Why AAP is a case of an always exploding party

The party has rubbed many big industrialists and media biggies the wrong way.

 |  6-minute read |   08-05-2017
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AAP emerged on the stale and stagnant Indian political scene with the promise of providing a different, "better" kind of politics.

But going by the now routine infighting within the party, greater infighting may be the most remarkable way in which AAP stands out to a casual observer.

In the past fortnight alone, its most prominent Muslim MLA Amanatullah Khan was suspended, its second most popular public face Kumar Vishwas was on the brink of quitting the party and now an eloquent former minister, Kapil Mishra, has risen against party supremo Arvind Kejriwal by levelling sensational charges against the "anti-corruption crusader".

So why is it that AAP can't have enough of infighting - why has the problem become a colossal threat to the very survival of a once promising experiment in Indian politics?

Perils of personality cult, darbari culture and top-down style of leadership

An important and fundamental cause of the persistent infighting within AAP is its embrace of the personality cult of Kejriwal. A party that promised "swaraj" has today centralised its appeal and power around Kejriwal.

Instead of party functionaries being selected on their merit for polity tested through intra-party elections, they are being handpicked by Kejriwal and his acolytes. So loyalty and trust of the top leadership trumps competence in determining the power the party functionary enjoys.

This means that as long as the functionaries remain in the good books of the leader, they exercise power and have little reason to speak out against the leader or the party, but the moment they fall out with the leader the process of being sidelined begins.

Such mode of power distribution is often capricious and deeply unsettling to the ones at the receiving end of sudden demotion. They often feel it to be unjust and moreover, they find themselves devoid of much hope of a bright future within the party and this leads to temptation to launch an ugly revolt.

But why don't such problems occur in other similarly centralised parties?

mishra1-embed_050817080829.jpgWhile AAP can largely be said to be left-of-centre, it has people like Kapil Mishra and Kumar Vishwas whose worldview is akin to RSS'.

This is for a couple of reasons:

1) These parties are explicit in acknowledging their supremo's unrivalled power. Thus, the expectation among members is already of one-person kind of decision-making, whereas AAP began as a party that hoped to avoid such kind of politics. So even when it has de facto adopted the top-down style, the expectations of members are not aligned with one person having unbridled power. Hence, they are more prone to be discontent when they suffer due to such centralisation of power.

2) The composition of AAP has a higher proportion of urbane, middle-class, educated, and salaried people. For them the feudal methods of functioning are less easily acceptable, compared to those from the hinterlands or from the less educated or informal sector of the economy - the kind of people who make the majority of other parties.

3) AAP has set a high bar for itself in terms of growth expectations. Its members - who have due to good fortune mostly seen crests in politics - are quite impatient, so they are more likely to feel disheartened when facing troughs in the cycle of the party.

4) Even the otherwise autocratic parties have performed better in cultivating rival power centres within them. Their tolerance limit is often higher than that of AAP when handling dissidence. They are also more experienced in resolving such crises.

Lack of ideology

AAP is a party that often revels in not being bound to some ideology. It has argued that this leaves it with more freedom to adopt solutions from across the spectrum. But the lack of ideology also means that the identification of its leaders with the party is weaker than, say, that of Left leaders with Left parties or of a pro-RSS ideology leader with the BJP.

Also, lack of ideology means AAP has many leaders whose views taken together are incoherent and rather conflicting with each other. So while AAP can largely be said to be left-of-centre, it has people like Kapil Mishra and Kumar Vishwas, whose worldview is akin to RSS'.

On many issues, the position of the party and the beliefs of these leaders are at odds. But even then, if the party had a democratic structure and accepted its members' right to have their own opinion, reconciling such difference won't have been as difficult.

But the party instead feels embarrassed when such differences of opinion are publicly aired, thus leading to more infighting.

Embrace of opportunism

When AAP ousted Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan, many opportunist and power-hungry leaders gained ascendance due to them siding with Kejriwal (of course because he had the state government and party leadership).

Subsequently, AAP has also flirted with opportunism in its political stances, like appeasing godmen, soft hindutva, etc. So whenever the party goes through a troublesome phase, these leaders have no qualms about jumping ship as opportunism is what got them where they were and AAP's own opportunism reduces members' incentive not to rebel opportunistically against it.

Greener pastures for rebels

The AAP continuously keeps complaining that there is a deep conspiracy to finish it off. While AAP may sound paranoid in such an assertion and may also be taken skeptically for its routine proclamation of controversy, we should remember Joseph Heller's famous words - "Just because you are paranoid, doesn't mean they are not after you".

Despite its many failings, AAP still threatens the old political order in many ways. Also, for the dominant party BJP, AAP is one of the few parties that can possibly provide a challenge to it in the future. Added to that, the very personal animosity between PM Narendra Modi and Kejriwal ensures that both don't leave any stone unturned against each other.

AAP has rubbed many big industrialists and media biggies the wrong way as well. The result of it all is that anyone who rebels against the party finds many takers and backers in the BJP, other established parties, media houses and industrial houses with their money power.

So, not only does rebellion within AAP get more coverage in public discourse, its rebels also get encouragement and further incentives to hit out against the party leaders. Thus, many desert AAP through ugly fights for better pastures in other places.

While such desertions and infighting have weakened and even posed a survival threat to AAP, they also provide it an opportunity to reflect on what it has done wrong, what underscores such trouble and then take steps to realise in full measure the dream with which it was founded.

Also read: One thing that Kapil Mishra and Arvind Kejriwal must do right away

Writer

Apoorva Pathak Apoorva Pathak

The author is alumni, IIT Roorkee and writes on politics, economy, policy.

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