One of the most difficult things to write about after the current elections is the fate of the Aam Aadmi Party. The AAP was many things to many people and yet to all of them it represented a sense of hope, the optimism of a new politics. Yet as one sees AAP leaders reflect or react to the defeat, one misses this sense of reflexiveness. I want to contrast it with the many letters of concern one has been receiving from AAP supporters and activists. Unlike the leadership, they are not worried about the elections; they are worried about continuity, about community, about building on the many little hypothesis that flowered over the last few months.
There is a wonderful sense of tenderness, caring and concern, a sense of perplexity about the future of the AAP. One senses, and I am not being unfair, that the rank and file, the anonymous enthusiasts want the AAP to continue, to invent according to their dreams. It is necessary that AAP is and continues to be what it originally promised. Such loyalty contrasts with the behaviour of more publicised leaders like Shazia Illmi, Gopinath, or even Arvind Kejriwal, who are absorbed in tactics.
One incident that stunned most of the AAP enthusiasts was Mr Kejriwal’s see-sawing announcements after the election. Deprived of Varanasi, he was attracted to Delhi again. He rightly confessed that the AAP had let its followers down when he resigned from the job of chief minister. One respected the belated hindsight, but when the AAP followed up by evincing interest, even enthusiasm, for forming a regime with the Congress in Delhi, it left its followers incredulous. Even as a temporary fascination, there was something obscure about the wish. Saying we shall go to the people appears sanctimonious. There is something called ordinary ethics and Mr Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia do not have to go to people for that. Such antics, even if they were attempts at thinking aloud, add little to the party.
The soap opera that followed around the Gadkari defamation case had a touch of the ridiculous. Mr Kejriwal refused a bail bond in what looked like an act of defiance.
The moral of his protest was not clear and one realises there is a difference between experimental and dogmatic politics. The AAP as a party seems confused or at cross-purposes. The AAP has to realise that as a trustee of new hope it cannot be indifferent to its followers.
Sometimes, I feel the AAP is two things, two separate messages. To its leaders, it might be both a vehicle for ambition and a dream but for its followers it was, and hopefully will be, the incredible experiment which gave a new meaning to the everydayness of politics.
The AAP’s value stemmed from this huge collection of supporters, ready for a new democracy, a re-energised polity, ready to put new meaning into tired old words used by cynical old men. This almost children’s crusade of old and young people was an efflorescence of naiveté, creativity, courage, idealism which changed the nature of Indian politics. It was a reservoir of support for an idealistic, re-inventive politics never witnessed over the last few decades. It brought drama, meaning and excitement to ordinary lives. The results mattered but this group was ready for a long innings in politics feistier and more durable than some of the leaders of the AAP. It was a commons of politics any nation would envy. The AAP did two critical things. First, it refined the act of listening in politics. Secondly, it let people articulate their problems and the possible solutions. It went beyond participation to empowerment.
Yet after the elections, the supporters watched the leadership behave like any bunch of politicians. Resignations were bandied around but there was little assumption of responsibility. True, electorally the AAP was not a success but the results in Punjab showed the little niches of hope and the imagination that creative politics could create. Kumar Vishwas’ campaign was impressive and paradigmatic. It was he who undermined Rahul Gandhi’s legitimacy in Amethi. Mr Kejriwal’s battle was heroic and the AAP had a lot to be proud of. One sensed this among the followers who saw it as the first big of the long race. They were ready to fight for the politics that they dreamt of.
Somehow the AAP leadership has not responded to this, or at least they have not communicated this to their constituencies with a clarity and integrity. The beauty of the AAP is that its followers can pursue a de-centred politics. So let me as a citizen and an AAP enthusiast state that the AAP is critical to Indian politics. Like the philosophers rhizome, which often operates at right angles to conventional expectations, the AAP will reinvent itself. The reasons are many. First the language of current politics — whether it is the BJP or the Congress — is outdated. The AAP at least for all its vulnerabilities and mistakes pursues a new way of thinking. Secondly, as the Modi regime is sceptical of NGO politics, and magnifies the power of the state against the civil society, the AAP remains one of the few bastions of alternative thought and action.
Ideas like the sustain-ability of the ghats, the problems of Kudan-kulam, the fate of the informal economy, the drug problems that is corroding Punjab can only be kept alive by the AAP.
Moreover, the AAP made promises during the election and these promises do not disappear with defeat. They have to be honoured in more inventive ways. There needs to be an AAP panchayat where all those who campaigned for it share their memories in a festival of politics. Such a commons of memory can be a source of critical insight. The AAP also has to go public on the nature of the internal debate on its own assessment of elections. That ritual of honesty is non-negotiable.
Finally, many move-ments that kept a distance from the AAP — condemning them as new, naïve — might see in this electoral baptism traces of authenticity which could set up new dialogues in the field of politics.
The AAP is a futuristic party with a history. But history cannot wait for long if the party were to play Hamlet. The script is ready, the actors are there. All it takes is an act of will to enter politics again. A nation waits watching in critical scrutiny.