Outfoxing the foxes at their own game

After the Delhi elections, the BJP with 32 seats was clearly within striking distance of forming a government. The Congress party, with 8 seats, was completely battered and in no position to stake a claim. The AAP stood at second place with 28 seats. No sooner had the results been announced, the two major parties began their political posturing while the AAP stuck to its pre-election stand of, “We will neither take nor give support to either the Congress or the BJP.”

With 32 seats, the BJP was the natural choice to form the government. Unfortunately for the BJP, they decided to not take the support of the Congress or the AAP. In fact, it appears that they chose not to even explore those possibilities. At the same time, not wanting to be seen as a “wheeling-dealing” party despite its poor track record on this front in states like Karnataka, the BJP decided to take the moral high ground and turned down the offer to form the government.

The Congress party went a step further than the BJP by first saying it would provide “unconditional support” and later waffling on the true meaning of the word “unconditional.” The AAP, in a clever move, involved the people in the decision-making process by going in for an unprecedented referendum. With the people behind them, the AAP clearly had the wind in its sails. It decided to form the government with the “outside support” of the Congress party.

There have been voices of disagreement from within the Congress ranks about it decision to support the AAP. It appears that the Congress is now terrified that they can’t easily withdraw support because, unlike in the past, where support of this nature was discussed behind closed doors (often with cash enticements), now “everything is in the open.” Any attempt to play politics as usual and topple the AAP government in the short-term could show them in very poor light and ruin whatever little chances they might have in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. At present, the Congress’s best hope is that the AAP makes a false move after coming to power, so they can use that as an excuse to pull the rug from under the AAP government. In short, the Congress party has boxed itself into a corner with no good options.

Once the BJP decided not to form the government in Delhi, it started egging the AAP by saying, “We will provide constructive support, the AAP is running away from their responsibility of forming a government, etc.”  However, after the AAP decided to form the government, the BJP started to claim that the AAP was hand-in-glove with the Congress. By first criticizing the AAP for not forming the government, and later criticizing the AAP for accepting the support of the Congress, the BJP in Delhi has shown muddled political thinking. It should come as no surprise that they are left exactly where they have been for the last 15 years – warming the opposition benches. The second prize winner, the AAP, instead walked away with ultimate prize of forming the government.

AAP’s baby step towards participatory democracy

In a brilliant and possibly game-changing move the AAP decided to take the decision of whether to form the government in Delhi directly back to the people for their inputs. For the first time in Indian politics, feedback is being sought directly from the people using ubiquitous present-day technologies – email, sms, Internet, social media etc. Delhi is a relatively small state and hence a perfect testbed for such progressive democratic experiments.

The Congress and BJP are surprised by this move and have tried to respond to this in traditional political style – “Are you going go back to the people for every decision? Are you afraid to form the government? Form the government and let us see how you deliver on your promises etc.” Some call it a “drama being enacted by AAP.” Nitin Gadkari calls its “right-wing Maoism!” The reality is that our two major parties and large sections of the media are completely flummoxed by this new brand of politics.

It is interesting that this is happening in the backdrop of the supposedly historic passage of the Lokpal bill. Contrast what is happening in Delhi with the sequence of events that lead to the passage of the Lokpal bill. Anna Hazare was at the forefront of the Lokpal battle in 2011. His fast brought lakhs of people to the streets at that time. But now Anna seems to be happy with the revised sarkari Lokpal bill. The BJP and Congress were thrilled that Anna had turned around and diluted his earlier demands. But are the people who supported Anna in 2011 still backing him on his new position on the Lokpal bill? In other words, is this revised bill acceptable to the lakhs of people who supported him in 2011? As of today, we just don’t know the answer to these questions because no attempt was made to get the direct response of the people. In this case a “political consensus” does not necessarily mean a “consensus of the people.” Thankfully, the elections are just round the corner and the people of the country can deliver their verdict in the next few months.

