AAP gives a new turn to civil society movement

The country is waiting to see if Aam Aadmi Party can bring participatory government to the fore

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Friday 27 December 2013

aapArvind Kejriwal will soon take oath as the new chief minister of Delhi. No chief ministerial candidate has generated such national euphoria.

Much before the party could be recognised as a regional party by the Election Commission, Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had assumed a national identity. Hitch-hiking on country-wide anti-corruption mood in 2011, Kejriwal is no more an individual but a symbol of aam aadmi’s very common agenda.

His ascent to the chief ministerial position in Delhi marks culmination of a critical phase of civil society's experiment with electoral politics. Rather, his is an updated phase of civil society's lesser known but old tryst with electoral politics.

India has many people’s movements that proudly assumed political identity; in fact, most of them declared this upfront to gain more credibility. India’s rural areas have a long history of such experiments. Most of these experiments revolve around rights over local resources, and are rural by constituency. More importantly, these experiments never suffered from the disjoint between governance and politics. They demand political changes that ensure people’s rights over land, forest and water, among other things. They proactively facilitate electoral events like campaigning to push their agenda among politicians. Their electoral success is negligible but they still are the prologue of AAP experiment.

After much debate, the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), a people’s movement working on Right To Information and led by Aruna Roy, work and ethical electoral process, fielded candidates for local bodies in Rajasthan. Already enjoying popular support, the candidates were successful. However, it has not furthered the electoral base of MKSS. But the decision to stick to local government is the lesson to be learnt. MKSS’ campaign for transparency in governance brought it closer to communities. At the local government level, issues bring more electoral mileage than party affiliation, and there is more direct interaction between candidates and voters. So, MKSS figured out the contour of its electoral foray well.

India’s largest association of people’s movements, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), entered electoral politics in 2004 after rigorous internal debate. The alliance was set up in 1992 to offer solidarity to various communities fighting violation of their rights. NAPM terms itself a non-party political movement. In 2004, it created the People’s Political Front, a separate but related wing that can contest elections. By doing this, NAPM retained its non-party image. The Front promises an alternative to the Delhi-centric political parties, a promise the Team Anna has also maintained. One of NAPM’s founders, the Samajwadi Jan Parishad, registered itself as a political party in 1995. Kejriwal's key member Yogendra Yadav is a member of this party. It has been contesting elections since; it puts up candidates for panchayat, assembly and parliamentary elections. Its argument for joining party politics is: over the years it mobilised communities on local issues, but these are appropriated by political parties during elections. Once the elections are over, the issues get a burial; demanding another round of mobilisation. The Jan Parishad did not perform well in assembly and parliamentary elections but has achieved some success in panchayat elections.

The above experiments show that people’s movements have been electorally successful at the local government level. Many leaders from these parties point out that politicisation of people’s movements has not reached a level where they will impact Assembly and parliamentary elections, but panchayats provide the best possible opportunity because they involve local issues and facilitate direct interaction between leaders and voters.

But the AAP has expanded this experiment not only in scope but also in terms of electoral success. This is a new turn in the civil society’s journey on electoral path. Notwithstanding the seemingly popular promises of the AAP, its consistent focus on involving people in its decision-making process is a new trend for political parties. From Saturday, the AAP will steer a government used to conventional machination. How will its promise of participatory governance change this? The whole country is waiting for this to unfold.

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