25/02/2015 8:04 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Why AAP Will Be No Different From BJP Or Congress If It 'Goes National'

Lam Yik Fei via Getty Images
DELHI, INDIA - FEBRUARY 10: Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supporters yell as they watch the results of Delhi Assembly Elections outside the party office at Patel Nagar on February 10, 2015 in Delhi, India. Arvind Kejriwal and his AAP party have taken victory in Delhi's state elections which will see Kejriwal return for a second time as Delhi's chief minister. (Photo by Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images)

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won the Delhi assembly elections comfortably this time because its opponents, the BJP and the Congress, never cared for being local to Delhi. They were under the impression that speeches and flash appearances by their party bosses, known to have nothing to do with the common man of Delhi, would suffice to win. This, of course, is what the two national parties had learnt from decades of monopoly over state elections all over India, not just Delhi. AAP took them completely by surprise by being close to the ground and delivering the solid message that aloofness won't work anymore.

What about AAP's image of being the cleaner with the tell-tale broom? Didn't it help them win? After all, wasn't that the main campaign message of the party of anti-corruption activists? It would be wrong to deny that this had a role to play, but is this image of cleanliness any different from that of being local? I don't think so. In terms of the image of cleanliness, the local has a default advantage over the non-local. One always tends to trust 'us' and distrust 'them'. In the Delhi elections, AAP represented 'us' and the two national parties, 'them'.

Now, let me move on to the idea, held on to by some, that AAP's victory in Delhi can be replicated everywhere in India. This is essentially the idea that localness can be spread from one locus, which is absurd. No, localness has to be grown locally; it cannot be exported or imported. Closeness to the ground is directly proportionate to the population over which a political party operates. Therefore, expansionism has an adverse effect on its intention to remain close to the ground.


Let me illustrate this using some simple geometry. In the picture (not drawn to scale) assume BC is Delhi's population and BD, that of India. The triangle ABC is the AAP organisation as it exists today. As it is in reality, it covers only Delhi. The most important thing to note is the height of A above ground, i.e., AG, which represents the distance of the party leadership from the ground. The larger this is, the less democratic the system is and the less the party or government can be in touch with ground realities.

Now, if AAP expands to cover all of India, i.e., BD, its organisation will have to look like the triangle EBD and the party leadership will have to be at E, i.e., at a distance of EF from the ground. Since EF is greater than AG by the same factor as the population of India bears to that of Delhi (EF/AG = BD/BC), it is clear that the party leadership can no longer remain as close to all the people of India as it currently is to the people of Delhi. If AAP tries to cover an area twice that of Delhi, its leadership distance from the ground will also double, and so on and so forth.

Note that I have not even factored in the non-linear jumps in leadership distance when the party crosses cultural and linguistic boundaries. India's population is not homogeneous by any standards, and expanding all over the real India of mindboggling diversity is more complex than expanding over 20 Delhis which are culturally and linguistically indistinguishable from one another.

Thus, expansionism directly affects the closeness of the party leadership to the ground. As it expands, the party organisation must necessarily add additional layers of hierarchy between the top leadership and the party workers on the ground, and this is nothing but a process of alienation from ground realities.

Now, whatever I have said here applies to the BJP and Congress, too. They're already working all over India without the advantage AAP had in Delhi this time, and they know it quite well. So well, that they don't even make the claim of being local. Being local, for them, borders on being anti-national. Therefore, instead of being apologetic about not being local, they want the peoples of India to apologise for being diverse and making it difficult for them to keep their ears to the ground.

To summarise, then, AAP's victory in Delhi is not replicable all over India. If it tries to 'go national', it will have to become another BJP, another Congress, in remaining aloof from the ground and calling it 'being Indian'. That is, an AAP that gives in to the temptation of expansion will be no different from the BJP and the Congress when it comes to the real question in a democracy - the question of leadership distance.

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