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AAP’s post-ideological vanity is far more damaging when it stands on the face of a gargantuan right-wing machinery at these times.

The Aam Aadmi Party’s blitheness about the Delhi riots has tempered the trust of much of India, except perhaps those who thrive in a bloodbath. So has its decision to allow prosecution against JNU students in a four-year-old manufactured case of sedition. In its defence of the first case, the party has pointed out to its state of incapacity for not having the city’s police under control. In the case of the latter, it has reasoned, meekly, that it has surrendered to some grand notion of neutrality. None of the clams stands up to scrutiny. The country’s institutions are no more neutral; and they have been repeatedly and openly abused by the BJP government to their perverse advantage – largely to crush all forms of dissent, debate and disagreement. 

So the question of neutrality, if at all, is increasingly seen as a political posture rather than a moral and constitutional position. And that it is, is proved by the anti-Muslim pogrom in northeast Delhi, where neutrality is not just indefensible but repugnant. More so, in case of AAP. Since its early days, AAP’s method was anarchist and obstructionist. In other words, the lack of having the police force under it could well have been substituted by decisive intervention, demonstration, sit-in and sincere political mobilisation. After all, only two weeks ago AAP won a thumping electoral majority; it controls a substantive cadre base; has access to the farthest reaches of Delhi; and could have easily mustered the help of civil society. It has done so several times in the past, largely to protect its image as a ‘custodian’ of Delhi. But not this time. Instead, when parts of Delhi were consumed by fires of hatred, AAP leadership sat on silent protest, which was at best a photo opportunity and at worst a delicate display of governance by absence. 

What is more troubling is that this studied inertia during riots and eager action in the case of sedition – seem to be in continuation of AAP’s makeover before the elections from a party championing rights of citizens to one that treads softly on Hindutva grounds. AAP had zealously resisted taking sides with anti-CAA protesters – most manifestly in ducking the case of Shaheen Bagh. And when it did find a voice, it converted Shaheen Bagh into a flimsy traffic issue, as if the biggest question facing the vulnerable Muslims in India is whether they should block both sides of a highway or one. This calculated whataboutery stood in blunt contrast to BJP’s raucous and foaming-in-the mouth hate campaign against minorities and students. The police stood by the forces of power when they were not participating in the hunt. And when Delhi saw a naked display of right-wing thuggery in Jamia Millia Islamia and JNU and insistent threats against all forms of protest and opposition, Arvind Kejriwal and his company at AAP practised increasingly sophisticated forms of insouciance. And finally, AAP leadership suddenly started to express a new-found love for the Hanuman figure, flagging it literally, as an alternative to BJP’s all-pervasive Ram. 

Is a clear pattern emerging in AAP’s politics about how it wants to deal with right-wing surge? If AAP is to be believed, then the answer lies in electricity, school buildings, water, transport, mohalla clinics etc. If not, then in the Hanuman. If the latter is the case, then AAP has to answer to allegations of peddling soft Hindutva, whether it be a political strategy or a political programme in ‘new India’. But it is the former that calls for some reflection. This is because AAP’s claim of countering supremacist rhetoric with civic services brings it close to being a post-ideological party, which AAP has repeatedly claimed as its raison d’état. And that is deeply problematic. James Decker says in his book Ideology that the whole semantics of a post-ideological world – especially in the context of the demise of communism – started to occupy public life in the late 1990s. It was based, largely, on the philosophical premise of conservative philosopher Francis Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ thesis. Capitalism, it was concurred, had won handsomely and could now prevail upon a deterritorialised world, unencumbered by ‘silly’ questions of inequality, rights and national egos. But even before it started to gain any governing legitimacy, “the attacks of September 11, 2001”, says Decker, “poignantly underscored the narcissism of the post-ideological premise.” Since then, the world has barely been out of war with itself; and precisely over the same questions of nation, ethnicity and access to resources that capitalism was expected to have flattened out into a giant global marketplace. 

The shift in global geopolitics decidedly altered India’s position too – a shift seminally signified by the unveiling of the era of liberalisation. In the next two decades, to Congress’s wanton passion for an open-door economic model, the newly emboldened BJP provided the ethnic counterpoint, while the Left was left to counter a growing shadow of irrelevance. As long as Congress was a dominant political force, the Left mattered. But with the electoral ascension of BJP, both parties faltered. It was under these circumstances that AAP was born, partly out of a need to provide an alternative, and partly out of exhaustion with a political society that was out of sync with civic aspirations of a growing middle-class. Unconfirmed reports of it having been bankrolled by the RSS is out of bounds of the current thesis. We would rather consider AAP’s politics. If 2015’s whitewashing was based on a protracted promise, the triumph in 2020, as claimed, was because of the model of governance that was beyond the yin and yang of ideology. Is it? The answer is a resounding no, simply because no politics is beyond ideology. Ideology, as Decker contends, is a ‘diachronic continuum’, where shifts can be marked but barely can one position oneself beyond it. AAP’s genealogy itself points us to the hollowness of the claim. But it is not only in the theoretical impossibility that AAP’s claim becomes troublesome. AAP’s post-ideological vanity is far more damaging when it stands on the face of gargantuan right-wing machinery that has nothing to show for itself but a burgeoning advancement of its supremacist syllabus. To claim that a set of civic services can provide systemic and substantive opposition to the abject rise of fascism is to be not only naive but also delusional. 

Famed American anthropologist Clifford Geertz said, “Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun”. The common man’s party’s self-importance is a similar case of false consciousness. Unless AAP stands by a sincere political programme; is committed to protect and nurture lives across its province of governance and reclaims a moral authority to govern the capital of the world’s largest democracy, then it must be prepared to be consigned to history as Delhi’s fourth municipal corporation.