the Aam Aadmi’s Party We Need(ed)

November, 2012. Like a lot of people, I cheered when the Aam Aadmi Party was born. But even then, I had my reservations.

When the AAP decided to contest all the seats for Delhi, those reservations grew.

Their campaigning left me disappointed, almost dreading it if they should come to power.

But when they scored 28 and demurred from extending support – in the same manner they have eventually taken support of the Congress – to the BJP, I wanted them to form the government. I wanted to see if they could, indeed, be a viable alternative to the traditional choices in 2014.

Two weeks later, the feeling I get is that the old choices are seeming a little better than they did last year. A devil I know, better than the one I am finding out about?

There is a groundswell in favor of the AAP, undeniably so. What’s also undeniable to all those who remain objective or biased against the AAP (AAPhobes) is that the AAP still has a long way to go before it genuinely becomes the people’s party it was intended to be.

Fair enough, say some people. They are young, immature. Give them time to learn the ropes.

This – immature, naive, eager, reactionary, different – Aam Aadmi Party is not the one the aam aadmi must have wanted back in November 2012.

At the time, we wanted a party that would not hanker after power. We wanted one that would be the system’s conscience, one that would unify instead of setting people against each other. We wanted one that was closer to the sentiments of the aam aadmi (perhaps time to revisit this cliche and see it for the attempt to homogenize the unhomogenizable?) instead of the elite, one that would take the cake and stuff it right back into the mouths of the Marie Antoinettes too lazy to work towards ensuring our supply of bread. We wanted them to do what we’ve held ourselves to be too powerless to.

Three weeks later – a short time, yes, but enough time for a lifetime of lessons – we stand here apologizing for the indiscretions of a few, chalking it down to newfound visibility and a desire to do good. But the more we spare the rod and spoil the children running the AAP government, the more disservice we commit towards the aims of 2013’s lasting legacy – the fact that the Indian citizen can and will exercise his franchise to vote out a regime in favor of one that he/she thinks is better. It is something that can happen again. If the AAP has to succeed, it should not be excused with “Have you asked these questions to Cong/BJP in the last 50-60 years?” and “Give ’em time – they are learning. At least they are doing something (different)…”

I am not going to criticize AAP any more in this post. I am simply going to lay down my ideal of what such a party should have been.

The true Aam Aadmi’s party should not have been about power. The India Against Corruption movement found traction because it held up a mirror to the rest of us. It forced us to re-evaluate our willingness to grease our way out of tight spots – not that we were able to change the oily hands of the servants who wanted their cut anyway – but that should have been the first warning signal. The Indian’s corruption is so deeply ingrained, the sense of entitlement so strong, that you cannot mandate it into the system unless it is backed by genuine self-interest. Anyone who’s worked with a compromised government office would have realized that there is an unofficial system of quid pro quo that is stronger than any official process. Sibling officers watch out for each other – you screw one over (with a sting) at the risk of running into a wall with the next one.

My Aam Aadmi’s Party would not have contested all the seats, nor would it have used the us-versus-them it did. True, only such things work – and no matter how highly we might think of ourselves, Indian society has proven time and again that nothing gets our blood boiling faster than something ‘they’ did. We have a thousand cuts of ‘us-vs-them’ bleeding our nation – a reason I appreciate Narendra Modi’s “you can fight poverty or each other – your choice” remark at Patna – and we can do without more divisions. I would not have reached out to a controversial religious figure, but if I had to, I would have then reached out to all communities in the same manner, through such ‘icons’ or ‘influencers’, irrespective of the size or their relevance to the party. To do anything else is a cynic’s move of exploiting the same divisions you rail against the mainstream parties for.

I would have kept the number of candidates small, focusing on the message rather than dividing my resources to cater to more diverse necessities. The aim should have been to sit in the Opposition and show everyone how responsible representatives should behave. The key deliverable would have been correction by consensus and example, not shock and aweful bullying. As during George Fernandes’s (one of our most motivational Defense Ministers, the allegations of the coffin-scam having been consigned to the dustbin by the Courts themselves) time when Congress started walking out without listening or acting as a check, the NDA has allowed itself to be portrayed thus, their walkouts and PR exercises receiving more coverage than any attempts to stay back in the House and talk things through.

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And that is another reason I would have kept the core group more transparent. No Internal investigations, no clean-chits even as you condemn the Clean-Chit Bureau of Investigation with the other. You live by the sword you use, and therefore everyone who speaks on your behalf has to have impeccable credentials. Your chief spokesperson cannot be one who was advising the very epitome of dynasty until just a few months earlier; you cannot defend Bhushan any more than you can berate Ram Jethmalani for the people or causes they defend. You cannot say you are an aam aadmi and then start your membership drive with a “Ashuthosh and Infosys Bala have joined us. Have you?”