The AAP’s place in Indian democracy: Appeal to members and supporters

Veteran activists Lalita Ramdas and Admiral (rtd.) Ramdas have issued this important note on the current debate on the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)

Lalita Ramdas

Lalita Ramdas

Admiral Ramdas, Anjali Damania, Sudarshan in an AAP meeting in Alibag, Maharashtra

Admiral Ramdas, Anjali Damania, Sudarshan in an AAP meeting in Alibag, Maharashtra (File image)

“As the sound and fury on media gets louder and arguably more violent, even vicious…….
As we receive calls, texts and mails from far and near asking us “Can you tell us what the hell is going on in your [AAP] party? We just don’t know what to think – and wonder if we should stay or leave?”

Ramu and I sit in the silence of our verandah and watch in awe as the golden-orange full moon rises above the coconut trees in all her majesty and splendour – and reflect on the sheer beauty of this haven we have created in these twenty years – and which the greedy predators have tried so hard to seize, destroy and plunder. We have fought and won battles we never thought we would. We have faced self righteous accusations of being anti national and unpatriotic for our stands against nuclear weapons and nuclear energy; for working for peace with Pakistan, and better neighbourhood management. And it is in the final phase of our long adventure that we decided that if people like us did not come out and support this hope that was being held out for the Aam Aadmi and Aam Aurat – it was tantamount to a betrayal of the dreams of our founding mothers and fathers.

There is no doubt in our minds about why we support AAP. At the same time there are anxieties about the increasing set of questions, doubts and confusion in the minds of so many, as to the nature of this new creation called AAP – which defies all existing prescriptions and definitions of what politics and movements should be. It is in this mood of both excitement and some agony, that we share with you the following piece which has been put together by a small, passionate group of people who have have subsumed their doubts, their scepticism, their very different ideologies, and which attempts to capture and to address the questions that so many of you are asking today.

If you find a resonance, not necessarily an agreement, please share as widely as you can…Ramu and Lalita Ramdas – with thanks to those who put this together …….aap_n*************************************************************************

The AAP’s place in Indian democracy: Appeal to members and supporters

1./ The significance of the AAP’s electoral success

The AAP’s electoral success indicates a strong public mood against the major national parties and in favour of political change. The disaffected middle classes, the urban poor and service workers have voted for it. This indicates that Indian citizens will vote for political change if a serious alternative is offered. The AAP’s campaign for clean governance has appealed to all Indians, regardless of identity. Its emergence is therefore of national significance and goes beyond regional, caste-based or communal issues.

Is the AAP a non-ideological party? An absence of ideology does not mean absence of thought or ideals. The AAP has indeed taken political positions on the following basic issues:

The responsibility of citizens for their government
The responsibility of citizens to uphold the Indian Constitution
The need for public institutions to be rendered accountable to the public in a realistic manner
The possibility of institutional change via non-violent democratic dialogue and participation

Thus the new party is seen to be committed to defending democracy, the rule of law and the Indian Constitution. This implies that the existent political parties have not performed these basic tasks. It also implies that the constitution contains norms and ideals which if properly implemented would help us resolve the problems of Indian society and culture.

Arvind Kejriwal (Photo: AAP Facebook Page)

Arvind Kejriwal (Photo: AAP Facebook Page)

2./ The AAP and moderate Indian nationalism

The current upsurge of support was unexpected for the AAP leadership. Comparisons are being made with the Janta Party of 1977. However, the Janta Party was a hurriedly put-together coalition of existent groups & factions. The AAP’s growth marks the spontaneous emergence of a new mass party of the Indian people. In this respect it resembles the transformation of the Indian National Congress from a middle-class body to a mass party in the early 1920’s, when Gandhi introduced the four-anna membership.

Despite the relevance of caste, language, religion etc; Indian politics has always functioned under a political umbrella of national awareness. That is why despite the decline of the national parties, up till now, they have formed the backbone of any coalition. There are two basic forms of this awareness – Mahatma Gandhi’s composite moderate nationalism (sammilit aur madhya-margi rashtra-vaad) and extremist communal nationalisms of religious variety (sankeer’n rashtravaad).

