How Arvind Kejriwal became saviour of the Indian Left

Aditya Menon
Aditya MenonFeb 06, 2015 | 14:15

How Arvind Kejriwal became saviour of the Indian Left

India's Hindu Right found an icon in Narendra Modi after the 2002 Gujarat riots and his position has become undisputed after his ascent as the country's prime minister. If the Aam Aadmi Party wins Delhi, which seems quite likely if most of the opinion polls are to be believed, the Left in India might just have a new poster boy in Arvind Kejriwal.


Consider this. Two days before Delhi goes to vote, the Left Parties have asked their supporters to vote for the AAP in 55 out of Delhi's 70 constituencies. Though they have a minuscule support base in Delhi, here's where the significance of this announcement lies: The Left parties, which have been in India's political scene since before Independence (the Communist Party of India, founded in 1925 is perhaps India's oldest political party after the Congress) are backing a party that has been in existence for just two-and-a-half years. Not to be "left" behind, their arch-rival in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, who also stands for left-of-centre politics also announced her support to the AAP. The socialist leaders of the Janata Parivar had already declared their support for AAP in all the seats in Delhi except for Jat-dominated Najafgarh where the INLD has put up a candidate. 

Left gets it right, finally

This is a significant shift for the Left. In 2011, the Left parties viewed the Anna Hazare movement with suspicion. Some Left-aligned intellectuals called it an RSS conspiracy, but even those who didn't, saw it as a threat to parliamentary democracy. A major turning point came when AAP was formed on October 2, 2012. The party's constitution released a few months later bore the stamp of party leader Yogendra Yadav. Though Yadav is not a leftist, he has a socialist background having been associated with Kishan Patnaik's Samajwadi Jan Parishad. The National Alliance of People's Movements also extended support to AAP soon after its formation. Much of the AAP's outreach in other states was spearheaded by NAPM cadres. But even then, the mainstream Left parties like CPI(M), CPI, RSP and Forward Block maintained their distance from AAP, mainly because they found the party ideologically "woolly" and were skeptical of its commitment to parliamentary democracy.


However, Left forces which didn't agree with parliamentary democracy, found it easier to align with the AAP and this synergy became evident in the protests following the December 16, 2012 gangrape in Delhi. Ultra-left student organisations like All India Students Association and Democratic Students Union actively collaborated with AAP during the protests. AISA continued to support AAP even during the Lok Sabha elections. Their activists joined AAP cadres as they set up camp in Varanasi where Kejriwal gave Modi a spirited fight. But even then the mainstream Left and socialist parties, except Janata Dal (United), stayed away.

The 2014 Lok Sabha election was the watershed event that brought about a change in the thinking of the Indian Left as a whole. The dismal performance of the Left parties was only part of the story. The complete decimation of the Congress also demoralised the Left considerably. Left politics in India was never really about communism. It had two cornerstones: pro-poor policies and secularism. And under Sonia Gandhi, the Congress has been reasonably committed to both, much more than it was under  PV Narasimha Rao or even Rajiv Gandhi for that matter. Modi's victory and the Congress's defeat marked a destruction of both these cornerstones. The Modi government in contrast is unabashedly pro-Hindu and pro-big business. Left politics desperately needed a saviour and it has found one in MufflerMan Kejriwal. 


Class politics

To say that an AAP victory in Delhi would give the Left a new lease of life, is an understatement. The AAP has managed to achieve what the mainstream Left parties have failed to do for all these decades: Carry out a mobilisation on the basis of class. The 2015 Assembly election has divided Delhi on class lines. If a family residing in a housing society are smitten by Modi's "development agenda", the maid who works in their house, the presswala who irons their clothes and the doodhwala who supplies them milk everyday swear by Kejriwal. If the prospect of a Kejriwal government has put a fear of death in the minds of power distribution companies, the poor remember the way he took on the state government as well as power discoms by restoring the power connection of a daily-wage labourer living in a slum. Right from naming itself after the "aam aadmi" to its symbol, the broom, the AAP represents a celebration of plebian politics. Incidentally, "aam aadmi" was used by the Congress in its 2004 campaign slogan "Congress ka haath, aam aadmi ke saath", which successfully presented the NDA government as anti-poor. A decade later, the aam aadmi is back with a capital "A", he has his own party and doesn't need a helping hand from anyone. This is the statement the AAP is trying to make.

The Left in West Bengal and Kerala succeeded in changing rural power equations by carrying out land reforms, but with time Left politics in the two states came to be associated with lumpenism and political violence. The Left trade union movement was extremely successful in Bombay in the 1950s and 1960s. But the rise of the Shiv Sena, with its cocktail of plebian politics, regional chauvinism and Hindu communalism, destroyed the trade union movement in India's commercial capital.

AAP has succeeded where the Left failed. Each and every opinion poll admits that a majority of Delhi's poor are voting for AAP. According to the latest India Today-Cicero opinion poll, 53 per cent of those living in slum clusters are voting for AAP. In addition to this, 48 per cent Dalits and 49 per cent Muslims are with the party.

If AAP wins, it will be a huge victory for the Indian Left. Less than nine months into the most pro-industry, pro-Hindu government in India's history, a centre-left secular force would have captured the very seat of political power in the country.

Last updated: February 06, 2015 | 14:15
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