Jaipur Literature Festival – on Aam Aadmi Party

Hardly any political discussion at the Jaipur Literatur Festival went by without mentioning the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), or Common Men’s Party, whose members surprised everyone (maybe even themselves) when they managed to grab 28 out of 70 seats in the Delhi assembly elections, and are now even forming the government.

Nobel laureate and Harvard professor Amartya Sen was “inclined to cheer” at the Aam Aadmi party’s success. “It was wonderful to see that a party could appeal to the grievance that has gripped the country and sense that we need something different,” he said.

But, he added, some of the measures taken were not well thought of, clearer ideas were necessary. Cuts in prices for electricity for example are not reasonable, he argued, as one third of the people of Delhi doesn’t have power. “All you achieve is that the room temperature in hotels sinks from 17°C to 14°C.”

And the party really should ask itself: “Who are the ‘aam aadmi’?” Mr Sen advised. Are they the ones that need cheaper power and cooking gas and diesel, or the ones that don’t have access to these amenities at all?

Some of India's 1 billion or so Aam Aadmi

Some of India’s 1 billion or so Aam Aadmi

Dipankar Gupta, Director of Centre of Political Affairs and Critical Theory at Shiv Nadar University in Noida, pointed out that the AAP “is still a movement, is in the movement phase even now”. So far they came out with just one or two goals – fight against corruption and cleanliness and accountability of governance – but for being a party they need more substance.

But, Gupta adds, the new party changed the political campaigning. “In the past, elections were always about cast, religion, language. This time it isn’t. This time the parties talk about delivery to the citizens, delivery of things they demanded – rightly so.”

Gupta sees similar movements like the anti corruption protests, from where the AAP comes from, all around the world. Simple slogans that seem to make a big difference have mobilised people, he says, like “I’m Anna”, “We are the 99 percent”, or “indignados”. “These people say: ‘We are the citizens, so listen to us'”, explains Gupta. The feel they have to do something, as the current politicians can’t deliver, their ideologies don’t work anymore.

AAP members also assembled at the festival and rose their voice there

Aam Aadmi party workers also assembled at the Literature Festival and rose their voice there

Sunil Khilnani, professor of Politics, and director of King’s College in London, sees “great achievements”. The AAP has exercised great pressure on both the big parties to look into corruption, he states. Also both Congress and BJP now have to listen more to the common man. “That’s a huge shift, because in the last twenty to thirty years, politicians went away from the ordinary people.”

He also likes the fact that people now feel motivated to take action. “After Kejriwal asked the people to film corrupt bureaucrats, the sale of mobiles with video cameras went up – that’s great, people are taking it into their hands.”

Essayist and novelist John Ralston Saul thinks what the world, and India, needs, is not good management, but a revolution. “People are looking after new ways of becoming part of the system, they want to participate.”

Navin Chawla, former Chief Election Commissioner of India, said the AAP is putting two djinns back into the bottle: money power and muscle power.

Former Indian ambassador Neelam Deo sees a “broad frustration with the incumbent governments”. The AAP is challenging the system, as the campaign differently, got their financial support differently, are acting differently once elected, are expressing frustration differently (dharna). “Howsoever the saga of the AAP will go, it changed the discourse of the upcoming elections.”

Yashwant Sinha, a BJP member of Parliament and a former finance minister and foreign minister, felt like he had to defend himself and bragged that he didn’t come with police escort, supporters or driver, but “all on myself”. Back in the days, when he was an IAS (Indian administrative service) officer, he even went on the motorbike to work. “We all tend to set standards.”

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