Sunday, January 12, 2014

The AAP puzzle - A guide for the perplexed

Now, that there is some fascination with AAP among voters, cannot be denied. But where does this fascination come from? And where is it leading us to?

The roots of the fascination with AAP

Partly it is that people love an underdog who turns into a winner. Partly it comes from media that has latched on to the AAP story as a counter to the rise of Modi and the BJP,  to keep thing interesting on TV.  Partly it is from wanting to associated with something other than that which has been discredited (BJP by bad press and Congress by its own performance in the last 10 years). Partly it comes from naive belief that rooting out corruption is a panacea of all ills and that good intentions are good enough credentials to govern.

But a lot of its current popularity comes from AAP taking up issues close to the lives of the urban populace. The utterly miserable and failed management of our towns and cities and the increasing disconnect of the political parties with the common everyday issues of the people in urban centers, creates this space for AAP.

There are many goods that can come out of it both for India and the BJP. I will discuss this in a bit, But first let's examine if AAP should be considered as a serious alternative to the BJP in 2014.

Not thinking for the good of all

The problems in a multiparty democracy like India is that the if you have a sizeable minority supporting you, it is good enough to win elections. You don't really have to think or work for the benefit of all.

In Delhi, AAP gained support not just on the anti-corruption plank and urban discontent but also on it's clever (and somewhat simplistic) linking of the issues related to urban discontent with corruption.
It has also used sops to add to its popularity (subsidies, reservations, referendums etc.). The support also came from politically ambitious people & groups who had been frustrated and sidelined in their own parties or in the current political process.

This combination may win them a sizeable support else also and it might be good enough for them to win elections in some multi-cornered contests, but it portends ill for India as a whole.

AAP certainly doesn't seem to have thought through the implications of how pandering to the wishes of a few, compromises the task of doing good for all. They certainly don't seem to have applied their mind to issues concerning the nation as a whole or even a state as a whole as yet.

Certainly they aren't thinking through their ideas e.g. how waiving dues on electricity bills impact the financial health of the electric companies and therefore their capacity to generate and reach distribution to more people. Also the kind of culture it risks creating.

With it's current thinking AAP is likely to do more of the same that has led us to the current economic crisis.

More ready for the Opposition and the Municipality right now

AAP has demonstrated a capacity to tap into popular discontent, raise issues, highlight problems. But they haven't demonstrated their capacity to be able to workout solutions, to solve problems.

Honesty alone is not enough to govern.  For those who think otherwise, see the damage an 'honest' PM has done in the last 10 years. Mostly because the government under him has lurched from one populist measures to the other with scant regard to the negative impact.

AAP seems to be more ready as an opposition than a party of governance at the moment. AAP's agenda is mostly around the urban discontent.  So it seems to be more ready to participate at the level of Municipal Corporations than at the level of the states and the nation.

Some experience and failures at this levels can teach them a lot. AAP should probably be focusing more on running Delhi well.

AAP can also possibly make its best contribution here at the moment. A well run Delhi can compete with Honkong and London and NewYork, Singapore, Tokyo all economic power houses generating enormous prosperity and good for their citizens.

People are often limited by their unwieldy ambitions to do small thing well. AAP may do well to heed to this advice. They must aspire to be the best before aspiring to be the first.

AAP cannot afford to fail

A lot of the energy that has propelled AAP to the forefront has come from the young idealists who've been victims of prolonged spells of bad governance and a lost decade of opportunities.

AAP cannot fail for it risks turning many of them permanently cynically about seeing change through the political system. It must therefore scale down its ambitions and do the smaller things well first.

For Modi & BJP,  AAP is a blessing in disguise

1. It makes Modi look even more mature and complete as a leader.
2. It shows his work in an even sharper contrast against the failures of the Congress (UPA) and the immaturity of AAP leaders.
3. It will shakes up the party elements that were resting assured of a certain and easy win on the back of Mr. Modi.
4. It might give Modi et. al. more room in the selection of candidates (to weed out non-performing old and bring in promising new candidates)
5. BJP can sharpen the focus on Urban agenda in manifesto where it can talk about enabling provisions and infrastructure for a more effective governance of the towns and cities.

All of which should finally be beneficial to India.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Possible fate of AAP and the AAP antidote

Possible fate of AAP

Here is a view the runs counter to perception made popular by TV studios that AAP poses a serious threat to Modi & the BJP. Here are the reasons

AAP doesn't look as pretty standing up with Congress, CPI/M & JD(U) et. al., as it looked standing alone. It compromises there anti-establishment stand.

Mostly, it is the socialists that are gravitating towards AAP. Most likely support to AAP is going to come from people who are stridently Anti-Modi, Anti-BJP. These are people who voted for Congress or a regional party (if they didn't like the Congress). Which would mean that AAP would cut more into the votes of its friends (and spoil their party) rather than that of the BJP.

Media was similarly obsessed with Mayawati post her spectacular win in 2007 in UP. Mayawati even fielded about 400 candidates across India for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. But the result was an even poorer performance than before.

A third front with AAP at its nucleus and propped up by Congress looks like the scenario Congress is gunning for. With a lot of conflicting ambitions within, the so called 'third front' is still to take shape. Which implies a lot of uncertainties. Something that a lot of voters would reject.

A lot of regional parties strongly opposed to Congress would distance itself from a formation that is seen to Include the Congress.

Mobilisation is the strength of the political parties, especially of cadre based parties. AAP just doesn't have the resources and network to mobilise voters pan India.

Most people who would be donors to AAP would be uncertain about the outcome of the venture and therefore hesitant to commit.

AAP wants to target the network on NGOs that are often in sharp disagreement with each other. They may be able to suspend their disagreements but only very temporarily and very superficially.

Cacophonic TV debates and banal editorials are not likely to add support to AAP in great measures.

Modi's fine articulation of the Right of Center economic and social thinking is already bringing in new converts to the Right of Center thinking.

AAP mostly would only end up playing the disruptor in a very few urban pockets.

The AAP Antidote

So what more should the BJP do to mitigate the risks of AAP disrupting its game in the few seats it can?

BJP/Modi can and should counter AAP and all their friends, firstly, by highlighting the need for a very stable and strong government to pull the country out of its current troubles and that the BJP governments have a distinguished performance track record to best deliver on this count.

Secondly, it will have to expand the call for Congress Mukt Bharat to include -

  • Berojgari Mukt Bharat (Unemployment Free India)
  • Bhay Mukt Bharat (Fear free India)
  • Bhrastachaar Mukt Bharat (Corruption Free India)
  • Bimari Mukt Bharat (Diseases Free India)
  • Barbadi Mukt Bharat (Waste Free India)

Thirdly, it must go to the elections with

  • Pro-active candidates (ones that are willing to work hard on the ground)
  • Its Performance track record and 
  • a Positive Agenda for transforming India

Lastly, it must understand that there is some fascination with AAP and it must stay away from excessively attacking AAP. That would be counter productive. It might be seen as nervousness. Not really the desired trait a party promising a strong government should display. The way to counter AAP should instead be by, highlighting how the BJP has already taken effective steps to eliminate corruption in the states ruled by it and the long list of upright leaders in the party.

Regardless of the outcome, this approach would have a positive impact on the politics and India.