Elections inspire strange hopes. The latest example of this can be seen among those on the left-liberal side of the ideological spectrum hoping that the landslide victory of AAP in Delhi legislative elections will halt the march of the communal forces represented by the RSS-controlled BJP. It is indeed amusing to hear usual AAP-sceptics to argue that despite its limitations the AAP is only party that can challenge the BJP effectively checking unabated rise of right-wing communal forces.
As often happens with sentimentalism, such a view is based on a peculiar conflation of two distinct issues - capacity to form government in Delhi by defeating BJP and capacity to prevent and eventually contain the political expansion of communal forces.
As far as the first issue is concerned, it stands resolved by the latest verdict giving absolute majority to AAP with BJP reduced to insignificance in the legislative assembly. Implausible as this appeared, it was never the impossible possibility. Modi's BJP might have accomplished important electoral gains in most legislative elections in last few months, but Modi's government has so far failed to deliver on its core promises of providing employment, controlling prices or even providing a corruption-free government. In terms of economic policies and priorities, Prime Minister Modi is not much different from his predecessor. In fact, if there is any difference, it is only in the pace and intensity rather than the substance of the policies.
The initiative by the Modi government to curb socio-economic legislations of UPA government and to implement a large-scale cut on public spending on social sectors like healthcare, while simultaneously pushing for hardcore neoliberal reforms, will create a crisis in the not-so-distant future. In fact, one can argue that the people were already facing the crisis under UPA-II which finally led to its defeat. Now that the Modi government is accentuating the crisis, the people will react accordingly. Delhi verdict substantiates this.
In this scenario, only hope for the BJP is to reap votes through communal polarisation. The role of Hindutva forces in creating communal tensions in several localities of Delhi recently has been documented extensively in the media (see for example here). However, as it appears now, a different polarisation of class-interest has subverted communal polarisation altogether.
The overall situation is quite suitable for a credible political force to make a dent in the BJP's fort. To be sure, credibility in this context means credibility in the eyes of the electorate. It is credibility in a limited sense of the word - not in terms of transformative politics. For immediate purposes, it is about the electorate's perception of who can form a government that serves its interests the most.
In this context, the AAP is indeed a credible force in Delhi. It was the second largest political party in the last legislative elections and formed a government, however short lived. While its popular appeal faltered after the sudden resignation of the Kejriwal government, it managed to make up by carrying a massive exercise of public engagement months before the elections. Finally, in its 70-Point Programme and Manifesto, the party has managed to appeal material interests of a cross-section of Delhi's population - from slum-dwellers, villagers and workers to contract employees, shopkeepers, businesses and youth.
Coming to the second issue. To begin with, one must understand that preventing the BJP from forming government is different from preventing the ascendancy of communal forces that are born of a historical-structural phenomenon quite independent of party politics.
To understand this better one needs a certain historical perspective and theoretical judgement about the basis and sources of communal politics. This requires an understanding of communalism as a product of structural processes rather than of circumstantial party politics. Communalism today, as part of a global resurgence of the right wing in politics, is integral to the rise of neoliberalism across the globe. If this premise is accepted, one cannot reasonably turn back to the inevitable conclusion that an alternative to communal politics cannot be built on the ground of neoliberalism itself. On the contrary, such politics must be based on a categorical rejection of neoliberal policy dogma altogether.
Based on this broad understanding we may pose a question - can the AAP provide a credible alternative to communal politics by rejecting neoliberalism?
This brings us to a complicated territory because the baggage of the AAP is like a real "Bhanumati ka pitara". Rummage and you will find elements from people's movements that have been long opposed to neoliberal policies on one hand, and those embedded in a neoliberal worldview on the other. So, there is Medha Patkar fighting against neoliberal appropriation of people's rights over jal-jungle-jameen and then there is also Arvind Kejriwal assuring industrialists that the AAP is not against capitalism as such but only against "crony capitalism". This appears to be a contradictory situation. But it is really so? Looking beyond individuals, what is the policy stance of the AAP, which positions itself as a solutions-based party? Do the solutions on offer transcend the immanent logic of neoliberalism?
The policy solutions of AAP hardly do this. An examination of its manifestoes (for the Delhi elections in 2013 and 2015) and promises on offer in 70-Point Programme reveal an underlying populist tone - from slashing electricity and water bills to a corruption-free government. The rhetoric of empowering the people and providing transparent and accountable government cannot gloss over its priority of promoting the private sector, of course, through "honest" enterprises. In fact, the party manifesto (2013) announced that "government should not be in the business of running businesses". Although such statements are not included in the current manifesto, the populist -reformist prescriptions hardly contradict or transcend neoliberal logic. It is hardly in the nature of challenging neoliberalism or offering a credible alternative to it. In fact, it cannot even contain or manage the inherent contradictions of neoliberalism. AAP's last stint in power in Delhi saw contractual government school teachers protesting against CM Arvind Kejriwal for failing to regularise jobs as promised by the party. Such instances could have multiplied if the Kejriwal government had not resigned. The promise is repeated in 2015 but without any credible policy outlook to rollback contractualisation.
Coming to the point. Neoliberalism is a phase of heightened contradiction fuelled by the rapacious accumulative tendencies of capital. This contradiction cannot be resolved by populist-reformist polices at all. The downfall of the UPA government is a case in point. Even a series of socio-economic legislations could not save the day for Manmohan Singh because the spiralling contradictions of neoliberalism cannot be tamed beyond a limit. AAP has nothing convincing to offer that could solve this fundamental problem, howsoever genuine the intentions of its leaders and supporters might appear.
AAP's victory is, at best, a tactical gain against communal forces that might not last long. Premised on a neoliberal worldview, it is most likely that AAP will fall like a pack of cards under glaring contradictions. Does AAP have the vision to resolve this fundamental challenge before India today? If not, then whose day would it be in Delhi when AAP falls? At a time when genuine anti-neoliberal forces are fragmented, weak and on a defensive, right-wing communal forces will reap the full benefits of such a collapse.