The good luck of political parties usually vests in the bad luck of their opponents. Early on, mostly as a consequence of the UPA’s unceasing effort to send him to prison, then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi emerged as the Prime Foe of AICC president Sonia Gandhi. But by the time the 2019 polls fall due, the contestants for the Prime Foe to Modi slot will be hoping for an economic and policy stagnation in the country that would generate waves of opposition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Of the rival parties, the AAP ought to have had the best chance of attracting the anti-Modi vote, but for the fact that Arvind Kejriwal has not yet shaken off his “babu” ways of control and chastisement.
For a country to prosper, “governance” cannot be the monopoly of government. Its powers and authority have to get spread across individuals and institutions across the country, so that a million good decisions be enabled to get taken that would collectively ensure the growth rate of 15% that India is capable of sustaining for a generation. Why do the people of India do so much better in the US or in the UK than at home? Simple. There, they do not need to get permission from some babu or the other before attempting something.
Few of the regulations in India have a public purpose, whatever be the language in which they are described. They play the same role as checkpoints by the Taliban in Afghanistan or by warlords in Libya do throughout the length of highways: of extorting cash.
Many regulations in India are such as to make the normal functioning of a business or other activity impossible, unless exemptions get created through bribes. Laws and regulations need to be simple and clear, with no room for ambiguity about applicability or meaning.
In India, they are unusually vague and detailed, thereby providing abundant opportunities to the corrupt for interpretation or sanctioning. The Aam Aadmi Party was in its infancy seen as the perfect antidote to the colonial culture of governance in India, but it would appear from the predilections of Arvind Kejriwal that the personality of the “people’s” Chief Minister of Delhi reflects the habits and preferences of the bureaucracy that he was a proud part of not very long ago. A particularly noteworthy move by Kejriwal has been his effort at sending some journalists to jail for what he claims are violations of sound practice. Jail has been the default option of the babu since the days when the Union Jack flew over the Viceregal Palace, and remains so in this sixty-ninth year of “independence”. In other matters, he is a follower of Ram Manohar Lohia, so much so that he refuses to acknowledge the many from Tamil Nadu and elsewhere who do not hail from Bihar, UP or other Hindi-belt states, replying even to questions in English in Hindi.
Clearly, Kejriwal hopes for a repeat in 2019 of the 1977 and 2014, elections, in which overwhelming majorities in the Hindi belt translated into a Lok Sabha majority.
Fortunately, whether it be Rajiv Pratap Rudy or the T.S.R. Subramanian committee on educational reforms, the importance of English in the future trajectory of India has been recognised, but not as yet by the Aam Aadmi Party. This is, from the point of view of democracy in India, unfortunate.
There is scope for the all-India growth of the Aam Aadmi Party, but this can only be as a 21st century force espousing the values and policies that are suited to India’s Gen Next, rather than the restrictive codes and straitjacketed mores of the 19th and 20th centuries. Indeed, many are hoping now that it has entered the third year of its term in office at the Central level, the Modi government will fully adapt to the future rather than indulge those who seek to anchor the BJP to a past that has slowed down progress. Interestingly, the very traducers of the British legacy are among the stoutest defenders of such Victorian mores as those governing sexuality in India.
The people of this country no longer accept the core doctrine of the Colonial State, which is that the government knows best, and hence that the citizen ought to be bound by its myriad intrusions and prescriptions. If India is to generate tens of millions of new jobs, most need to be in the Knowledge Industry, and for this to happen, a culture of intellectual freedom and autonomy in decision making is essential.
It had been expected that the Aam Aadmi Party would champion such a forward view of society and not be reduced to a regional party under the absolute control of a former bureaucrat.
Trying to give preference to a single linguistic group in Delhi, a city which belongs to people from across India, or obvious methods of vote pulling that have been used by generations of politicians in India, are not what was expected of a party that took birth in a waterfall of idealism.
Unless the AAP and its leadership liberates themselves from the “babu” culture of control and micro-management, and from the economic and social policies of Ram Manohar Lohia and Jawaharlal Nehru, the AAP’s promise will remain unfulfilled by the time 2019 rolls by. The people of India have waited close to seven decades for the freedoms common in other large democracies. They will wait no longer.