By Rahul Jayaram
In his article ‘Rule by messiahs’, (IE, January 8), one of India’s foremost Marxist intellectuals, Prabhat Patnaik, criticises the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for lacking a coherent ideology. Patnaik argues that the AAP’s appeal is to a “moral sense” and not to the “intellect”. He also claims the AAP’s aim is to solely clean up governance systems and rid Delhi and India of corruption — a quick-fix panacea. In his view, the paucity of a theory that frames the party’s actions renders it as “anti-thought”. Plus, the party’s lack of a vision regarding resisting the existing socio-economic architecture that perpetuates inequality and exploitation makes the AAP a set of elected “morally upright” messiahs who will turn up from time to time to clean up the system. Fundamentally, for the AAP to be appealing to Patnaik’s Marxist eyes, it needs to have a “theory” and attack India’s prevailing socio-economic structures.
Patnaik’s article is emblematic of how out of touch the Left is with metropolitan India (perhaps barring Kolkata). In the wake of the AAP’s éclat in the Delhi polls, the national media has noted how it hasn’t only devastated the fortunes of the Congress, stopped Narendra Modi’s charge in its ranks, but more importantly, cobbled the space the Left occupied in the Indian imagination. Patnaik’s adherence to and recalling of theory takes this writer back to an exchange between Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray and veteran communist leader S.A. Dange in Bombay in 1984. By that time, the Shiv Sena had wiped out the Left from Bombay politics, but Thackeray’s affection for Dange remained, and so the latter was invited for a Sena meet. There, Dange was blunt. “The Shiv Sena does not have a theory,” he said, “and it is impossible for an organisation to survive sans a theory.” Thackeray’s retort was biting: “How is it that, despite a theory, your organisation is finished?”
The AAP may be no Sena, Arvind Kejriwal may be no Thackeray, but one can hazard if Patnaik is today’s Dange. Patnaik’s critique ends up revealing more about the Left than it does about the AAP. It begs the questions: What is the role of ideology in contemporary urban politics? Is the idea of theory subject to context and change? And, where and when does a party square ideological imperatives vis-à-vis realpolitik, and is that balancing act tenable?
The answers to these questions lie in Patnaik’s own disquisition. If he has a problem with the AAP not framing its agenda in terms of caste or class but mainly in terms of graft and governance, it’s actually not a sign of a theoretical or ideological problem but an advance. While caste and communalism have been issues in most parts of India, including Delhi, it wasn’t continued…