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The Phenomenon of Aam Aadmi Party

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It was a great day for democracy when the Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man Party) lead by Mr. Arvind Kejriwal won the assembly seats in large numbers and formed the government in the state of Delhi (in Dec 2013), within a short time after its formation. The AAP, which has transformed itself from an anti-corruption movement into a political party, has the focus at the right place. Being corruption-free in the corridors of power would itself set right so many ills afflicting the nation. The elected representatives would then be better connected with the people who had elected them in the first place and the people would have a better say in the affairs affecting their day-to-day life.

There has been a wave of goodwill and support for the AAP throughout the nation, forcing it to announce its plan to contest in the ensuing (May 2014) parliamentary elections in a big way. The common man-oriented approach has raised hopes of a new refreshing kind of politics. It will be a challenge to the AAP to live up to its expectations. However there are two fundamental drawbacks in the way our representatives get elected and function that would add up in time and pose a threat to people-oriented governance by even the party with the best intentions:

(1) People have voted for the AAP by choosing the most unlikely of symbols, the broomstick. In the just concluded elections, the AAP candidates were known to the people because of the preceding anti-corruption movement and they voted for the broomstick. During every subsequent election, the AAP would appeal to the people to vote for the same symbol to continue the good work. However in future elections, the suitability of the AAP candidate will have to be decided by the voter more by faith on the party's symbol rather than by any proven merit of the candidate. The people have no say in the process of selection of candidates by any party however meticulous it may be.

(2) The AAP might have put up the best of candidates for elections this time. However, once they enter the elected house they may still have to play the conventional game of politics to keep their flock together. Any new measure that is sought to be ushered in by the government will have to be supported by all the members of the AAP (for which a whip may be issued). The conscience of the individual representative becomes secondary and the perception of problems in his/her constituency now has to take into account the party's views on the problems. The potential for constructive action by the representative from a constituency has to be secondary to the party point of view.

Having led the Independence Movement, the Congress party had the goodwill and faith of the people, post-1947. For nearly a decade the Congress party swept into power in nearly all the elections that were held. However, because of the fundamental drawbacks mentioned above, the quality of the candidates and the governance delivered, deteriorated. Soon the people became alienated from their own elected representatives. The Congress (as well as other political parties) was unable to stay connected with the needs of the people. This situation could have been avoided had the voter been able to cast his vote based on the candidate's merit and not based on faith on a symbol and the elected representative had been able to act according to his conscience within the house thus fulfilling the needs of his constituency.

We need a system where the voter would be able to choose his candidate according to his own evaluation of the merit of the candidate. Next the elected representative should be able to function according to his conscience, if he is to remain connected to the people who had elected him in the first place. Both these are goals that need to be pursued if true democracy is to prevail, however difficult it may appear to be.

Only a partyless system of governance can provide this and the AAP (or any other party) should make partyless governance a desirable goal and work towards it, if it were to avoid being bogged down by the in-built flaws of the party-based system. Ignoring the fundamental drawbacks and continuing with the existing party-based system in a business-as-usual manner, would only make history repeat itself. The AAP has to rise to another level if it is to avoid degenerating into yet another party.

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Vijayaraghavan Padmanabhan is former Professor of Medicine, Madras Medical College. Based in Chennai, India. His interests include Spirituality, Politics, Economics and Medicine.

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