These are testing times for the AAP. The Lok Sabha election results showed it its still-tiny place in the political field. It has lost its chance to recover the esteem and support it had in Delhi, and can only apologise for the misguided resignation after 49 days of governing the state. Now, the party is reeling from a series of resignations. Shazia Ilmi, one of the moving forces behind the AAP right from its conception in the Anna Hazare-led movement against corruption, has quit, blaming the lack of inner-party democracy, and saying that the party’s agenda was dictated by a small clique around Arvind Kejriwal. Captain G.R. Gopinath, a vocal member of the party, has also left it citing differences with the leadership. Any party is damaged by desertions of the old faithful, but the AAP should take these much more seriously, given the provisional nature of its idea and organisation so far.
As llmi pointed out, the party makes much of decentralisation as a core principle, but does nothing to create clear ladders of opportunity and forums of dialogue within the party. Vague volunteerism can end up creating a political culture as opaque as that of the older parties the AAP criticises. Arvind Kejriwal often talks of himself and his party as a vessel and conduit for “the people”, but such rhetoric can end up sounding like a cover for highly specific views chosen by him and a few others, given the party’s ideological slipperiness. His radical view of grassroots democracy, for instance, gives no quarter to institutions that make judicious choices between demands. This invites the suspicion that the AAP combines arbitrary decision-making with street theatre. Its great conceit of evolving its manifesto bottom-up cannot be credible unless it truly hears its constituencies and its own members.
Internal democracy is easier for a new, idealistic party to create, one that has not been made inflexible by vested interests yet. The AAP has an important oppositional role to play, and it must parlay its strengths in Delhi and Punjab, its high visibility, into a larger political presence. That calls for immediate attention to its own organisation.