To imagine that terrorism, religious extremism, the growing inequality between rich and poor, the toadyism and corruption rampant within our political dispensations and the deteriorating law and order situation are the main problems we are beset with is to naively put the cart before the horse. No, we are victims of a greater malaise, pervasive, seemingly irreversible and at the core of these afflictions.
It is the momentum of mediocrity, the criminal proclivity to inaction, the nurturing of an anti-knowledge sentiment in our society, a lunatic mulishness that compels us to continue down the same beaten, hackneyed and failed path of politics and governance, and our shameless indulgence in hollow, meaningless rhetoric, designed to obfuscate public understanding and detract from meaningful solutions. Borrowing from Orwell, and with a little improvisation, I’d say apathy “clogs our souls like cold mutton fat”.
Forget that the ruling parties in office, at the centre and in the provinces – today and in the past – have failed to steer the sinking ship that is our nation state in any comprehensive and tangible manner toward safer waters. That’s the beaten drum, and we can cry ourselves hoarse in condemnation – and it would be in vain. Let’s pose the more important question. How have we responded to it all as a nation? As a nation we have failed to provide any intelligent, credible, well-articulated, progressive, pro-people and non-elitist alternative to the status quo. As a consequence is it any surprise that the project of democracy, challenged as it is across the globe, is particularly in a shambles in our country?
As I ponder over these troubling questions I’m fascinated with a recent interview of Yogendra Yadev of the Aam Admi Party in the wake of the resounding success that party has witnessed in the Delhi elections. Witness the clarity of thought and the superiority of political acumen in the excerpts from that interview: Yadev responds to a question on what guaranteed the Delhi success: “We knew that the only way we can fight the BJP in Delhi was by creating an organisation at the booth level. That is the BJP’s strength. And in order to achieve this Arvind Kejriwalsaid, ‘I will sit in Delhi and work for the booth level’ and ‘we were the first movers in terms of publicity, while the BJP was busy with infighting…people could see our posters and this created a recall value that the AAP still exists”.
On the direction of the campaign and the strategy to regain lost ground in Delhi he says: “We stuck to a positive campaign. After the Lok Sabha elections, people questioned us whether we are honest or courageous, but whether we knew how to govern. For three months we answered this question in various ways including ‘Delhi Dialogues’, a white paper, 70-point agenda, manifesto, etc. …there were concrete details” and then “we also evolved a media strategy. We knew the media was hostile…but decided against any retaliation…we tried to regain our space inch by inch rather than doing something dramatic…we selected our candidates early so that they could have a head-start over others.”
More impressive is the cool calculated patience that appears to imbue the party’s long-term strategy. Yadev elaborates thus: “I can give you the long-term and the medium-term plans, not the short-term plans. Long term is absolutely clear – that the AAP is not a regional party. In the medium term, we want to become viable in more states than the two (Delhi and Punjab) we are in. By the next four years we want to pick up two to three states. By pick up we mean become viable in these states…so that politics in those states cannot happen without us”.
On the matter of partnering with like-minded parties, something a fledgling party may obviously want to rush into in the hope of wider political approval and a stronger shot at government Yadev is uncompromising in his dismissal: “We are an anti-political establishment…the political establishment of the country not only includes the Congress and the BJP but parties which are ruling or have ruled for the past 10-15 years…people are sick and tired of this kind of politics…these are nothing but arrangements of convenience. This is not our kind of politics”.
On the issue of alternative politics offered by the AAP, Yadev elaborates lucidly and inspiringly: “People see us as…the ‘dharna party’…there is a mistakable element of class politics in what we have done…we have unashamedly and quite directly addressed the problems of the poor… acknowledged the existence of the very poor, whom people had forgotten…there is a class aspect in our mobilisation…what we do not have is the ideology of the class struggle”.
Yadev dismisses the clichéd approach of attacking the rich and the left versus right dichotomy: “This old package of class politics and class struggle…that zero-sum game…that you have to attack the rich, we haven’t done that…what we have done is increase the size of the pie…wealth generation is equally important. Our politics is different…some call us left, some call us left of centre. I think it is a bold attempt to go beyond the left-right dichotomy”. Finally on the issue of caste politics and treatment of minorities: “We addressed the Muslims but on the questions of bijli, pani and employment. For the first time, someone was addressing Muslims as citizens of the country and not as Muslims only.”
It is wrong to imagine we have any example that mirrors that of the AAP. Our politicians may canvass for support at the booth level, but not through any demonstration of political will; not by captivating the imagination of the poor and the needy but by false sloganeering and mainly by distributing free meals and bribes in cash to further corrupt an already rotten electoral system. Our role as ordinary voters, as people of influence who enjoy political connections, with access to riches and therefore capable of influencing the corridors of power in this country, is no less deplorable.
We have rejected outright any politician who dared walk the straight and narrow path of principle – Asghar Khan is one of many such examples. While Imran Khan campaigned alone on the lofty and nebulous lines of truth and justice, rejecting any partnership with existing political figures, he encountered feeble support and his party made no tangible gains in parliament; a change of tactics and he received immediate success, ironically and tragically through the support of stalwarts of the same corrupt system he aims to reform.
Further, we have vested our faith in political parties that span the right and ultra-right spectrum of politics, rejecting completely any political organisation with a socialist or leftist pro-poor credo. Time and again in the pursuit of self-interest and a naïve disregard of politics and world history, we have pined for a uniformed saviour to deliver us into modernity and prosperity – provided the spoils of such an experiment were many – and remained concentrated among the few. Is it not a pity also that those parties that began with liberal-left credentials have today abandoned them under the intoxicating influence of the market economy and its promise of power through the nexus of money and politics? If this is not the case why then do they work for and partner with the icons of big industry, the land mafia, the mafia of illicit trades?
Today our collective disingenuity has delivered us into a condition where the poor are intoxicated with religion, the mullah and the politics of terror, while the educated elite are fleeing the country en masse. To imagine that this status quo will endure, that we will somehow automatically emerge from this darkest tunnel of our national history – to borrow from Lytton Strachey – is to remain “lost in the imbecilities of a senile optimism”.
Before all hope is lost, we would do well to hearken to the Aam Admi Party’s success and borrow a page from their political strategy, which addresses the key drivers of not only India’s but our own creeping malaise.