The Congress always claimed that it occupied Gandhi’s platform. But developments since the 1980’s have convinced many Indians that it has betrayed these ideals. There is a distinction between parties and the platforms they claim to represent. Ideas are more important than organizational affiliations.

Leaving aside political parties, Indian citizens are faced with the choice of moderation versus extremism.

Extremism can appear in the name of regional, communal or caste-oriented identities. It can also appear as market-worship, whereby the interests of contractors & corporates are sold to us by a controlled media as the interests of all Indians.

Extremist ideas and politics often lead to violence. The AAP is a strong proponent of moderation and non-violence. This issue is central to the AAP’s place in Indian democracy. It is the fresh votary of moderation, ahimsa and composite nationalism. It is potentially the representative of all marginalized Indians. Its open membership and ideological fluidity are part of its attractiveness.

3./ The attacks on the AAP and our internal problems

The AAP is now being attacked for being leftist in disguise. This shows yet again how public discourse is set in a default mode wherein all concerns about the urban poor, casual workers, under-trial tribals; social justice, damage to the environment, violence against women, etc., is understood as a sign of ‘communism’. We must point out that it is the establishment that has become intolerant of dissent; and has unleashed an extremist economic strategy with dire consequences for a vast section of our society. Rather than being anarchist, the AAP stands for moderation, as opposed to the political, environmental and religious extremism of the establishment.

Apart from middle-class citizens, workers, poor & underprivileged Indians have been inspired by the rise of the AAP. Our economic & political elite need to understand that these people & their activists are not going to fade away because of the decline of the communist parties. To those who would like to attach labels on the AAP, we say, Yes, the needs, aspirations and struggles of oppressed and exploited Indians are being articulated by numerous organizations and groups. We welcome their political expression, of which we are a part. We are here to stay.

4./ Is the AAP too confused and loose to remain together? What must we do?aap_n

The AAP’s large membership and its differing aspirations have led many people to predict its disintegration. While this is a possibility, we must remember the positive aspects of a democratic movement & the responsibilities of its supporters. Gandhi’s ideals of truth, ahimsa & service to the poorest members of society are a compass that can guide us through our differences. The AAP is in its infancy, but the people joining it are experienced. It will gain wisdom from them and through wide-ranging dialogue.

What unites us ?

In contrast to the privileged strata of our society, we believe in moderation. We are not extremists. We want an open debate amongst Indians about the economic, environmental and security-related policies that have caused hardship to many of us. This debate can and must take place in an atmosphere of mutual respect. AAP members are encouraged to learn more about issues of concern to different sections of our fellow-Indians and enter into informed discussions with them and each other. The commitment to such a debate unites us.

Whatever India’s economic and environmental policies are to be, we insist they be properly regulated. It is the lack of regulation that has caused many problems. The decline of the criminal justice system; the attacks on women; and the lack of respect for human rights have caused bitterness and insecurity.

All sections of society should welcome frank dialogue about the burning issues before us. We appeal to those who have taken up arms against the state to enter this dialogue with an open mind. Rather than a violent movement to overthrow the Indian constitution, we need a non-violent mass movement to uphold it. This too is an ideal that unites us.It is not the AAP but the status-quo that is leading us to disintegration. In contrast to the cynicism of the establishment, the AAP represents fresh optimism and ideals of public service. These are the qualities needed to save society from disintegration. The AAP represents India’s rejuvenation. It may inspire our neighbours in South Asia to begin a similar process, and there are signs that this is happening. Thus the AAP is a bridge that can reach out to others in the sub-continent. We can be the harbingers of peace.

The AAP is not merely a political party. More than that it is a national movement of mass dimensions. It is the beginning of a conversation amongst widely different people, all of whom belong to India and will remain here. We appeal to members, supporters and fellow citizens who disagree with us to speak to us with friendship and with the conviction that we can change our society and cure it of its ills.

Lalita, Ramu and others
January 17, 2014

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