There is fundamental difference between what happened with the Lokpal bill and what is happening in Delhi today. In Delhi the focus is not on the individuals. Instead the focus is on the people. What we see unfolding is a consultative process where every citizen is actively co-opted into the decision-making process, thereby creating a shared sense of community, ownership and people empowerment like never before.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

The politics of Lokpal

The Congress party, after having been walloped in the recent assembly elections, is desperate for a victory of any sort. Rahul Gandhi, whose leadership has been questioned by one and all, is desperate to look leader-like. At a minimum, he needs at least a legislative victory to strengthen his leadership credentials. Not surprisingly, after having made one rather inconsequential speech in the Lok Sabha on the Lokpal issue, he has now jumped on the Lokpal bandwagon.

The BJP, on the other hand, while thrilled about its success in MP and Rajasthan, and happy at having scraped through in Chattisgarh, is shaken by the rise of the AAP in Delhi. The AAP, riding on its stupendous success in the Delhi assembly elections, is starting to look like a formidable wild card for the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress and the BJP appear to be shaken by the new brand of politics unleashed by AAP and the unprecedented traction it appears to have garnered among the people. Since the AAP’s origins can be traced back to the Lokpal agitation, the Congress and the BJP have realized that a Lokpal bill is an issue that still weighs on voters’ minds. Not surprisingly, both the BJP and the Congress are desperate to resurrect the Lokpal bill, which has been lying as legislative roadkill for the last couple of years.

What makes the Lokpal revival even more interesting is Anna Hazare’s transformed role in it. It’s hard to not to feel sorry for Anna. He went from being everywhere to nowhere in a little over a year. After Arvind Kejriwal and his team formed the AAP, IAC (India Against Corruption) was virtually dead. A retired police chief and a former army chief, both of whose loyalties to the BJP are India’s worst kept political secrets, together could not muster the energy and ground forces required to revive the IAC campaign. Meanwhile, the AAP has made a mark in Indian politics and is here to stay.

In an attempt to remain relevant, Anna embarked on a fast saying he wanted the Lokpal bill to be passed. Unlike in the past, where he had the astute assistance of the likes of Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan, and his fasts were launched with very clear demands, this fast had no specifics of which version of the Lokpal he was fasting for. In hindsight, it was perhaps a strategic move so he could claim victory no matter which version was passed. With Anna losing his significance, he and his associates badly needed to claim victory too. But instead of openly admitting that they have buckled down on their earlier demands dating back to the height of the Lokpal agitation, Anna and his associates are now singing the praises of the Government-sponsored diluted Lokpal bill!

The Bill does not address the three issues that were accepted in an unanimous resolution by Parliament when Anna called off his fast at the height of the Lokpal agitation. These issues were: all public servants, high or low would be included in the investigative ambit of the Lokpal; the Lokpal would also monitor the Citizen’s charters and have the power to penalize public authorities and servants who violate it; and the Lokpal bill would contain provisions for Lokayuktas on the same lines as the Lokpal for the States, which would take up corruption among State public servants. Most importantly, the current version of the Bill will not make the CBI truly independent, which was the key issue of the Lokpal agitation. Besides, the transfer, postings and post-retirement jobs of CBI officers would still be very much under the control of the government, thus compromising the independence of the CBI.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

Lessons and Implications of the AAP’s success in Delhi

The AAP’s unprecedented success in the Delhi elections has surprised one and all. Rahul Gandhi says that the Congress should learn from AAP. One BJP spokesperson still insists that AAP is the B-team of the Congress! Running out of ideas, perhaps? The BJP, while still in denial, has realized that the AAP is a force to reckon with and that perhaps they made a huge mistake by underestimating it.

Here are some lessons from the AAP’s success, many of which blow away popular myths about Indian politics and its implications for the future:

Black Money is not needed: It’s a myth that you need to spend several crores to win an election. AAP’s success explodes this myth. One can stick to the Election Commission’s stipulated expense limits and still win elections. This is bound to embolden many, who stayed away for fear of lack of funds, to now step forward and contest elections.

Big Names are not needed: You don’t need celebrity candidates to win elections. We read about Kejriwal’s crushing defeat of Sheila Dixit, but an equally big story lies in the defeat of veteran politicians at the hands of relatively unknown AAP candidates – Ashok Chauhan, Rakhi Birla, Akhilesh Tripathi, to name a few. This is bound to set a trend where people from all walks of life step forward to join politics with the genuine desire to serve the country.

