Will AAP be another movement that flourished and failed?

If AAP was India’s first genuine post-independence mass movement that acquired political acceptance faster than anybody else, the party appears to be heading for a downfall sooner than what most cynics predicted.

 Will AAP be another movement that flourished and failed?

An AAP volunteer . AFP

It’s not the dissident voices from within the party, such as that of Vinod Kumar Binny and Tina Sharma who seemed to be disgruntled for not getting posts of power, nor the ambitious new recruits in other parts of the country who are speaking out of line, that will discredit the movement, but the inability of the AAP top leadership in regulating its growth that ordinary people in Delhi have set off.

Without a thoughtful intervention, the party is at the risk of an implosion that will yet again show the world that mass movements are inherently prone to decline or decay after their romantic rise.

If the African National Congress (ANC), that began as a mass uprising against apartheid and subsequently a hugely successful political formation, can flounder despite Nelson Mandela and a wider liberation movement that had both trade unions and the Left, the AAP cannot be an exception. In fact, the failure of ANC’s future was evident after the first democratic elections itself.

The main reason for the ANC’s decline was that the party was burdened by trust, responsibility and expectations of governance while it couldn’t continue its mass movement towards economic freedom. The failures of Mandela’s followers Thabo Mbeki and the current President Jacob Zuma are examples of how power kills political movements and even fails and corrupts its leadership. The country in fact is in desperate need for another uprising against inequality, corruption, unemployment and poor governance, issues that ANC once stood for.

During the romantic uprising of AAP, its leaders did compare their party with ANC. One idea that the AAP camp spoke of was the broad nation-wide alliances that the ANC had forged. In its efforts to scale up, the AAP also wanted to be a confederation of people’s movements across the country.

Without alternatives to oppose them, the ANC is still in power and is most likely to win the next round of elections too; but the AAP can be thrown out of its dream ride faster, not just because of its wily rivals such as the BJP and the Congress, but because it’s on a cruise that it has no control over. The party was not ready for power in Delhi, but went for it unprepared and it wanted to expand across the country in a phased manner, but got carried away by the Delhi results and enthusiasm of urban Indians.

Now, they have a double burden of meeting the sky-high expectations that they themselves had set in Delhi, and scaling up across India to fight in over 400 Lok Sabha seats. For an urban mass movement of common people, with an organisational history of less than a year, this is unreal and absurdly ambitious. The odds are heavily against them. The biggest threat will be the antecedents of people and movements that join the AAP.

This is the problem with petty bourgeoisie democracy - even those who want to move away from the beaten track falls in line sooner than later. The Congress, before independence was an exciting mass movement, which in no time fell into utter decadence and a never-ending dynasty; and the communists, who interestingly had an AAP-lingo in the 1960s, fell into the trap of violence, capital, opportunistic secularism, and a third front substitute to the BJP and the Congress.

Although not to second-guess AAP’s political future, it will be interesting to look at what a CPM central committee resolution said in 1967: “the main pillar of out tactics is a united front from below. That is so because there is a powerful urge for unity in the masses” and the “Communists have to strengthen this unity and turn it into an active political force.” Replace the communists with AAP, you get its political trajectory so far. And look at where the CPM is now.

“In India any revolution can succeed only under the direct leadership of the proletariat, with cities as the leading centre of revolution,” was the CPI’s take. Kejriwal swears by the leadership of “aam aadmi” (not too different from the proletariat) and AAP is a city phenomenon.

Why do mass movements fail?

American sociologists Herbert Blumer, a pioneer in the study of social movements, had identified for stages in the lifecycle of such movements: social ferment, popular excitement, formalisation, and institutionalisation. We have witnessed the social ferment, popular excitement and the formalisation in the journey of AAP so far. What they are failing is in the institutionalisation, which incidentally also includes its running the government in Delhi and the ambitious scale up across the country.

The first three promising and romantic steps were co-created with the people, but for the last stage which will define their future, the AAP is all alone and are under tremendous scrutiny. It’s a tedious job that it has to deliver as a government while dealing with the trappings of petty bourgeoisie politics - “aam aadmis" such as Binny and Sharma and thousands of others asking for positions of power, people such as Captain Gopinath defining what AAP should be, and factions in Tamil Nadu openly fighting for authority.

Scholars who worked on Blumer’s postulates redefined his classification further. According to them, the four stages of mass movements are these: emergence, coalescence, bureaucratisation, and DECLINE!

For the AAP, the emergence and coalescence have been a dream ride while bureaucratisation is proving to be quite messy. Unless it takes urgent steps, it will slip into decline in no time.

The AAP has history and the work of others to learn from. It should realise that even with the best intentions, it cannot have default immunity to the pitfalls of petty bourgeoisie politics. Going by the rate at which it’s handling governance in Delhi and the speed with which it’s filling its ranks, it certainly appears to be in trouble. When even the natural course of mass movements gaining political legitimacy fails, artificially accelerating the process is as risky as getting too rich too soon.

Updated Date: Jan 16, 2014 18:28:57 IST