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Understanding the nature and risks of the AAP’s decision to quit the Delhi government requires understanding this historical moment. Indian politics is defined by two major narratives: plutocracy and paralysis. As William Bryan Jennings once said in a similar chaotic moment in American history, “Plutocracy is abhorrent to a republic; it is more despotic than a monarchy, more heartless than an aristocracy, more selfish than a bureaucracy.”
The AAP is a reaction to plutocracy. The reach of that plutocracy has been corrosive. As Shekhar Gupta reminded us, the pepper spraying of Parliament is such a symbolic manifestation of plutocracy: the rich control politics, they control the banks, and then spray pepper into peoples’ eyes. While we protest Penguin withdrawing Wendy Doniger’s book as an assault on free speech, let us not forget that it is impossible to publish on companies in India. A book called Polyester Prince on a certain Indian tycoon was “made unavailable” a few years ago; journalists cannot write on Sahara and apparently ministers, to show how cutting-edge Air India is, ensure no analytical book on it is published.
Plutocracy is not just about money. It has corroded free speech and other institutions. It has generated a politics of excess.
The other crisis is a paralysis, where there is a sense of the country drifting like a ship in the night without direction, without a captain. There is a foreboding of what iceberg we might hit next. As if the dipping growth rates are not bad enough, no one wants to take responsibility. Those who wield power carry on the charade of helpless outsider victims.
To simplify a bit, the AAP has positioned itself on the first crisis, Narendra Modi on the second. The fight against plutocracy will, by its nature, have three features. First, it will stand outside of conventional understanding of institutional frames.
Its point is precisely because all the things we cherish, law, procedure, Constitution, Parliament have been so corroded by plutocracy, that we cannot rely on conventional means for reform. They are now technical niceties that have become weapons against the people; these institutions have become anarchic.
When Kejriwal said the “assembly is a temple, papers tabled in it sacred books”, the sentiment was sincere. But it was also a reminder of how little credibility conventional politics has. Second, the attack on plutocracy will have the appearance of a smash and grab. Since the rich stole, some of that must be reappropriated. The argument over pricing, whether of gas or electricity, is not about technically optimal pricing. It is a crystallisation of continued…