Originally Published 2013-12-16 11:19:34 Published on Dec 16, 2013
The indecision of the AAP since the announcement of the Delhi poll results has the potential for the national voter to prefer national parties or alliances, rendering regional parties minimal players with maximalist muscle-flexing.
'AAP experiment' and the staying power
" It's an irony of our times that the winning 'poll slogan' of one party should lend itself as the victorious name and title for another. The nation's newest political outfit in the 'Aam Aadhmi Party' (AAP) borrowed its name from the 2004 poll slogan of the nation's GoP, namely, the Indian National Congress (INC), and contributed to trouncing it in Delhi, where alone it contested the five-State Assembly polls.

The irony does not stop there. In the nineties, at the national-level, the BJP came to power on the single slogan, 'need for change'. Today, the very same party in the national capital is the victim of that 'need for change'. To the extent our psephology-driven political analysts say that the AAP cut into the vote-shares of both the BJP and the Congress in Delhi State, it was poetic justice of a kind! Or, was it?

For reasons right or wrong, the AAP's poll victory was celebrated as victory for the common man. But for the AAP's catalyst role for change, the Opposition BJP may have been swept to power in Delhi, without falling short by a few members. By declining to try and form a government, the BJP may be aiming at fresh Assembly polls alongside the parliamentary elections. It would also try and carry the message for the national voter as well for a 'vote for stability', which the party would claim it alone could provide under the circumstances.

In the post-reforms era, so to say, we have been told that political instability in the era of coalition politics is at the bottom of horse-trading, consequent corruption and policy confusion and contradictions. What message has the Delhi voters sent thus, why and how, to the rest of the country and the rest of the nation's polity? Which concern is at the bottom of the Delhi voter's mind more, just now - the crying 'need for change', or the greater/lesser need for political stability?

'Staying capacity'

Barring media analysts, the AAP's emergence and electoral victory are not new to the rest of the country. From Kerala in the South to Jammu and Kashmir in the North, regional and sub-regional political parties and electoral forces have emerged from time to time. They have either blossomed or withered away, based on a variety of local, localised and at times national circumstances, starting with their own 'staying capacity'.

In southern Tamil Nadu, for instance, from the first-ever general elections of 1951-52, every decade has produced its 10-percent vote-share party or group. Barring the DMK, which entered the poll scene in 1957 and blossomed also owing to the pre-Independence history of the Justice Party forerunner, so as to split and thrive with the breakaway AIADMK alongside, every other party or group with 10 percent vote-share has either withered away, or had to accept 'coalition compulsions' of one kind or another.

When the DMK formed the State Government first in 1967, the party's vote-share was marginally less than the ruling Congress loser. The nominal/notional 4-5 per cent additional votes brought in by allies in the 'rainbow coalition' contributed towards the DMK in 1967, and the AIADMK bete noire afterward, to form a 'single-party government' with an absolute majority of its own. Tamil Nadu also created legislative history when the DMK ran a 'minority government' for full five years with poll-time partners supporting it from outside (2006-11).

It's true of Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and West Bengal, apart from the whole of North-East, and Jammu and Kashmir, where 'right conditions' prevailed for socio-economic forces outside of the 'umbrella' Congress to assume a politico-electoral identity. In Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, the Left-leaning parties, both national and regional, gave way to the DMK and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), when the conditions emerged. In the northern polity, for historic reasons, 'social groups' began raising their electoral voice(s) only in the post-Emergency era. They have prevailed even after fracturing on caste lines.

The AAP has sought 10 days for responding to the invitation to try and form a government in Delhi. Both the BJP and the Congress have pooh-poohed the AAP's 18-point agenda for 'accepting' their support. Though welcome and easy on paper, the two national parties cannot accept what they cannot promise the rest of the country, or even deliver in Delhi. In the prevailing mood of the urban voter in particular, their 'public image' would take a further and continual beating then than if they were to decline to accept the AAP's conditions now.

It would in turn boil down to the question if the AAP has the required staying power, reach and imagery to be considered a serious player in the national arena, particularly now, ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. At the end of the day, the voter having put someone in office - or, out of it in this case -- expects him to perform, not continue to philosophise on policies as both had got used to during the latter's infant/infantile days in politics. In the case of 'hung legislatures', he evaluates the 'true leader' as one who can manage a 'ruling coalition' without forcing instability and consequent elections mid-way through the five-year term.

It is a self-contradiction in terms, as the voter is an eternally unsure and unsatisfied specimen. The AAP will be damned if it went the way the other parties before it had done, in terms of 'compromises' in political and policy terms, if only to ensure a stable government (whether or not it gets to rule Delhi State). The AAP will be damned if it did not go the way the other parties have done for years and decades, so as to ensure that the voter's limited mandate to the party was not wasted.

Dal and kichri fronts

Should the AAP go (out and/or out of the reckoning) either way, the voter will gloat around that it was precisely the reason why he did not trust the AAP enough - not after Janata Party experiment! The party will have to recall the fate of the BJP-NDA after the Lok Sabha polls of 1998, and of the various 'Dal and kichri fronts' in the States from the late Sixties through the Seventies and even the Eighties.

The Republican Party of India (RPI), the Utkal Congress, the Bangla Congress, the Bharatiya Kranti Dal (BKD) were all such ' kichri' parties broken away from the Congress parent, mostly owing to personal egos and ambitions. In another perspective, they reflected the unachieved aspirations of a section of the nation's population that the national polity could not have - and might not have been - able to deliver.

A saving grace in the Indian context is that every new generation of voters goes through what has become a cyclic process, without shooting tangentially away from democracy and democratic elections. Relative purification of the poll processes from time to time, and the emergence of parties like the AAP raising fresh hopes in a new generation have been the voter's answer and refuge at the same time.

The AAP is a calculated, if not cunning product, of what was proposed and marketed as a national movement. If Anna Hazare is peeved that he was used, so would feel a lot of other civil society activists, too. Anna's advice for his followers not to enter electoral politics was/is similar to Gandhiji's suggestion for the post-Independence Congress to convert itself into a social organisation. Both acknowledged that politics and elections meant money - and that there cannot be any 'clean' politics with electoral politics as a goal!

Beyond 'western' bi-polarity

Of the five States that faced Assembly polls together, four used to be electorally 'bi-polar'. The Delhi results have made a difference for now, but there are other bi-polar States, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, also in western India. Outside of the region, every other State already has more than one AAP of its own, founded years and decades ago, that they lost their sheen very long ago.

Much as some faceless leader/group in one or many of the other States may want to emulate the AAP and Delhi, they may not have the time or media-built momentum to take the plunge ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Yet, the AAP experience could still revive the hopes of existing third parties and groups to weaken the BJP and the Congress even more in the LS polls.

Their hopes, if translated into votes and vote-share, could lead to a greater dependence on any or many of them for forming a post-poll government at the Centre, if no party or existing alliance is able to do so. This has the potential to trigger 'political instability' across the country, and at the national-level in particular.

Alternatively, the indecision of the AAP since the announcement of the Delhi poll results has the potential for the national voter to prefer national parties or alliances, rendering regional parties minimal players with maximalist muscle-flexing. If the leader of a national coalition then acted smartly, it may be back to the days of 'TINA factor' in national politics - 'there is no alternative' (to either the Congress or the BJP leading a coalition government and on its terms).

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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