contending with within the AAP, the intolerance of political hubris, of communal bigotry, of a new form of fascism that is combining with techno-economic monopolies to create an ersatz “nationalist” dictatorship. The grimace of the AAP dissenters should not turn into that bigger dictatorship’s guffaw.

(Gopalkrishna Gandhi is Distinguished Professor in History and Politics at Ashoka University.)

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Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 3:05:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/The-AAP-as-only-its-leader%E2%80%99s-voice/article10751802.ece

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