An interesting situation of sorts has been created in the aftermath of the Delhi elections. With the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led by Arvind Kejriwal winning 28 seats in the 70 seat assembly and now with the Congress offering outside support for the AAP, a govt. led by the AAP seems to have become a reality. While it might be argued on the perils of such an unholy alliance as doomed to failure, it might also be useful to review as to how this whole thing unfolded. (See: Delhi Election Verdict – A Shift in the Political Chessboard? for the election analysis)
Political tussle started right after the election results were announced with none of the parties being in a position to form a government of its own. When the Congress initially offered unconditional support to the new entrant – the AAP, in what appeared to be a move by the Congress to put the AAP in a spot, AAP retaliated back with a set of 18 conditions to both the Congress and the BJP. While the BJP’s late reply suggested open hostility, the Congress on the other hand after an initial knee jerk reaction against the conditions, later retracted and agreed in principle to all the AAP’s conditions.
With the ball now firmly in AAP’s court, it instead announced that the proposal on govt formation will be in the hands of Delhi people through a sort of informal referendum. Thus through a series of about 280 Jan Sabhas (public meetings), sms and internet poll, a decision was arrived at on 23rd December to form the first AAP government in Delhi with none other than Arvind Kejriwal as its Chief Minister. Congress later said that support to AAP will not be unconditional.
The 18 conditions put forward by the AAP summarized in short its manifesto for the Delhi elections. Which now means it is bound to deliver on its promises come what may. Every word in the manifesto will now be put under scrutiny, non compliance would not be an option as far as AAP is concerned. It has been especially criticized on its two key promises – cutting the electricity tariff by 50% and supply of free 700 litre water for every household.
The question really is how on earth would AAP be able to manage to pull of something as populist given the limited maneuverability of working within the constraints of bourgeoisie democracy. Take for instance, the power supply through Delhi’s privatized discoms (power supply companies). A mere audit of the companies as suggested by AAP, while it might show the anomalies in the sector, is not going to bring down the prices and this will be strongly resisted by the companies (Tata, Reliance etc) as their very motive is to make more and more profit. Even takeover of the power companies by the Delhi govt. as a last resort, as suggested by Kejriwal, is not likely going to bring down the electricity bills significantly.
The same applies for water which would only create a subsidy burden for the whole Delhi state, plus there is a whole lot of other promises to keep. Even the question of using renewables such as solar or rainwater harvesting (which does find mention in the manifesto) would require massive investment and may not be possible within such constraints.
Will AAP TAX the RICH to bring in Pro-poor public spending?
Some of the other promises made by the AAP includes passing the ombudsman bill, quality education & health-care, support to public transport system, ending VIP culture, creation of neighborhood committees called Mohalla Sabhas for local level decision making, regularization of unauthorized colonies and housing, regularization of contract jobs, opposition to FDI in retail, more courts, security to women through Citizen Security Force, sanitation and decentralized sewage treatment etc. While some of these promises could be kept, but AAP is completely silent about where the money for all this is going to come from. Even if say, corruption and inefficiencies were to be eliminated through its proposed tough measures, it is still not likely to have enough money to meet all its promises, unless through a central grant (which is not likely). Only other way to finance its social sector funding programmes is by taxing the rich which finds no mention in the manifesto.
AAP’s manifesto, while by no means a threat to capitalism, the capitalist classes are certainly bound to be wary of some of these promises. The manifesto, in fact, is silent on how it sees the corporate sector. This could either mean that AAP is open to doing business with the corporates. Or on the other hand, if AAP proves that it really means business especially on its promises such as reducing power tariffs, opposition to FDI in retail, regularization of contract labour plus social security or even taking on the private educational institutions on issue of donations or regulation of fees etc., there could even be a corporate boycott of Delhi which could bring the city-state on its knees or even a middle class inspired revolt that forms the core of AAP. A middle of the road approach could only mean compromise. Alternatively, AAP could do what most other opposition governed states have perfected: blame the central govt. for everything that is wrong!
Even more radical among its list of promises would be leaving local decision making as well as implementation on the local neighborhood committees that it calls Mohalla Sabha. While the decision power of the local committee could be limited, this could potentially be the first time that working people of Delhi really taste power. This could radically alter the relationship more than what AAP bargained for.
It is important to remember that it was the poor and working people of Delhi that actually voted AAP to power, winning a higher percentage votes especially in the slum colonies with a large concentration of unorganized sector workers (See: The Aam Aadmi Party’s win in Delhi: Dissecting it through Geographical Information Systems). This was also seen in SC reserved constituency were AAP managed to win seats. Thus there is a huge expectation amongst the working people that AAP has to deliver at any costs. Nor will the masses be satisfied with such limited promises in the manifesto. Increasingly they will start to assert themselves more radically and will come into conflict with the real power centers. And this is perhaps were the main contradictions lie i.e., the middle class/ petty bourgeoisie core of the AAP and the working people that actually voted AAP to power. Any compromises or betrayal will only split the AAP apart.
Perhaps the most controversial, if not the topmost priority of the AAP would be the enactment of the Jan Lokpal Bill (Ombudsman). From all indications, it could end up into a draconian, bureaucratic and overarching entity over the entire govt, kind of a surveillance state. This would be nothing in comparison to the recently passed Lokpal Bill by the Congress led UPA govt. in the center.