Funding can come from the people: If you have the right intent and the aspirations, people will step up to fund your election. You don’t need to depend on black money and sell out to people who are on the lookout for post election favors. AAP’s open fund-raising could set a trend where large donors will come out into the open with their donations. Many will donate openly to multiple parties.

You don’t need decades to build a party: The popular belief was that it took years to build a political party.The BJP took several decades to reach its present state. Even now, it has a presence only in a handful of states in the Hindi belt, whereas AAP rose to its present position in less than a year. With an excellent ground campaign combined with the use of modern day technology, it is possible to reach out to voters faster than ever before. The AAP is likely to try and replicate its Delhi success in other parts of the country. It already has offices all across India but strong leadership like the kind seen in Delhi will be the key to its pan-India success.

There is a desperate need for an alternative: The country has been choosing the BJP, Congress, and the regional parties because there are no alternatives. When the Congress fails, people rush to the BJP; when Mayawati fails, they go for the SP; when Karunanidhi fails, they go for Jayalalitha; when Left parties fail, they go for the Congress-led UDF. Thus, the BJP’s success in the recent assembly polls can, to a large extent, be attributed to the lack of alternatives. Delhi was the only state where there was an alternative and the people voted heavily in favor of AAP. The politics of substitution could be replaced by the politics of the alternative in the months and years to come.

The BJP is vulnerable: The top leadership of the BJP, based in Delhi, pooh-poohed AAP’s rise before the elections. One stalwart said that AAP was in dreamland. The other said a vote for AAP is a wasted vote. It just shows how out of touch and out of tune even the top leadership in the BJP is today, despite being based in the capital. As of today, the BJP’s biggest asset is the prevailing anti-incumbency mood. AAP’s success in Delhi proves when you have stiff competition, the BJP is vulnerable, despite anti-incumbency working in its favor.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

Top ten myths about the AAP

The Aam Aadmi Party has been an exciting new effort in Indian politics. The media calls the Delhi elections a three way race between Congress, BJP and AAP. It remains to be seen what kind of electoral success the AAP can garner. With the elections to the Delhi assembly just a few days away, it might be useful to capture the ten common myths about the AAP

1. AAP is the Team B of Congress/BJP: This was one of the earliest allegations leveled against AAP. This is an easy one used by AAP’s opponents to mislead voters. The very fact that both the Congress and the BJP call AAP the B-team of the other is an indication that this simply can’t be true. AAP for its part has come out with exposes both against the BJP and the Congress. It has been widely reported that BJP had all the information about Robert Vadra’s dealings, but it didn’t have the “guts” to go public. AAP had the gumption to do it, and also exposed Nithin Gadkari. Is this the sign of a B-team?

2. AAP is against business: Attacking corrupt business practices does not make one anti-business. Recent scams have shown that businesses and politicians have been hand in glove for way too long. The Radia tapes gave us an insight into the dangerous nexus between business houses, middlemen, media and the political parties. AAP has shown the wherewithal to break this nexus and introduce transparency and accountability in government.

3. AAP is foreign funded: This is a false charge to say the least, especially when the BJP and Congress have raised 800 crores and 2000 crores respectively – 80% of which are unaccounted for. AAP, on the other hand, has raised 20 crores from 64,000 donors, each of whom can be accounted for. All NRI donors are those who are Indian passport holders. They are required to enter their passport number before they can donate to the party.

4. Sab neta chor hai: While it is true that AAP has never been afraid to expose corrupt politicians, it is also true that this general narrative has been wrongly attributed to AAP. This narrative is reflective of the prevailing perception among the people and AAP’s exposes have a lot to do with this. Unfortunately, it’s also true that when Arvind Kejriwal says there are good politicians in existing political parties but their voices are stifled within these parties, it does not get reported in the media.

5. A vote for AAP is a wasted vote: No vote is a wasted vote. In a democracy, a vote is an expressions of a voter’s belief and trust in a political party. So voters should be encouraged to vote based on their conscience and not base their vote on hypothetical post-election scenarios. Even a negative vote counts – otherwise there would have been no question of introducing a ‘none of the above’ option.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times