Kaba mere piche hai, Kalisa mere aage
(Faith holds me back, impiety lures me
Kaaba is behind me, the church is before me)
Partner, tumhari politics kya hai? (Partner, what is your politics?) was the question the great Hindi poet Muktibodh used to ask his friends when he wanted to know their ideological leanings. That was in the 1960s. Today, we want to put the same question to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
AAP, which came into being about a year ago, performed unexpectedly well in the Delhi Legislative Assembly elections held in December 2013. Nearly 30 per cent of the votes fell into its kitty and it won 28 of the 70 seats up for grabs. In the 2008 polls, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had garnered 14.5 per cent votes and 2 of its candidates had won. It was hoping to perform better this time. However, it got only 5 per cent of the votes and lost both its seats. On the other hand, AAP emerged victorious in 9 of the 12 constituencies reserved for SCs in Delhi. It is thus clear that Dalits and OBCs sided with AAP in a big way. AAP is not only admitting this but is enthused by the development. On the basis of this strength, it is planning to take a plunge into the Lok Sabha elections.
While forming its government in Delhi, AAP kept social equations in mind. On 28 December 2013, six ministers were sworn in along with the chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. Of them, two – Rakhi Birla and Girish Soni – are Dalits. Somnath Bharati is an OBC from Bihar. Besides, Satyendra Jain, a minority community member, has also been made a minister. As no Muslim candidate of the party had won, AAP could not have a Muslim in the council of ministers.
Thus, AAP followed the old ritual of Indian politics – of balancing the ministry in terms of caste and community. Through its Dalit-bahujan workers, it also publicised this fact among the communities concerned.
|Delhi Legislative Assembly polls – Vote share|
AAP Dalit-bahujan mask?
But what is the reality? The Dalit-OBC ministers of AAP believe that ‘caste’ cannot be the basis of any discourse. They are not only unacquainted with the ideology and thoughts of Phule, Ambedkar and Lohia but also think that this kind of discourse is a bottleneck in the development of the country and of the so-called ‘aam aadmi’.
Twenty-six-year-old minister Rakhi Birla refuses to describe herself as a Dalit leader. Every time any question regarding caste is put to her, she becomes uneasy. This was palpable in an interview of hers, aired by NDTV, after she became minister. On a caste-related question she said, “I am proud that I am a daughter of the Valmiki community, the members of which get up at 6 in the morning and instead of cleaning their own homes, clean the homes of others … you people should rise above this politics of caste and religion.”
Another Dalit AAP minister Girish Soni comes from a Communist background. He was associated with the Democratic Youth Federation of India. This organization has been demanding reservations for the economically weak sections of the upper castes. His own political career has been limited to the issues of power and water. Dalits figure nowhere is his social concerns.
The OBC minister of the new government Somnath Bharati comes from the Baranwal caste of the Vaishya community. His caste is listed as OBC in his home state Bihar but in Delhi and in many other states, it is included in the general category. Bharati has never had anything to do with the ideological stream of social justice. Though he is a lawyer by profession he does not express any faith in the Indian Constitution and judiciary. He prefers ‘direct action’ to solve all problems. After taking over as minister, at midnight of 16 January, he, along with his workers, kept several African men and women captive for hours on the charge that they were drug addicts and indulged in prostitution. One of them was forced to give his urine sample in public. A Patiala house court had held him guilty of tampering with evidence during his lawyer days. The truth is that he, along with other ministers and MLAs of AAP, satisfies the yearning of the Indian middle class for harum-scarum musclemen, donning the cloak of Robin Hood.
