Even in defeat, Aam Aadmi Party still matters

I have long been allergic to mainline political parties. On election day, I typically go to the polling booth, look at the photos of candidates, and vote for the bestlooking independent.

I did not vote this time because I was abroad. But I made a donation to the AAP. It often makes me tear my hair, yet it’s important to support the only party that does not depend on extorted black money, or on any caste, region or religion.

Mainline political parties are the biggest business houses in India. Once, people joined politics for public service, but now they do so to get rich. They move effortless from one party to another in search of profit, with no sense of guilt or taint. The CSDS says parties will spend Rs 30,000 crore on this election. Obviously, they will seek to recoup their outlay with interest. That means gigantic extortion.

Even “honest” people in mainline parties say black money is a regrettable necessity. Manmohan Singh’s “coalition dharma” meant co-opting crooks to garner a Parliamentary majority. On the same logic, parties choose candidates with no principles but lots of money and muscle. There’s an unspoken conspiracy among parties to block police-judicial reforms aimed at quick convictions, for all parties have many skeletons in their cupboards.

This was exemplified in the Jain hawala case of the 1990s. While investigating hawala deals, the police accidentally found diaries showing payments by the Jain brothers to top politicians of all major parties. The Congress worthies included VC Shukla, Madhavrao Scindia and ND Tiwari. The opposition worthies included LK Advani, Devi Lal and Sharad Yadav.

All parties conspired to hush up the affair. But a journalist persuaded the Supreme Court to order a formal CBI investigation. However, political pressure plus lack of police competence ensured that the investigation and prosecution was so weak that nobody was found guilty.

Every party accuses others of corruption, yet none ensures reforms that will quickly convict crooks. We get a plethora of allegations but nothing concrete. Courts verdicts take forever, so influential crooks generally die of old age before being convicted beyond all appeals. This system gives crooked politicians and businessmen a clear advantage over honest ones, and in time entrenches corruption in all politics and business.

Anger against this unspoken conspiracy of mainline parties led to the explosion of public anger in the Anna Hazare movement. It was fuelled by public anger over reports of the CAG about major scams in telecom and coal. The government was obliged to investigate these scams. Yet after several years of investigation and prosecution, it is far from clear that anybody will be convicted beyond appeals.

The CBI has failed to find any evidence for prosecution in most coal block allocations. One reason is that police investigative capabilities are weak, and there’s no political interest in making them really effective. A truly effective police might be very inconvenient for corrupt politicians.

This system must be smashed. Narendra Modi is seen by many as somebody who can change the system from within. I suspect only a newcomer, like the AAP, can truly attack the system. I may disagree strongly with AAP leader Prashant Bhushan on economic policy, but salute his emphasis on quick justice and checking judicial corruption.

People ask, am I not disillusioned with the AAP’s populism, crazy statements, and unending but unsubstantiated allegations of corruption? Up to a point yes, but I never expected much better. An anti-corruption movement brings together diverse people. When that movement is converted into a party, contradictions will emerge. Chaotic sloganeering and populism will follow.

Yet for all the populist socialism that AAP leaders initially mouthed, its economic committee finally produced an excellent policy document. Kejriwal told the Financial Times, “It is only private business which can create wealth and employment in this country. Indians are born entrepreneurs. Yet the government has been acting as an obstacle in everyone’s business. It is so difficult to start and run a business in India unless you pay up money. All these laws and policies need to be simplified, but then the government’s job should be to ensure the laws are followed.” This is a classical liberal position, and I can only cheer.

By resigning from the Delhi government, the AAP has spoiled its short-term prospects. It may win just a few seats in Parliament. No matter: it can enliven the opposition. If it establishes itself as a thorn in the flesh of mainline parties, keeping up the pressure for police-judicial reform, then that will be a worthwhile achievement.

2 thoughts on “Even in defeat, Aam Aadmi Party still matters”

  1. Swaminathan-ji, you must have surely come across Lok Satta party as well?

    Well, I frankly think our electoral system needs a thorough overhaul, and I don’t see AAP talking about it. There’s only so much that can stop corruption in this FPTP system, where margins matter, which tends to become more or less biparty sooner or later. Biparty means concentration of power, and with our anti-defection law and Westminister system [where the Executive sets up the Legislature’s agenda and meeting schedule], it is frightening. Good thing is our politics hasn’t yet thrown BJDs, JDUs, TDPs and ADMKs out of the Lok Sabha.

    Another major drawback with AAP is that it SIMPLY WON’T ally. Not even with TMC, to which the supremely-respected Anna Hazare himself has extended support.

  2. Politics and honesty are two different things, I am sorry to say but unlike mainline parties AAP have honesty in the place of money, so it very difficult for them to servive in politics.

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