People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 01

January 05, 2014


How will the AAP Shape up?


Prakash Karat


THE Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which was founded a year ago in Delhi has formed the government after winning 28 out of the 70 seats in Delhi assembly. This rapid rise of a new party in the capital city has sparked off a lot of discussion and has been generally welcomed by the democratic and secular circles in the country.




Of course, this is not the first time a political formation has made a speedy ascent by gaining popular support. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP), founded by N T Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh, made a spectacular debut winning the assembly elections in 1982. The Asom Gana Parishad also rose to power on the basis of the AASU movement in the eighties. These parties have endured, though there have had a chequered career as regional parties. 


The AAP’s rise has been unique in that it could build a network and gather support from the middle classes and subsequently extend its influence amongst the poorer sections in the setting of a metropolitan city. Secondly, it could do so in a place which has seen a bipolarity between the Congress and the BJP for more than five decades.


The AAP originated from the anti-corruption movement in 2011.  At that time, the Anna Hazare movement for a Jan Lokpal Bill had drawn support from wide sections of the middle class, particularly youth in Delhi. This movement, which was focused solely on anti-corruption, could not be sustained after a few months. The decision of Arvind Kejriwal and others to form a political party and to take up issues such as exorbitant electricity rates and other problems of the people helped the new party to attract volunteers and gain influence among the people.


The success of the AAP, as against the Congress and the BJP, is thus a positive development. The involvement of a normally apolitical middle class and attracting the youth to political activism with idealism is a singular achievement. There are lots of expectations from the AAP government which in Delhi does not even have the full powers of a state government. While, at the same time, both the Congress and the BJP are faced with a political challenge outside the framework of their conventional politics.


The election manifesto of the AAP dealt with some of the specific problems and issues of the people: a promise of reduction in electricity rates by 50 per cent, free supply of 700 litres of water per household per day, decentralised decision making through mohulla sabhas, regularisation of contract workers and so on. 




While the AAP proposes to tackle some of the critical problems faced by the people, including corruption, it has so far been silent on the nature of the economic policies which have produced these problems. For instance, the continuously rising electricity rates are due to the privatisation of power distribution in the city. The high level institutionalized corruption is an outcome of the neo-liberal regime. So is the contractised work pattern. But the AAP is yet to spell out its comprehensive policy platform. Do they advocate any alternative policies to neo-liberalism? There seems to be a tendency to gloss over these matters, perhaps due to the contradictions that exist in the social base which has rallied around in the party. An AAP leader has even gone to the extent of saying, “the Left-Right spectrum never made sense in the Indian context.” He has also talked of a better model emerging from Latin America. But he should remember that the Latin American model has explicitly opposed neo-liberalism and imperialism.


The AAP has effectively checked the BJP’s advance and exposed their corruption and policies which are similar to those of the Congress. Narendra Modi’s appeal to the middle class and the youth was blunted by the AAP campaign in Delhi. However, in this context, the AAP’s stand on communalism and its attack on the communal Hindutva agenda was absent. Can the AAP ever hope to present itself as an alternative without taking a clear-cut stand against communalism?


Now that the AAP is planning to become a national party and to fight elections in other states, it becomes all the more important that it spell out its basic programmes and policies. Only then, will it be possible for the people to determine the nature of the party and the direction it will take.


The AAP has so far been riding on the plank of fighting the “political establishment” --- a stance which tars all political parties with the same brush, including the Left parties. 




The virtues that AAP claims for itself – a clean image, incorruptibility, denial of perks and privileges of power and funding based on people’s contributions – are all part of the style and practice of the communists from the outset. Take the financing of the party, for instance. The CPI(M) has always relied on mass contributions of small amounts and the levy paid by party members (a percentage of their income) as the main source of its funding. Any one who has witnessed the bucket collections in Kerala by CPI(M) members knows this. Recently in September, in two days of mass collections throughout the length and breadth of Kerala, Rs 5.43 crore was collected for the party fund.


The citizens of Delhi have appreciated the refusal of Arvind Kejriwal and his other ministers not to seek large official accommodations and to stick to their modest housing. This is the tradition set by communist leaders in public office. Communist chief ministers like EMS Namboodiripad, Jyoti Basu and Nripan Chakraborty set the example. The former chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, lived in a two bedroom flat throughout his tenure as a minister and later as chief minister. The former Kerala chief minister, V S Achuthanandan, has the image of an incorruptible leader. The current chief minister of Tripura, Manik Sarkar, is known to be the “poorest chief minister” in the country in terms of his income and assets.




It is good that the AAP government is setting a new precedent in Delhi by adhering to simplicity and setting new norms of public service. But it should not be forgotten that Left-led governments have always adhered to these values. Not only governments, Left MPs and legislators are known for their easy access to the people and their simple style of living.


The non-political and even anti-political origins of the AAP with its middle class/NGO antecedents seems to prevent it from discerning the ruling class politics and politicians from those like the communists who have always stood firmly in support of the working people and their cause. The Left agenda has been clear-cut – policies in favour of the working class and other working people, for social justice and democratisation and decentralisation of power. Left-led governments, starting from the first communist ministry in 1957 in Kerala to the various Left-led governments in the three states of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, have implemented land reforms, assured the rights of the working people, decentralised powers to the panchayati raj system and set an example in running corruption free ministries.


Today in the country, the two premier parties of the ruling classes – the Congress and the BJP – have heaped burdens on the people and intensified exploitation by pursuing policies which are in the interests of the international finance capital and Indian big business. The neo-liberal regime they uphold is the fountainhead of high level corruption. Unfortunately, there are very few parties, apart from the Left parties, who have policies which are different from those of these two parties. The AAP is, therefore, at an important crossroads after the Delhi elections. Will it be able to spell out an alternative policy direction and build a party which will represent the interests of the aam aadmi and the working people of the country? On this will depend the future trajectory of this novel political formation.