Ironically, the passing of the govt. version of the Lokpal Bill was cheered and supported by none other than Anna Hazare, through another one of his farcical fast. All indications appear to give a sort of tactical understanding between the Congress and the former leader of the anti-corruption movement. Congress, sensing the mood of the electorate after the just concluded elections and rise of the AAP in Delhi, had to politically counter back to the public humiliation it has received at the hands of the AAP in Delhi.
And what better way than the blessing of Anna Hazare himself, who went to the extent of heaping praise on Rahul Gandhi for taking the initiative. It still remains unclear what role Anna Hazare is likely to play in the next few months leading to the general elections, but he is certainly not going to be seen in the company of Arvind Kejriwal any time soon and may even try to counter the rise of the AAP acting as some sort of a B-team for the Congress. Anna Hazare is peeved at the fact that his former associate Arvind Kejriwal just used him like a puppet to pave way for his own rise and has now conquered Delhi behind Anna’s back.
While the govt. version of the newly passed Lokpal Bill seems to look like something manageable from the govt. point of view without rocking the boat. Might be of some annoyance from time to time, but nothing so serious as to threaten or question the power structures of the Indian State. On this front at-least, the Congress seems to have outmaneuvered the AAP over its version that it calls Jan Lokpal Bill. With the backing of most political parties including the left plus Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejrival appears to cut a lonely figure clamouring for his version of the bill. For the time being however, the steam appears to have been taken out of the anti-corruption movement.
As we have maintained in all our articles dealing with the anti-corruption movement, it is our firm belief that no ombudsman bill (however empowered or draconian) will be able to tackle the real source behind corruption i.e., capitalism and landlordism. Only in a democratic, socialist society with the power vested firmly in the hands of the working people would the scourge of corruption be finally eliminated.
It is highly unlikely that the Congress will simply stand by and just allow AAP to run Delhi on its own terms. Anybody who has even a little inkling about Indian politics knows that the Congress is a past master in the art of manipulation and will use all its energies in trying to discredit the AAP govt.
What the Congress probably hopes is that with the passing of the Lokpal Bill at the center and by supporting a popular govt. led by the AAP for the time being, it might help generate some goodwill in its favour especially for the coming general election in mid- 2014. If Congress does somehow manage to form a govt. after the election (even with a reduced majority), it is certain to dump the AAP govt. in Delhi.
Thus the priority now for the Congress is to appear as if it is on the people’s side by trying to pass a few legislations in the proposed extended budget session which they hope could potentially win votes for the Congress. These includes the slew of anti-graft measures that are also part of the Lokpal bill package, the controversial Telangana bill that is hanging fire and possibly anti- communal violence bill.
It remains to be seen however who emerges as the final victor. AAP on the one hand, could find itself entangled in its own contradictions which could be exploited by the Congress especially if this hits a flash-point. This flows from its unclear idealogical stance that swings from the left to the right without a common meeting point. Thus, AAP will be caught between the pressures of the corporate sector to compromise and the mass pressure of the working people to go beyond the limited promises in the manifesto. If the AAP absolutely fails to gain seats in the coming general elections, despite the euphoria over its success in Delhi, it could also mean trouble for its govt. in Delhi.
For the Congress on the other hand, it has become a win or a lose situation. For all the parties similarly, the emergence of an upstart like AAP threatens to erode its base in the urban areas to a certain degree. Thus it is a desperate fightback for credibility where there was none, a clean image that is completely lacking and accountability that remains totally absent. (See: India: Fractious & Unstable Future Ahead for the general perspective analysis).
For all the PR exercise over the referendum on whether to form or not form a govt, it might instead have been wise from the AAP’s point of view not to have formed a govt. with Congress outside support. It could have been much more easier for the AAP to take on the Congress in the general elections, without Congress behind its back. This will only be used to increase the Congress credibility at the expense of the AAP.
However, moving forward an interesting chapter opens up in the politics around the Delhi region that could have national implications later on. The whole of the Delhi region that inclues Gurgaon, Noida, Ghaziabad is huge working class underbelly. As we have pointed in our article on the 2 day February General Strike “The industrial belt in and around Delhi-Noida-Gurgaon region will be one of the key regions to watch out for as the region is likely to witness major strikes and protests by the working class.” This underlying tension was in a sense reflected in the vote against the Congress in the assembly elections.
The AAP government in Delhi will be under the watch from all sides from day one on. While AAP is no working class govt., even its limited promises which are at best social democratic, will not be acceptable for the capitalist classes that are only hell bent on implementing more and more of the unpopular neo-liberal reforms. On the other hand, the working people of Delhi have a huge expectation of the AAP govt. for it was they who voted it power. While Arvind Kejriwal appears all the more over zealous on implementing the AAP agenda, it remains to be seen on how things eventually turn out.
However, question remain on how AAP will be able to make good of its promises. For instance, the only way to cut down electricity prices would be to nationalize the entire power sector under the democratic control of the working people. The same applies for water, through a thorough overall of the entire system keeping especially the environment in perspective, only then a lasting solution for the water crisis can be achieved. Simply put, this is not possible under capitalism as thought by reformist groups or parties such as the AAP.
A limited set of promises or agenda is not going to set right the crisis facing Delhi or India as a whole for that matter. The crisis facing India today is a crisis of capitalism globally, corruption is merely a symptom of that unfolding crisis that has its roots in the extreme inequality under a system based on capitalism and landlordism.
All in all, a tumultuous period has opened up in the arena of Indian politics. Despite the seeming calm on the surface, enormous contradictions are piling up. The coming period will see new movements, splits within the old Left guard, presenting ideal opportunities for the forces of genuine socialism to intervene in these struggles and give a way forward to these movements.