‘To be or not to be’ moment for AAP

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-Kuljit Bains

 A full-blown crisis is on in AAP, at both ends, Delhi and Punjab. And at both it is about existence. Arvind Kejriwal wants to conserve energies for the fight in Delhi that is crucial to his existence, and AAP-Punjab (if the grouping may be called that) can’t afford to be seen giving up the only consistent ‘plank’ it seems to have, i.e., the fight against Bikram Majithia.

The unravelling over a single point shows how little there is to the party – history, ideology, issues at stake, resilience. Given the very short period since its birth, AAP cannot be blamed for that. But the question it needs to ask is, is it doing enough to gather some weight, or is it just being a rolling stone?The Punjab unit is counting hands raised in favour of a split from Delhi. Before proponents of the cause take the step, they may want to ponder over a few points.Both Delhi and Punjab units are yet bereft of any clear ideology, or approach to public life. It is because in both states the party came up as a response to a need, though different needs in both cases.

AAP did not come from a process of evolution that may have moulded them as representative of a larger philosophy. It was a political alternative with the space under the column ‘ideology’ left blank, which each voter could fill as he pleased. That accounted for its image in Punjab shifting from ‘anti-corruption’ to ‘Sikh’ to ‘pro-Khalistan’ to even ‘secular’.

A split at this point will leave the party in the state bereft of any ambiguous character it may have been able to give itself over the past year. It will be back to zero, a start-over. There will be a fresh set of issues of leadership too, which may even end up making it look uglier than before. The state leaders need to decide if they are here for immediate and personal success, or to build a party for the long haul. To say they intend working for the ‘interest of the state’ is not enough. Every party claims that. They need to spell out what exactly they mean by ‘good’, and what is their political-economic approach to achieving that good.Since the last Punjab Assembly elections, there has been a clear scope for a third alternative in the state, which gave birth to AAP. But the need is directly dependent on how the existing ‘mainstream’ parties present themselves.

The space for alternative politics will last only till Sikhs do not believe SAD is a Sikh party, and the centrists do not believe Congress is a genuinely secular (and clean) party. The Congress was able to present itself as a more viable option in 2017. SAD may change too. It just points to how dependent AAP’s existence is on the conduct of the other. That is why it needs to build, and sell, a character of its own. It cannot survive long on a negative vote. It has to spell out a party constitution, and have the courage to stick by it.A curious proposal has been made by some of the senior state leadership — that of complete autonomy. It is hard to see how that will be different from a break-up.

There can either be partial autonomy or a full break-up. If only the name has to be borrowed, that will be an attempt at benefiting from the brand name, and not taking responsibility for the liabilities that come with it. The national/Delhi unit is in crisis, to which it has found a ‘compromise’ solution. There will be crises of its own making in future in the Punjab unit too, when it may need to lean on the national formation for stability. Credibility is also lent and borrowed within parts of a larger group, just as discredit gets shared. That is why a certain size is crucial to remain viable. It won’t take long for the old giants to stamp out a gang of 20-odd MLAs in Punjab. A ‘real’ party does not shatter — and keep re-building itself — at every jolt. It handles challenges as they come.

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