AAP – Flip or a Flop?

AAPone monthJust one month after the swearing in of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) govt in Delhi, the party finds itself in the eye of a major controversy involving its Law Minister – Somnath Bharti. From a high point just when the party appeared to be invincible, with droves of previously apolitical middle classes (steeped in accompanying virtues of an ascending neo-liberal driven economy) joining the party, success went into their heads as if they were beyond reproach.

But it could not have been more wrong and symptoms of its brazen style were visible from the very beginning. For instance, Somnath Bharti, even before the current incident, displayed all his arrogance in a tiff off with the State govt law secretary and appeared to treat his ministry as his fiefdom. Kumar Vishwas, another well known face of the AAP poised to take on Rahul Gandhi in his constituency of Amethi (UP), has also courted controversy through his cheap jokes (though old) on a Muslim festival, sexist attitude towards women, praise of Narendra Modi and stereotyping Malayali women as dark skinned compared to their Northern counterparts.

The present controversy involving the Law Minister was to do with a vigilante raid that was personally led by Somnath Bharti on the night of 15th Jan against Ugandan women residing at Kirki extension (Delhi) accusing them of running a drug and sex racket. Basing himself on complaints from the local residents, Bharti got into a major argument (that was shown live on Television) with the local police officer who correctly refused to arrest the women without proper investigation. Not only were the women bundled up and assaulted by Bharti’s supporters, but were made to give out urine samples in public and had to endear all sorts of racist taunts by the moral brigade.

As if this were not enough, Arvind Kejriwal (CM) accused the police officers of negligence and demanded their immediate suspension. Delhi Police, unlike other state controlled police forces, is under the control of the central govt under the Home Ministry. As the Congress govt. absolutely refused to take action, Arvind Kejriwal started a protest on 20th Jan, a first in recent times of a sitting government protesting against the central govt, insensitively justifying the vigilante raid against the African nationals.

v-for-vacate-the-spotHowever, with opinions divided, fewer people actually turning up to the protest and all around condemnation against the AAP, the protest was called off the next day when AAP was allowed the saving grace by the center that merely agreed to send the concerned officers on leave. With tail behind its legs, AAP is now under fire to suspend its law minister, but remains unapologetic till date. AAP has even released a set of dubious amateur videos claiming it to be clinching evidence against the African women.

Raison d’etre of the AAP

The real problem with the AAP lies in its foundation principles based on a false sense of self righteousness and moralistic fallacy. In fact, the entire corruption movement was based around ridding the country of corrupt individuals without any understanding of the real causes of corruption. From that time on to the recent incident, nothing much appears to have changed in their mindset.

For instance, Somanth Bharti’s statement after the incident ‘Good people welcome in Delhi, not naked dancing’ or espousing the cause of ‘ma, beti, behen’ (traditional patriarchal value system) best characterizes the AAP in general with all its prejudices, racism and disdain towards the other. To be accused of racism by the likes of the right-wing BJP and Shiv Sena probably marks a low point for the AAP. Bharti’s raid was no worse than the frequent vigilante attacks by the Hindu right-wing forces in the name of nationalism, religion etc. AAP’s vigilantism exposes the racist tendencies that are rife in most upper caste/ class households in India. Africans, not just in Delhi, but in most urban areas of India face racist prejudices and attacks that were highlighted by recent attacks in Bangalore and Goa.

Even if one were to accept Bharti’s totally unfounded charges, did it require such a disproportionate use of force? A situation that at best called for a “social intervention” or in case of criminal activity a thorough investigation before any charges were actually pressed. This would have in a way diffused the situation. AAP’s much publicized mohalla sabha (neighborhood committees) has instead turned into an urban khap panchayat variety!{{1}}

As we have raised in our earlier articles, there are lot of questions that remains to be answered by the AAP leadership. Arvind Kejriwal’s association with right wing elements such as Baba Ramdev or the RSS during the anti- corruption or his past association with upper caste myopic anti-reservation grouping such as Youth for Equality which fundamentally stems from the same malady that many so called “progressives and left of centre” intellectuals suffer, its stance on the national question that was recently exposed, its unpredictable swings from the right to somewhat center-left on various issues with no clear ideological position etc., are all issues of grave concern.

This is not to say that AAP govt. in Delhi is finished. While its image stands dented or even discredited to some extent, it still has a lot of support left and is very much capable of an image makeover. However, at the same AAP is showing all the danger signs of a neo- right wing, petty bourgeois formation, attracting many of the hitherto elements who were behind traditional casteist and communal parties. Its recent efforts to remove Delhi Commission for Women chairperson Barkha Singh for rapping the AAP govt. on the vigilante raid shows its vindictive attitude or crusades against those individuals that it deems unfit or worthy of contempt.

aappolicePreference to Vigilantism Instead of Police Accountability

The other aspect that was raised by AAP was with respect to police accountability. Mere transfer of police powers to the Delhi govt, in this case the AAP, does not make the police any more accountable. The state controlled police forces are in fact much worse than their central counterparts.

Neither in its manifesto nor anywhere else is there any mention of police reforms or its democratic accountability to the people. In fact, the entire protest led by Kejriwal put the issue on its head and AAP made a complete mockery out of itself. In the end, it neither achieved its primary goal of suspending the officers nor gaining control of the police.

