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Amorphous AAP easy to manipulate

| | in Usual Suspects

The ABP News-Nielsen survey — one of the handful of opinion polls that actually undertakes fieldwork, as opposed to the ones which are based on suspect methodology — has suggested that, as things stand, the BJP will emerge as the single largest party in the forthcoming elections to the Delhi Assembly. However, its survey has also indicated that it will not secure an outright majority thanks to the Aam Aadmi Party of Arvind Kejriwal which will hold the balance of power in the Assembly by securing eight of the 70 seats.

For a party that was formed less than a year ago, the AAP's projected performance is very impressive, particularly since it is suggested that it will secure the support of people who in normal circumstances would have voted for either the BJP or Congress. And although cynics may say that a projected win in eight seats is way below the levels of euphoria witnessed during the anti-corruption festivals of Anna Hazare two years ago, there is little doubt that both the national parties fear that the AAP's role as a spoiler is certain to be considerable. The question on the lips of Delhi's local politicians is: Who will the AAP damage more?

There are still some three months left for the elections and it will take all the ingenuity of the AAP to either maintain or increase its levels of support in the face of a twin offensive. Those who are inclined to support the AAP as an expression of disgust with conventional politics may, on voting day, prefer to vote for a party that can secure a majority rather than register a protest vote.

Kejriwal may well succeed in pinning Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit to her constituency but its other candidates could well suffer the disappointments experienced by well-meaning candidates of the Loksatta Party in Bangalore in the Assembly elections earlier this year. Past experience suggests that fringe players are mostly unable to translate the tacit endorsements by the English-language media into winning performances.

As things stand, the AAP has projected itself as a protest movement that is intent on evolving what its more articulate faces have grandly described as “alternative politics.” In actual practice this has involved publicising scams and expressing popular anger against civic shortcomings, notably the exorbitant hikes in electricity user charges. These activities, often accompanied by some drama, have earned the AAP a justified reputation as a crusader against the cozy consensus that has defined politicians of both the ruling Congress and the BJP.

The AAP has by and large steered clear of national issues. However, where its spokespersons have intervened on loftier issues than the potholes of Delhi, they have come out as variants of the so-called “people's movements” that are in the forefront of agitations against, say, the nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu, the POSCO steel project in Orissa and the bid to raise the height of the Narmada dam. AAP spokespersons have described the Land Acquisition Bill as a capitulation to corporate interests and Yogendra Yadav, one of its leading intellectuals, went so far as to describe the performance of Narendra Modi in Gujarat as a monumental ‘con job'.

In pure ideological terms, some stalwarts of the AAP have shown themselves to be in sympathy with the so-called “idea of India” as articulated by the Congress. Yadav may well protest against the attempt to exclude him from the UGC on account of his AAP membership. But if political preference is what defines an individual's membership of Government-controlled 'autonomous' bodies, the fact that Yadav was included by the UPA Government in the first place suggests that there was a broad convergence of political views to begin with. Whether the radical positions taken by individual AAP stalwarts indicate a party 'line' or personal views is a matter of conjecture.

We certainly know that the group which broke away from Anna's movement had differences with the old Gandhian on issues such as the participation of Baba Ramdev and the governance record of Modi.  It is also know that many of those who were founder-members of the AAP ranged from orphaned Lohia-ites, disoriented Maoists and erstwhile practitioners of identity politics. Whether people from such diverse backgrounds can suddenly sink their different orientations and forge a coherent political party is not known. At this stage it is impossible to escape the conclusion that there is a clutch of motivated activists who have banded together to try and shape a protest movement in their own image.

This is not an unfamiliar tactic. The Labour Party in Britain was, for example, plagued from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s by the menace of 'entryism'. In essence, this consisted of extreme Left groups, differentiated from each other by abstruse theoretical disputes, joining the Labour Party and trying to take it over from within. It was their pressure that facilitated a sharp turn to the Left and made Labour unelectable for nearly two decades.

My own sense is that we are witnessing something similar in the AAP: An attempted hijack of the rump of a genuine mass movement by various shades of radical politics. The AAP has lots of raw energy but its amorphousness has made it an easy target of manipulation. Don't be surprised if in the coming weeks, as the requirements of finance acquire urgency, the AAP becomes an undercover wing of the dirty tricks department of the party that wants to cling on to power at any cost in the Delhi Government.

 
 
 
 
 
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