|Name||Department||Caste/ Varna / Community||Home state|
|Arvind Kejriwal||Chief Minister and Home, Finance, Power and Vigilance||Vaishya – General (equivalent to Agarwal)||Hisar, Haryana|
|Manish Sisodia||Education, Public Works Department, Urban Development||Rajput||Pilkhuwan, Uttar Pradesh|
|Somnath Bharati||Administrative Reforms, Law||Vaishya – OBC (Baranwal)||Nawada, Bihar|
|Satyendra Jain||Health, Industries and Gurdwara Elections||Jain||Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh|
|Saurabh Bhardwaj||Transport, Food Supply and Environment||Brahmin||Delhi|
|Rakhi Birla||Social Welfare and Women and Child Development||Dalit||Delhi|
|Girish Soni||Labour, Development, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes||Dalit||Delhi|
The constitution of AAP says that at least five members of ‘deprived social groups’ like SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities would be compulsorily represented among the district, state and national level executives of the party. If any such group does not get adequate representation, the executive committee concerned will co-opt up to 5 such members. If the co-opted members are not active members, they will be treated as such. Once they are co-opted, these members will enjoy the same rights as elected members.
From the Dalit-bahujan perspective, there are other positive aspects of AAP, in so far as its documentation is concerned. The ‘sankalp patra’ (resolution document) of the party, issued during the Delhi Legislative Assembly elections, has a long section on ‘Social Justice’. In this section, there are many populist assurances which fit in perfectly with the theoretical concepts of social justice. One of the assurances is that if voted to power, the government of AAP will “ensure proper implementation of the reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs in services and educational institutions under the Delhi government”.
We all know that AAP was born from the womb of an NGO during the anti-corruption movement of Anna Hazare in April 2011. The movement was anti-reservation in its orientation and its leaders and supporters were of the firm view that “reservation is the biggest corruption”. At that time, the main leaders of the movement were Anna Hazare, Shanti Bhushan, Ram Jethmalani, Santosh Hegde, Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal. Of them, the former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde and Arvind Kejriwal were openly associated with ‘Youth For Equality’ – an organization of anti-reservation students. Hegde was infamous for giving judgments against and making unwarranted comments about reservations.
Congress hand behind AAP?
There are reasons to believe that the Congress had sponsored the movement and hyped it up in the media to deflect attention from the proposed ‘Bring back black money’ agitation of Govindacharya and yoga guru Baba Ramdev and from the involvement of heavy-weight union ministers in various scams – and the party succeeded in this endeavour too. (See my article ‘Media aur Anna Ka Andolan’ [Media and Anna’s movement] in the collection Anna Se Arvind Tak [From Anna to Arvind] edited by Sandeep Meel and published by Ananya Prakashan, Delhi 2013). It is another matter that the party born out of the movement proved to be the Congress’ nemesis. Anna disassociated himself from this party.
Be that as it may, Anna’s urban middle-class movement, which sought to challenge the Indian Constitution, Parliament and the pro-social justice democratic polity, has faded away and now before us stands a gleaming new political party called AAP. It has entered the democratic political arena with a bang and is trying to find its place in parliament within the constitutional framework. This is definitely a good sign and a victory for Indian democracy. But given the social base of the party and its intent, an eagle eye needs to kept on its activities. Has it really accepted Indian democracy along with its concept of social justice? Or, has the enemy, after losing the war, infiltrated into our territory in disguise?
The claims, policies and assurances regarding social justice, made in the various documents of the party, at least so far, seem to be meant only to remain on paper. To date, the party has confined its agenda to implementing policies that would benefit the working middle class and small traders.
During the run-up to government formation in Delhi, AAP had posed 18 questions to the BJP and the Congress and had said that only if the two parties assured it of their support on these 18 issues, it would form the government. These questions related to the end of VIP culture, passage of Jan Lokpal bill, auditing of the accounts of power companies, regularization of illegal colonies, provision of basic facilities in industrial areas, opposing FDI in retail, improving the education system, etc.
No question was even remotely related to social justice. If AAP really intended to fulfil its promises regarding social justice, reservations and filling up of the backlog posts then it would have asked the BJP and the Congress that in light of the reservation backlog in government jobs in Delhi being so large, that if only backlog posts are filled, no general vacancy will be advertised for the next several years, would they support AAP in just addressing the reserved positions backlog. In his emotional maiden speech in the Vidhan Sabha, Kejriwal reiterated all the points of his party’s political agenda but nowhere did social justice figure.