The other issue was to do with the right of a sitting govt. to hold protest against the center which was much criticized by many mainstream parties as well as many political commentators. On this of course AAP was well within its rights to hold the protest even if its cause was dubious to say the least. Its threat of disrupting the annual republic day parade on 26th Jan was in a sense a pretty radical idea and earned the ire of the political establishment that threatened it with dire consequences.

left-rightOther Flip-flops by the AAP

On the question of delivering its promises made before and after the elections, AAP has earned much praise as well as criticism. It has kept its promise of supplying free 700 litres of water per day, although piped connections are yet to reach all of Delhi’s citizens or stop all the wasteful leakages. It has cut the electricity tariff by 50% for domestic consumers consuming upto 400 units through subsidy and charging higher for commercial consumers or those consuming above that limit. In both water and electricity, it is in a way the rich subsidizing the middle classes and as for the poor who need most support in terms of public services, it is still market capitalism for the time being!

While AAP govt has ordered the audit of the power companies, it remains to be seen as to how companies try to wriggle their way out. Maintaining subsidy{{2}} may not be an economically viable option in the long run & put strains on the Delhi govt. whose resources and maneuverability are limited. On a related note, Arvind Kejriwal has announced that all the contract employees in the public services will be made permanent, but it is yet to keep its promise in the manifesto of doing with the contract labour system altogether{{3}} and forcing the private companies to comply as well. AAP has also earned the ire of capitalist classes on its opposition to FDI in retail.

On the other hand, some of its populist measures are outlandish to say the least. Its much publicized weekly Janata Darbar (public hearing) was huge flop show leading the AAP to disband the whole thing once in for all. Its Educational Minister – Manish Sisodia proposal to reserve 90% of college seats in Delhi to locals was parochial to say the least especially in a country where quality public education is scarce. Its citizen led sting operation on corrupt officials could make up for a good publicity stunt, but its feasibility on the ground and how much it can actually bring down corruption is questionable. AAP is yet to pass its much touted Jan Lokpal Bill (ombudsman bill), although the central govt. does not appear in any mood to placate to AAP’s demand.

AAP is yet to come out on a national policy statement on various issues ranging from economic policies, national question, labour issues, SEZ, nuclear energy, environment etc. On the national question, AAP has displayed its true colours when it failed to back one of its leader Prasanth Bhushan on his call for a referendum on deploying armed forces in civilian areas in Kashmir or repealing AFSPA. Instead it forced Prasanth Bhushan to retract his statement. On economic policy, with corporate people like Meera Sanyal, V Balakrishnan or Captain Gopinath joining the AAP its economic policies could be anybody’s guess or atleast something that is not really a threat to capitalism.

aapdelhifutureFuture Course

With all kinds of people joining the AAP and now with the AAP claiming 1 crore membership, instability is wrought in its very foundation and AAP could tear itself apart in the long run.

Politically, AAP and the Congress appear to be headed for another clash on issues ranging from Jan Lokpal Bill, FDI in Retail, full statehood for Delhi and control over police etc., more a kind of a jostle for who really runs the show. Who emerges triumphant will determine the future of AAP govt. in Delhi.

Economically, the capitalist classes are not pleased with what it sees as populist measures of the AAP. Corporate bosses have shown their displeasure over AAP’s subsidizing water and electricity, audit of the power distribution companies, AAP’s opposition to FDI in retail, implementation of labour law might come up in the future and it remains to be seen how it unleashes its wrath on the AAP.

Though the AAP membership is still rising, middle classes that form the AAP’s core do seem to have become a little wary of the AAP after the vigilante incident. Some have already begun to see it as anarchic. The moment they have had enough of AAP’s theatrics or if AAP were to try in any way to implement policies that are seen as hurting the interests of the aspirational middle classes, it might even revolt against the AAP which is precisely what the Congress or the other mainstream parties are waiting for to put an end to AAP’s menace and return to the good old days.

On the other hand, it is the working people of Delhi that voted AAP to power in Delhi and they too will be watching the AAP from close quarters. Nor will they be satisfied with the flip-flops of the AAP and will come into conflict with the AAP leadership in the long term.

Much depends on how well or put it the other way, how disastrous the whole AAP’s Delhi experiment turns out in the next few months leading to the general elections. AAP is not likely to gain much votes beyond a few northern states with close proximity to Delhi such as Haryana, Punjab and Western UP apart from other cosmopolitan urban areas like Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore etc. In all, it might bag anywhere from 10 to 30 seats or slightly more, but not beyond this. If AAP fails miserably in the general elections, it is game over for AAP govt in Delhi.

As we have maintained in our previous articles, a limited set of promises is not going to set right the real crisis facing the working people of Delhi or India as a whole for that matter. Corruption is merely a symptom of the extreme inequality under capitalism. AAP does not really have a solution for the crisis of capitalism in the long term.

[[1]] Arvind Kejriwal in fact has recently asserted that Khap panchayats have ‘cultural’ purpose, so no there is need to ban them! [[1]]

[[2]] It brings into question, who is actually paying for the subsidy. In this case, it is by taxing the ordinary working people. However, AAP is completely silent on the question of taxing the rich to pay for the subsidy bill [[2]]

[[3]] While doing away with the contract labour system would be a step in the right direction, but that is not enough. The real issue, that the AAP is silent about, is doing away with the system of awarding contracts in public works or removing the ban on government recruitment that was brought in during the time of VP Singh (another supposed anti-corruption crusader!) during his tenure as finance minister in the Rajiv Gandhi govt. What is the need of the hour is a system of State run, financed and supervised public works system that is under control of working people, TU etc., drawing on the unemployed youth with guaranteed minimum living wage and other social security benefits [[3]]