When unruly politics meets formalised politics

Between April 7th and May 12th the AamAadmi Party will begin contesting over 300 seats in the Indian general election of 2014. Who are they? What can we learn about them through the lens of Unruly Politics? Why does akshay khanna keep rambling on about them and eroticism? What does eroticism have to do with anything? 

 Baring the last question this blog posting will attempt to answer all of those questions.

The briefest of unruly histories

Unruly politics emerges out of acute power imbalances; it strikes with potency and elicits strong responses. Instances of unruly politics also tend to take normative positions, appealing to a “moral economy of entitlement” that “defends a powerful popular sense of fairness ” (Shankland et al: 2010: 1). This describes the AamAadmi Party (AAP) translated as the Common Man’s Party in India to a T. 

AAP’s emerged out the Anna Hazare social movement of 2011. The movement stirred up the Indian populations’ collective anger at pervasive and institutional corruption to successfully build a broad based collation of supporters. The movement was stoutly outside the realm of formal politics: negotiating on its own terms with fierce media backing and mobilising through street protests, hunger strikes and acts of civil disobedience often using social media to organise.

 A year and a half later, sections of the Anna Hazare movement broke away to form AAP. Riding high on the revolutionary back of Anna Hazare movement AAP started positioning itself firmly in the realm of formal politics.

image

 (The broom is AAP’s election symbol, symbolizes dignity of labour, “the party hopes to clean the filth which has permeated our government and our legislature. The country needs a clean sweep of its corrupted main stream political parties.”) 

Why the break and what does this say about the identity of AAP?

 AAP patently answer this ontological question on their website with the about section starting with the question “Why are we entering politics?” Half of the answer is in line with the Anna Hazare movement: corruption. The other half strikes at a crisis of representation in realm of formal politicsin an apparent break away from its unruly roots: “No political party in India today works for the common man’s needs.”

 The narrative still contains unruly elements though, invoking both the power imbalances and an appeal to moral economy based on justice and fairness: “The time for peaceful fasts and protests is gone. This is the time for action. Since most political parties are corrupt, greedy and thick skinned, it’s time to bring political power back into the people’s hands.”

 Forming a political party is one thing yet winning an election is another. AAP did just that winning 28 out of 70 Assembly seats and forming minority coalition government. Once in power it remained faithful to its unruly roots however, drawing support and power from transgressing formal rules: its leader Arvind Kejriwal fasted in an attempt to mobilize people against inflated power and electricity bills; he supported the auto rickshaw drivers protesting the Delhi government’s ban on advertisements on their vehicles; Kejriwal even slept on the wintry streets of Delhi in an attempt wrestle executive control of the Delhi Police away from central Union Home Ministry in a move which the Hindu reported as “Anarchist Chief Minister plunges Delhi into chaos”

 Kejriwal sleeping on the streets of Delhi, protesting over control of the Police by the central government

With these acts we again witness the unruly utilization of alternative spaces to engage politically when the avenues and structures of formal politics are blocked off. This is unruliness, however; was now being implemented by a party elected to govern within these very power structures. This was not politics radically outside formal relations between the citizens and the state. This was directly within the elected structures of representative democracy: by running for government and gaining election AAP following principle-agent metrics whereby citizens/voters hold agents/elected accountable by voting them in or out based on deduced policy preferences and implementation of electoral promises. Put simply: AAP started simultaneously playing within and subverting the rules of the game.  

 February 2014 proved to be another dramatic twist of the AAP social movement turned political party tale: 48 days into its office the AAP government resigned.  In keeping with its central anti-corruption mandate, AAP targeted institutionalised corruption, which amongst others was aimed at industrialist Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man who amasses a personal wealth of 19.6 billion dollars. AAP alleged that the Central had inflated the price of gas to eight dollars a unit despite Mukesh Ambani’s company spending only $1 to produce a unit, which meant a loss of Rs. 54,000 crore to the country annually. Through introducing the Jan Lokpal Bill anti-corruption bill, which proposed a law where people would “be able to complain directly and imprison corrupt politicians and bureaucrats,”AAP proposed to eradicate such practices. It was unable to however, as other parties blocked the bill and in response AAP resigned.

The oxymoronic question of whether AAP is breaking the rules (theoretical framework) of unruly politics is something I will politely decline to engage in. Instead I ‘ll leave it as engaging with formal politics in unruly ways – a meeting of the unruly with the formal, a subversive accommodation of the former with the later.  This is vocalised by the party themselves: “Our aim in entering politics is not to come to power; we have entered politics to change the current corrupt and self-serving system of politics forever.”

The meshing of the unruly with the formal

 Niraja GopalJ ayal, professor of Law and Governance at Jawaharlal Nehru University argues that AAP’s unruly way of ruling leaves them with an identity crisis between a social movement and a political party. Highly critical of its unruly actions within the formal realms of government, she argues:

 “Having chosen to participate in representative democracy, the party is obliged, morally and constitutionally, to heed and respect the will of the people as expressed in the electoral process. To privilege other forms of the expression of popular will over this reeks of bad faith. Now that the AAP has claimed that electoral mandate to govern, it must abide by the rules of this game. There is an inconsistency in opting to take office by the route of representative democracy, and then trashing representative democracy itself by switching to movement mode.”

 Two days ago one of Jayal’s argument that AAP was an incomplete transition, from an unruly social movement to a legitimate party (equipped with a programmatic vision) was rendered obsolete when AAP arrived with its very own party manifesto.      

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 The Times of India claims it is a message of reassurance to the middle classes and business community through promising simplified trade and inflation control. We see here a playing of the games that all political parties have to do, a broadening of the appeal and tending towards to the median voter – not very unruly.

A closer look at the manifesto still resonates with its unruly ideas of direct democracy, power imbalances and moral economy though. In section 1, ‘Why vote for the AamAadmi Party’ it states the party is “here to change to rules of the game…to rewrite the politics of this country, it is here to transform the relationship between government and the people, it is here to make the government truly of the people.”

This is swiftly followed by section 2,‘Bringing an End to Corruption’ with the Jan Lokpal Bill outlined first and foremost. This is followed by section 3, on ‘Devolving Power Directly to the People’ and section 4, likewise is symbolic of its unruly origins and identity: ‘Providing Swift, Accessible Justice to the Common Man.’ The novice nature of the party is manifested with small sections at the tale end of the manifesto, half a page dedicated to section 32, Foreign Policy and section 33, Internal Security.

Some such as Jayal maintain the unruly origins and urges of AAP are anti-political and contradictory:

 “There is an obvious contradiction between adopting an anti-politics stance and being part of a politico-administrative structure and process. You can either beat them or join them; it is difficult to do both at the same time.”

 When viewed through an unruly lens though it can be seen as a recasting of the political space in India, and a melding of the unruly with the formal. How much this resonates with the voters of India and thereby how successful AAP will be remains to be seen. In just over a month we will know.

 Kejriwal and AAP will be taking on Modi and the BJP

References

khanna, a. (2012) ‘Seeing citizen action through an unruly lens’ in Development, 55(2), pp.162-172.

Shankland, A. et al. (2010) The Unruly Politics Manifesto. Unpublished

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