A new party is beginning to open up new spaces of conversation
Democracies are paradoxical creatures in one respect. For all their openness, they are often institutionally very conservative. Entrenched party structures are often difficult to dislodge. In India, there is rarely a sense of something new sweeping politics. The Emergency brought new social movements and political styles in its wake. Rajiv Gandhi tried to engineer a new generation into politics. Once in a while, a party or leader like Mayawati emerges from the waves of a newly politically conscious social formation. The other route to unsettle politics has been riding on the coat tails of regional dissatisfaction. We have been perpetually waiting for a generational shift. But as UP reminds us, a shift in age is not a shift in values. Many of these disruptions are easily domesticated: the same combination of family, patronage, institutional messiness, corruption chugs along. In a lucky state, this political economy will be made compatible with some progress; in more benighted ones, the stagnation of politics will be matched by other forms of stagnation.
It is this context that makes the Aam Aadmi Party experiment so staggering. In some ways, its performance may define the future of Indian politics far more profoundly than the gladiatorial contest of the two main parties. The party is confined to Delhi for the moment, and the optimism of opinion polls notwithstanding, its future is still hard to predict. But its mere presence has been transformative in more ways than one can list. You may not be the biggest fan of all of Arvind Kejriwal’s institutional proposals. But there is no question that he played a significant part in transforming the discourse on corruption. He has empowered many others to say that business as usual cannot continue.