Limits of AAP’s anti-corruption moves in Punjab | #socialmedia | #education | #technology | #infosec

The very “public” sacking and subsequent arrest of Punjab’s health minister on charges of corruption after a “monitoring operation” had the stamp of the AAP’s theatrical mode of politics, enabled by social media — helpline, sting, audios, videos, twitter. Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann released a 2015 video reminding people of the removal of the food and supply minister in the Delhi government by Arvind Kejriwal in a similar sting operation. Kejriwal followed by tweeting in praise of Mann. Both Mann and AAP chief Kejriwal reiterated the party’s avowed policy of “zero tolerance for corruption”. What both leaders failed to mention was the controversial sacking of the then AAP state convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur prior to the 2017 assembly election after a video appeared showing him accepting money from a party worker allegedly in exchange for a party ticket.

Significantly, one of the first acts of the AAP government, after winning a landslide verdict in Punjab, was to open a helpline asking people to report any official demanding a bribe, and if possible record it on audio or video. It was very much in line with the much touted Delhi model of transparent and clean governance. By sacking the minister, the party has tried to send a clear message that it is not going to be business as usual. It also establishes the leadership of Mann within the party.

The incident, rare in the murky world of politics which is driven by money power, brings attention to the “exceptionalism” of AAP. A decade-old party with a chequered career, the party’s exceptionalism lies in its very origin and existence and also the way it carries out its alternative mode of politics based on communicating directly to the people using social media. The party owes its inception to the “saintly” Anna Hazare led India against corruption movement which had received considerable support from the rising urban middle classes in India, making the party a middle class party — a rarity in recent India. It was also very much an original party in the sense that it did not emerge as a result of a split from an existing party nor was it formed by a powerful political leader leaving his parent party. The party also does not fit into any of the neat categories: National/regional; secular/religious; radical/conservative. Most significantly, despite transitioning into an electoralist party, it has not attempted to resort openly to identity based politics of social alignment or invoke cleavages to gain electoral dividend as most parties do. Also, the party has never spelt out a clear ideological position on the issues.

Emerging as an anti-establishment party, AAP initially put all its emphasis on fighting corruption in high places as the party’s core agenda. It attacked other mainstream parties and ridiculed their leaders as corrupt and acting at the behest of the corporate sector. Even the elected and non-elected institutions came under attack for getting compromised and not making the government accountable. Over the period, however, the party after remaining in power for nearly a decade, has considerably mellowed down in its style of doing politics and its political language. It has come under a person-centered leadership, giving up any pretense of having robust political culture of dialogue and contestation after the 2015 Delhi win. More than harping on the issue of corruption, the party in Delhi now seeks vote in the name of its success in bringing reforms in the primary sectors like education and health. It also relies on populism in the form of free electricity and drinking water for the underclasses. It has succeeded through these measures to broaden its support base among the lower classes, but has lost out considerably the tax-paying middle classes support.

Flaunting its Delhi model of governance, the party ran its 2022 campaign in Punjab on three issues: Weeding out corruption and freeing the state from the clutches of mafias, taking on the drug menace, and improving the condition of hospitals and schools. In addition, the party also promised freebies despite the precarious state of economy. Arguably, it was the promise to cleanse the thoroughly corrupted system in the state that brought the party into power as the voters were desperately looking for a credible alternative to throw out the entrenched political class belonging to the hitherto ruling parties, allegedly complicit in the collective loot of the public exchequer and bringing the once prosperous state of India to the brink of social and economic disaster. That the party won despite its inherent organisational weakness, lack of resources and absence of state-level leadership testifies to the role of the anti-incumbency factor.

The party’s public action will win kudos, but in the long run a systematic and sedate effort is required to root out corruption. It is like fighting against the system itself as there has for long been a nexus involving the bureaucracy, political class and the criminal elements. What goes in favour of the AAP is its huge mandate which not only gives the government popular support, but also save it from any impending danger of defection.

The writer is professor, Department of Political Science, Panjab University, Chandigarh

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