Where does AAP really stand on reservations?
On the issue of reservations, AAP seems to be wearing two masks. During the Anna movement, Arvind Kejriwal used to say that reservations should be given but not to well-off Dalits. And no one should get the benefit of reservations twice (He has been a supporter of reservations on economic basis). But after the formation of AAP, he has maintained a stoic silence on the issue, thus sending out a message to the upper castes that his party would uproot the system of reservations while at the same time assuring the communities covered by reservations that its solution to problems related to corruption, water, power and other civic amenities would benefit them too. But when the issue of reservations in promotions held centre stage in Uttar Pradesh, it became necessary for the party to take a stand on it. Breaking its silence on the issue, AAP, on 15 December 2012, made its stand clear through its Rajput leader Manish Sisodia. In the only official statement on reservations put on the party’s website, Sisodia vehemently opposed reservations in promotions and termed it as an instrument to divide society: “It is not logical to promote a junior, ignoring his senior, on the basis of reservations. This will vitiate the atmosphere.”
On the other hand, AAP leader Yogendra Yadav, who is considered a protagonist for social justice told The Economic Times on 6 January that “We [AAP] didn’t have clarity about it until recently. However, we are now clear about it. We will work for more reservation for disadvantaged groups.”
Two or three points are important in this respect. First, AAP chose a Rajput, Sisodia, to oppose reservations in promotions but since it did not want to antagonize the pro-reservationists, especially with the Lok Sabha elections round the corner, it propped up a ‘Yadav’ to support the measure.
Secondly, this is not the official statement of the party and has not been put on its website. It is only something said in the course of conversation with a newspaper reporter. And lastly, when The Economic Times tried to seek the views of other party leaders on this issue, they remained non-committal. Those who declined comment included some who have joined AAP to “serve the nation” after quitting their lucrative jobs. They want to establish the rule of ‘meritocracy’ in India.
News pouring in from different parts of north India indicates that the AAP is expanding at a rapid pace. People are making a beeline to join the party. Many honest Bahujan leaders in different states are also being drawn towards it. They are the people who are disgusted with the nepotism and hypocrisy of ‘their’ political parties where ‘their’ leaders have been relegated to the sidelines. If AAP has to find a place in Indian politics, it will not be able to do so without the support of Bahujans. It owes its success in Delhi to the massive support extended by these communities.
When media persons tried to corner Yogendra Yadav on the issue of him supporting reservations in promotions, he came out with several interesting pieces of information and made revealing claims on Headlines Today which need to be taken into consideration. He demolished the interviewer’s contention that AAP was a party of the middle classes. He was asked whether supporting reservations would not dent AAP’s basic constituency. He said that the party had got the maximum number of votes from slum clusters, illegal colonies and the rural areas of Delhi and that the voters of posh areas of the city had not contributed significantly to its success.
Yogendra Yadav’s utterances reflect the ongoing tug-of-war within AAP. In fact, the political arena of north India is witnessing many a tug-of-war. The Bahujan intellectuals and social-political activists are on the horns of a dilemma. They cannot decide whether to side with ‘their’ political formations like BSP, SP, RJD, JDU, etc or to jump on the AAP bandwagon. AAP is also yet to decide the direction it wants to take. On the one hand are its mentors – the upper caste, middle-class city dwellers – who shaped it initially and who want to replace the plebeian democracy with a sanitized meritocracy, entirely free from corrupt babus. On the other hand are the Bahujan voters, who have the potential of bringing it to power but who, as a compensation for their repression for centuries, seek affirmative action for the creation of equal opportunities for them.
In the words of Ghalib, it remains to be seen whether AAP chooses ‘emaan’ (faith) or ‘kufr’ (impiety). In fact, what is to be seen is which stream they consider ‘emaan’ and which ‘kufr’. As of now, everyone is waiting to see on which side the camel settles down. Or whether the heavy load of expectations breaks its back the moment it leaves Delhi.
Published in the February 2014 issue of the Forward Press magazine
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