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Whatever you want

In form and function,the opinion poll is AAP’s signature device. How far can the party take it?

Written by The Indian Express | Updated: January 9, 2014 3:59:48 pm

In form and function,the opinion poll is AAP’s signature device. How far can the party take it?

Having stunned the two national parties in Delhi and won 28 seats on the strength of its promises,the Aam Aadmi Party is posed with a dilemma. Should it form the government with Congress support,despite having previously asserted it could never ally with either of the entrenched bad old parties? If it does not do so,it risks being blamed for another expensive election,and strengthens the charge that it is more comfortable fomenting revolution than governing and seeing its commitments through. Now,to solve that conundrum,Arvind Kejriwal has appealed to the aam aadmi. He has outlined the moral dilemma,and promised to do what the people tell him,through SMS,phone calls,social media and jan sabhas. This method is both novel in Indian politics and in keeping with the AAP ideal of direct democracy.

The AAP has advocated referendums and polls,crowdsourced its manifesto,even suggesting at one point that “the people” would choose prices of essential commodities. These rituals of direct address are critical to the AAP’s strategy,as is its adept use of mass media to broadcast that it is doing so. It is not cynical to acknowledge and understand that politics is,crucially,a matter of audience-pleasing. The AAP has blended its message,of responding to what citizens “truly” want,with its method,of seeming to solicit their opinion at every opportunity. All through Kejriwal’s campaigns,he played on the perception that the government,and established parties,are now remote from the people. The AAP has used that sense of disconnect,and perhaps even exaggerated it for its own ends. It promised to fill in the communication gaps,it emphasised what others failed to deliver,and portrayed its platform as a medium for people’s aspirations.

Its success is a reminder to other parties that politics is also a performance art,that parties must not only answer to their constituencies’ needs,but also be seen to be doing so. That said,right now,this poll makes perfect sense for the AAP. It lets it prolong the reality show as long as possible,to soak up attention and position itself for the next battle. Right now,it has not lost any of its sheen by actually governing,taking decisions that will inevitably hurt some interests. If it decides not to form the government,it can offload responsibility to the “people’s will”. It will be interesting to observe how far this new force in India’s politics can take its unique selling proposition.

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