From batting average to political strategy and support base,AAP and the Tea Party are similar. The big difference: Tea Party is for lesser state control,AAP is not a believer in markets and finds no contradiction in decentralisation of power and increasing state involvement in public life
The search is over. Ever since the conservative,doctrinaire,adamant,self-righteous,right-wing political movement called the Tea Party (TP) was formed in the US in time for the Congressional elections in November 2010,analysts and political junkies have searched far and wide to find its left-wing clone. And India has found it in its own backyard. There is a grand equivalence between the two and thus,if you want to forecast what the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will do,for which we have no history,we can look at the TP successes and failures to gauge the future. This is admittedly a counter-factual analysis,but it is the need of the hour.
The counter-factual works because the two parties are near identical in most important respects. To begin with,their entry into politics. It was the same year,2010,with the TP several months earlier. (Legitimate query how much of tactical politics did the AAP actively and consciously copy from the TP?)
The record of the TP is as follows: in their debut November 2010 elections,it won five out of 10 Senate seats contested and 40 out of 130 Congressional seats. Batting average 40 per cent. The AAP won 28 out of 70 seats batting average identical at 40 per cent! Data for the 2012 election are murky in terms of definition as to who was a Tea Party candidate. Broad consensus is that the TP fared worse than 2010. It is believed to have won 4/16 Senate seats and about 15-20 per cent less seats in the House. Batting percentage a lower 25 per cent. This is a decline of 15 percentage points from their initial 2010 performance. If symmetry and parallels were to hold,then the AAP should win 25 per cent in a re-poll for the Delhi assembly,or 18 seats.
How twin-like are the two parties? Very!
One,the Tea Party claims that it represents the voice of the true owners of the United States We the people. The AAP has stated repeatedly that they represent the common man,the true owners of India Hum Hain Aam Aadmi.
Two,the core belief of the TP is in decentralisation of power; if the TP did not exist,one would have thought that the AAP discovered decentralisation. For example,the plan to implement Mohalla Sabhas. The obsession with decentralisation is so complete within the AAP that soon their supporters will be polled as to whether they believe in the right to happiness and if they say yes,then the aam aadmi will make happiness a right,at least in Delhi.
Three,paths to power: the TPs rise to power was punctuated by protests against certain laws and/ or policies. They first came to prominence in 2009 in their opposition to the TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Programme),and continued with their obsession with Obamacare in 2010. That both might be hallmark legislations and good for the country and/ or economy is another story. On this side of the TP border,the AAP came to prominence,indeed existence,compliments of Anna Hazares campaign against corruption. (Interestingly,Anna is now a critic of the AAP).
Four,strict,conservative,infatuated with their own views. The TPs commitment to their slogan My Way or No Way manifested itself during the negotiations over the US debt ceiling; ditto with the AAP over the discussion and passage of the Lokpal bill. One important difference between the TP and the AAP is that the TP has had several issues on which it has made noises and protests,while the AAP,so far,has been a one-trick pony I am against corruption,and I will make sure you know it.
Five,the political strategy of the two parties has been near identical: appeal to people never before involved in politics to enter politics and change the system. The support base of the two parties has one important common feature the more educated tend to favour the TP and the AAP. But there are differences TP voters tend to be ethnically homogeneous (white),older,and religious. The AAP voter is younger and with no known religious affiliations.
No discussion about the Aam Aadmi Party (or Tea Party) can be complete without a comment on their economic beliefs and/ or recommended policies. It is in this area that the two parties are different,vastly different. And if you will,the AAP comes out as strongly subscribing to the inconsistent sab chalta haidoctrine. The TP is for decentralisation,for private initiative,for less state control,and less state expenditure. Whether one agrees with them or not,one has to grant that they are acting out of a set of core principles,from which their positions on various issues can be derived.
Contrast that with the AAP. One important reason the AAP believes in street theatre and street democracy (preferably over expensive street Wi-Fi systems) and street voting is that the leaders themselves do not know what to think on various political or economic issues. When chance came to form a government in Delhi,the AAP has so far dithered,and generally refrained from accepting responsibility to govern.
On economic issues,the AAP is against corruption and for decentralisation but finds no contradiction in increasing state involvement in government programmes. It believes in halving the electricity bill and providing 700 litres of free water to every Delhi household. Where will this money come from? Surprisingly,given that the AAPs reason for existence is opposition to corruption,the party does not believe in cash transfers and/ or Aadhar to help reduce corruption.
Instead,it wants to increasePDS coverage to pulses and edible oils,and most likely,no definitely,increase the large corruption that the AAP believes exists in the administration of PDS. In terms of their economic views,the AAP is closer to the US 99 Per Cent brigade,a loose anti-establishment Hippie outfit of the 21st century. And,in terms of its populism,the AAPs recommendations exceed Sonia Gandhis experiments in populism,and far exceeds anything the erstwhile populist champion,Hugo Chavez,attempted in Venezuela.
What both the Tea Party and the AAP have achieved is greater accountability on part of the established political parties,and greater transparency in governance. History will therefore assess both to have had a positive impact on governance and politicalreform. On economic policies,the judgement on the TP is already in,and does not bode well for how history will treat the AAP. If the AAP forms the new government in Delhi (a likely and desirable prospect),their bluff would have been called,and their economic prescriptions are likely to go the way of the Luddite views of the Tea Party into the dustbins of history.
The writer is chairman of Oxus Investments,an emerging market advisory firm,and a senior advisor to Zyfin,a leading financial information company