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Millennium Post

The Idea of AAP

Almost certainly, our great grand children’s history lessons on modern India will contain a reference to Delhi’s 2013 legislative assembly elections. Posterity will credit the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for having changed the political discourse in India forever. Of course, there have been other spectacular political debuts, but something about AAP’s debut just felt refreshingly different.

What exactly is different about the AAP? How might one explain its appeal? Will the AAP find resonance in rural India? To what extent can the AAP replicate its Delhi success on a national scale? These questions have intrigued us all this election season.

Even AAP’s strongest critics would agree that the party has brought out the best in our political commentators. Some of the analysis has been brilliant. Mukul Kesavan’s piece on AAP’s blessed righteousness made one’s day. But if truth be told, our theories tend to be rationalizations developed with the benefit of hindsight.

The theory about AAP’s longevity that you are about to read will probably be no different. The AAP’s inability to couch its plan of action in familiar ideological left-right, public-private binaries does not mean that the party has no ideology. The onus of inventing apt labels to capture the AAP’s defining ideas is on those of us trying to understand the party. Viewing the party through a conventional prism will prove unhelpful; the AAP is an idea that demands new metaphors from us.

As the 19th century German philosopher Georg Hegel noted, ideas progress through resolving inherent contradictions. That is to say, a dominant thesis eventually gets replaced by its antithesis. The antithesis essentially swings the pendulum to the other extreme in its bid to address the contradictions within the original thesis. Over time, the inherent contradictions within the antithesis begin to surface.

Substantial progress takes place only when one manages to successfully synthesize the desirable elements contained in both the antithesis and the original thesis. The synthesized product, being completely new, often merits an entirely new label. So, what has all this really got to do with the AAP you might ask.

A Hegelian analysis of economic ideologies would regard Marxism as an antithesis that rose to address the contradictions inherent in Capitalism, the dominant thesis in early 20th century Europe. The failure however, of the Marxist antithesis --that is, the failure of centrally planned state economies -- does not in any way suggest that the thesis of unbridled capitalism should prevail. Movements like Occupy Wall Street indicate that the world continues to yearn for an idea that synthesises the desirable elements of Marxist thought and the virtues of capitalism and free markets. Is it not highly possible that in the years ahead, the AAP will provide that much needed synthesis? How else might one explain a party that endears itself in equal measure to investment bankers and social activists? Twenty-first century solutions will come from a Medha Patkar and a Meera Sanyal working together.

Contrary to received wisdom, the mindboggling diversity within AAP will, in fact, prove to be its greatest source of strength in the long run. It is with good reason that coalition politics has entrenched itself in India. The law of requisite variety, one of the more profound laws in systems engineering, asserts that variety absorbs variety. In other words, a system can cope with complexity in the external environment only by making itself equally complex.

The chess playing supercomputer Deep Blue managed to win its matches against Gary Kasparov by matching the complexity that the grandmaster’s grey cells were capable of generating. Similarly, to ‘win’ in India’s highly diverse environment, a political entity needs the capacity to match the country’s diversity. Alternatively, it needs to search for coalition partners. The AAP’s highly diverse leadership -- what Arvind Kejriwal famously calls Shiv ji ki baraat -- will enable the party to survive on its own and become a permanent pan-India fixture.

A sound 21st century ideology and a truly diverse leadership may be necessary for survival, but will these strengths prove sufficient to win enough seats? This is a legitimate question. As is the question about the feasibility of appealing to voters across the caste-, class- , and religious-divide despite rejecting vote bank politics. The AAP's anti-corruption plank is strong and does have appeal across classes, but it can only take the party so far and no further. AAP's raison d'être will not vanish even if it were to succeed in curbing corruption.

In the coming years, the AAP will thrive not because of some Jan Lokpal Bill’s timeless appeal, but because willy nilly the party’s expectations from the Indian electorate will continue to re-define politics.

The Pygmalion effect, as the psychologists tell us, predicts that people live up to the expectations placed upon them. To date, the main regional and national parties have expected people to vote along class-, caste-, and religious-lines, and this is exactly what they have got from them. The AAP, on the other hand, expects people to behave as mature adults. And what do mature adults across all sorts of divides desire?

They desire a hassle-free existence, some control over their immediate surroundings, and a secure future for their progeny. These are exactly the aspirations that the AAP’s manifesto concerns itself with. Indeed, the AAP had made a similar promise to the Delhi electorate as well. It was doing its best to deliver until destiny in the form of a BJP-Congress alliance intervened. The AAP’s strong value proposition will, no doubt, ensure that the party gets a second chance to walk the talk.

There you have it: Hegelian dialecticism, the law of requisite variety, and the Pygmalion effect, all point to a bright future for AAP. We, as voters, would be making a mistake if we were to dismiss the AAP as a passing phenomenon. We owe it to our great grand children to take the AAP seriously.
 
The author is a senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Business and Enterprise, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne. He also volunteers for AAP Australia’s Melbourne chapter
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