‘AAP must spell out alternative policy direction’

Print edition : January 24, 2014

Prakash Karat. Photo: K. Ananthan

Interview with Prakash Karat, general secretary, CPI(M).

THE creditable performance of the Aam Aadmi Party in the recently held Assembly elections in Delhi has led to speculation about the possibility of a broader alliance of political parties that have a people’s agenda. There has also been talk of a seeming congruence of interests between the Left parties and the AAP, though leaders of the AAP have different views on the matter. Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), spoke to Frontline on the Delhi election and the AAP as an emerging political outfit. Excerpts:

How would you assess the performance of the AAP in the recent Assembly elections in Delhi?

The recent Assembly elections were held in States where all along there has been a bipolarity between the Congress and the BJP. Even Delhi has seen this bipolar situation between the Congress and the BJP for more than five decades. This has been broken by the success of the AAP, which won 28 of the 70 seats in the Assembly. The rise of the AAP as a political party that could fight both the Congress and the BJP, therefore, is a positive development. It originated from the anti-corruption movement in 2011. At that time, the Anna Hazare-led movement for a Jan Lokpal Bill had drawn support from wide sections of the middle class, particularly the youth in Delhi. This movement, which was focussed 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 attract volunteers and gain influence among people. Its rapid rise in the capital city has sparked a lot of discussion and has been generally welcomed by democratic and secular circles in the country. The involvement of a normally apolitical middle class and attracting the youth to political activism with idealism is a singular achievement.

How do you view the AAP as a political party as well as its politics?

After its formation, the AAP took up some of the vital issues in Delhi, such as electricity rates and water supply. They were able to build a network of support among the middle classes and extend it to the poorer sections. This shows that if people are provided a viable alternative to the Congress and the BJP, they will come forward to support it. This is not the first time though that a political formation has made speedy ascent by gaining popular support. The Telugu Desam Party founded by N.T. Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh made a spectacular debut, winning the Assembly elections in 1982. The Asom Gana Parishad also rode to power on the basis of the AASU [All Assam Students’ Union] movement in the 1980s. These parties have endured, though they have had a chequered career as regional parties.

There are a lot of expectations from the AAP government, which in Delhi does not have the full powers of a State government. At the same time, both the Congress and the BJP are faced with a political challenge outside the framework of their conventional politics.

How do you see the role of the AAP in forming the government in Delhi and its future as a political party?

Apart from the issues they took up in their election manifesto and the promises they have made about reducing the electricity rates and supplying free water up to a certain limit and so on, Arvind Kejriwal and his party have not spelt out the basic programme and policies. For example, electricity supply was privatised in Delhi. This is the root cause for the escalating electricity rates. What is the AAP’s stand on privatisation of basic services? Is this not related to the neoliberal policies? The high-level institutionalised corruption is an outcome of the neoliberal regime. Does the AAP plan to put forth alternative policies to the neoliberal framework? Though the AAP attacked the BJP for being as corrupt as the Congress and for following anti-people policies, one finds an absence of any stand against communalism or criticism of the Hindutva agenda.

If the AAP aspires to play a role in national politics outside Delhi, it will have to spell out its stand on all these basic issues. 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 the party. An AAP leader has even stated that “the Left-Right spectrum has never made sense in the Indian context”. He has also talked about a better model emerging from Latin America. He should remember that the Latin American model has explicitly opposed neoliberalism and imperialism.

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

Do you view the AAP as part of a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative in the coming months?

There is the role of the AAP as a non-Congress and non-BJP political force. But in order to become a credible alternative, it needs to spell out the basic policies. There seems to be some reluctance to call a spade a spade. This may be due to the heterogeneity of and the contradictions within the social base that the AAP has got. If the AAP can come out with a credible set of policies, which encompass policy alternatives to neoliberalism and communalism, for strengthening the democratic set-up, then it can certainly be a part of a national alternative.

The AAP is a novel political formation in the sense that it could gather popular support in a metropolitan city like Delhi without resorting to narrow identity politics. But in order to sustain its political base, it has to go beyond its anti-corruption stance and evolve a clear political-ideological stance. Whether it can do so is the question. The tendency of an NGO-type non-ideological and anti-political stance still exists. This is seen in the way they condemn all other political parties as part of the “political establishment”. The non-political and even anti-political origins of the AAP with its middle class and NGO antecedents prevent the party from making a distinction between ruling class politics and politicians and those like the communists, who have always stood firmly in support of the working people and their cause.

Many of the things that the AAP talks about—of providing clean, non-corrupt governance; decentralisation of powers; and fighting for the basic rights of the people—have been on the agenda of the Left in India from the outset.

All the Chief Ministers of the Left-led governments have had an incorruptible image and have abjured all perks and privileges of office, starting from the first Communist Ministry of E.M.S. Namboodiripad [in Kerala] in 1957. It is the Left-led governments that took the lead to decentralise powers in the Panchayati Raj system and implement land reforms.

The AAP is 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? The future trajectory of this novel political formation will depend on this.