Aam Aadmi Party's ideological challenge in the upcoming elections is perhaps best captured by the juxtapositioning of two of its star candidates: Meera Sanyal, a former head of Royal Bank of Scotland, and Medha Patkar, a firebrand activist best known for her fierce opposition to development projects like the Narmada dam.
For example, according to an article published in scroll.in, Patkar in 1994 launched a major campaign against US power giant Enron in India. Sanyal at the same time was working with a bank that was financing Enron's India project.
So the big question is what could possibly draw these two together -- and more importantly keep them together in the intense months of campaigning ahead. Does AAP run the risk of becoming a tower of babel, with each candidate speaking in a different voice and with a different agenda?
"It's a collective of like-intentioned people who have come together for a cause," Atishi Marlena, who is a member of AAP's policymaking team, said.
"It's still taking shape. The confluence of so many people from diverse background makes it a complex job," Pravin Singh, who played a key role in writing the manifestos for the Delhi election in last December, said.
The AAP believes that its biggest achievement is the fact that it has created a space for dialogue.
"We have brought Sanyal and Patkar across the table to talk to each other. The way our economy or politics is shaped in this country, there is now a way of initiating a dialogue to reach a consensus. The policymaking power is concentrated in the hands of a few," Marlena said.
AAP claims that the initial challenge was to break out this mould. The party's most influential voice Yogendra Yadav calls it "reaching out to the last man in the line."
"Our main agenda is decentralisation, be it power or resources," Marlena said, adding that it is AAP's advocacy of local power that makes them an attractive option in the tribal heartland of India.
So much so that Soni Sori, a tribal rights activist and a victim of police brutality and false incarceration, will likely contest the Lok Sabha election on an Aam Aadmi Party ticket.
"The biggest problem in the tribal belt is lack of educational system or any other basic amenities. It is the same for a disenfranchised city dweller. Both Medha and Sanyal will be agreeing on the very fact that wholesome development is needed for the betterment of these people. We want to create jobs and conserve the environment also at the same time and that is Aam Aadmi Party's policy for growth," Marlena said.
Despite repeated claims that they are neither right or left, there are times when AAP's rhetoric veers into tricky territory, like when Marlena says, "As a party that is willing to provide alternative to a current system has to look for an alternative to the liberal market based economy that has increased GDP but at the same time did not result into any job creation."
However, she insists that the party is against giving out doles.
Observers, however, are less than convinced.
"The party talks about economic reforms in a way it has never been done before but if you look at the policies it has practised during its one month governance in Delhi or more importantly their pre poll promises, they can be confusing as they borderline a populist policy of freebies. The Congress has also mastered the art of freebies policy," a veteran journalist said.
The Aam Aadmi Party has made its stance very clear on the issue of FDI in retail, which it firmly opposes. But party leaders have remained vague on foreign investment in other sectors, specifically mining. It is an explosive political issue in Jharkhand, Odisha, and Bihar, where the Aam Aadmi Party is launching a massive membership drive and engaging with local tribal leaders.
"Industry is not something that we can do away with. Even a person like Patkar who spent a good part of her life opposing a dam, has to agree that electricity is required for the country," Marlena said.
"For growth, mining is needed but at the same time we want the tribal and the evicted population to be the party that directly benefits. They have to be a party to the profit and beneficiaries of development in the mining belts, which mostly happen to be in the Central India's tribal heartland," she said
Updated Date: Feb 21, 2014 11:05:52 IST