Thursday, January 2, 2014

Understanding the AAP Phenomenon in Indian Politics

There is too much deliberation and discussion on what to make of the Aam Aadmi Party in the Indian political scenario. The problem with this discussion for me lies at several loose ends, none of which are tight enough to enable the curious onlooker any sense of the party and its moorings. My own two bits of 'wisdom' stem from distant viewing of the phenomenon. I may certainly be wrong; I may be right. But it is my submission that when seen from these perspectives, AAP and what it stands for can be perhaps better understood.


AAP behaves not so much as a political party as it does like a Non Governmental Organization (NGO). This stems from the fact that most people who lead it have been associated with think tanks, NGOs and academia, and a major part of the base comprises of volunteers who have spared time for several causes close to their hearts. Even the campaign for Delhi's assembly elections ran more in the mode of a social enterprise networking with a large market. Another reason for this analogy is that they are a single clause party, always talking of corruption, much like an NGO that is dedicated solely to children's leukemia awareness. With a vision defined, the organization can be set up around it relatively easily. In the entrepreneurial literature, they would classify as somewhere between a traditional social enterprise and an institutional entrepreneurial activity without really falling under either category.

To say that AAP had a new political strategy is wrong, since all parties have done this in their historical existence, including the Congress and Jan Sangh. What separates the AAP's door-to-door canvasing however is the fact that local area volunteers continued to follow up by trying to stay in contact with the residents of the particular constituency. Also, social media was already in use by the BJP; however, AAP managed to wrest the space from them in the virtual world because of the two way interaction that occurred. Any great brand is identified by its responsiveness, and quick reaction time in a world of attention-span deficits is a great bonus. AAP has behaved wonderfully as a small innovative enterprise that is not a disruptor; rather it taps into an existing market previously unexplored. They are first movers, but will always face the challenge of retaining this nimbleness and sharp response time as it grows with size, since the zeal of innovation and the spirit of acceptance wanes with an expanding organization size. The way the party is working as of now spells only sad tidings for them, since with growing membership they are becoming more and more bureaucratic in their approach to solving intra-party differences or taking decisions. Going back to the people on forming the government and making the process highly tedious and bureaucratic symbolizes their inability to digest risk.

Another point to note is the overriding emphasis on populist measures. By and large the agenda and campaign have been negative constructs. AAP posited itself as the Opposition throughout, and voiced the people's voice, like any good brand does. It also played to the galleries by emphasizing on the power tariffs and water consumption charges. The manifesto however had little to suggest how the state would raise funds for spending money. Mere reference to improving roads and providing water to industries is not enough. The government would have to walk the tightrope of not allowing polluting heavy industries into the city while meeting the promises on jobs. Incentives to industries cannot be given by a state under a terrible fiscal burden due to populism, as Kerala's example shows. A single pony trick of corruption was good to hide the fact that much of what AAP is talking about is already in place in several states in bits and pieces. The state of Rajasthan under Gehlot's last term was seen as the lab of 'Sonianomics', the freebie, populist culture. However, people thrashed Gehlot out of power in a humiliating historic defeat. Were the corruption issue to be resolved, AAP stands on thin ice, and is bound to drown.

These are my thoughts on AAP. It would be lovely if people would talk more and deliberate further.

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