AAP has shown a penchant for the spectacular. Why that is not going to be enough.
The Aam Aadmi Party is gone as a party of government, at least for now. It mounted an astonishing electoral insurgency, and swung the doors of power open without having political lineage or the financial backing of business, the two standard features of contemporary political parties in India.
It did not organise a caste-based, religious or regional mobilisation, the other typical characteristics of Indian politics. Demonstrating how new political formations can emerge against all odds when the existing political parties generate citizen apathy or disgust, it also illustrated that democracies can have self-correcting mechanisms.
Nonetheless, a 49-day wonder is over. What does the AAP’s fall show? What does the future hold?
The AAP’s brief governing career illustrates, most of all, a well-known political truth. When those attacking the system come to power, they find it hard to govern. Insurgents tend to be terrible governors. Anti-system parties, a term coined by political scientist Giovanni Sartori, are good at undermining the system, not at running it.
The AAP is, of course, not the kind of anti-system party that totalitarian parties or the communist parties in Europe during the two world wars were. It is committed neither to violence, nor to an overthrow of the Constitution. But it does wish to overturn the way politics is done. It loves India, but dislikes India’s polity.
By definition, an elected government must function within the existing framework of rules and laws. If those rules and laws are disagreeable, the government can change them. But fundamental, as opposed to marginal, change cannot be brought about by decree or in haste. Patient communication, meticulous negotiation and careful alliance building are necessary.
The initial challenge of insurgents in government is always the same: they must first follow the rules in order to change them. A chief minister sleeping on the sidewalk in protest, wrapped in a quilt on a cold winter night, may satisfy the inner moral urge of the insurgent, but governance is not a branch of ethics. Without an ethical core, politics does lose its shine, but with ethics alone, no polity has ever been run.
Consider three other errors of the AAP’s excessive moralism.
First, should a law minister encourage vigilantism, however much he suspects the police of being corrupt? Unauthorised nightly raids can’t reform the police. Police reform is a dull, prosaic business, not a site of dramatic, guerilla-like continued…
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