June 07, 2020
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All Aadmi Are Aam, But...

...some are clearly more khaas than others. All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. Is this the khaas-baat of the Aam Aadmi Party?

All Aadmi Are Aam, But...
All Aadmi Are Aam, But...

The plot of George Orwell’s Animal Farm can be summarized in a single sentence—“This novel demonstrates the consequences of the addition of four important words—’but’,  ‘some’, ‘more’, and ‘others’ to the phrase—<all animals are equal>”.

In other words, it describes the transition from the axiomatic statement <all animals are equal> to the qualified formula <all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others>.

Aam Aadmi Party founder and Delhi’s new chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s ruling out the possibility of referendums in Kashmir about the presence of the armed forces in Jammu & Kashmir (in response to his party colleague Prashant Bhushan’s endorsement of the idea of such a referendum during a recent television appearance) could signify a shift within the Aam Aadmi Party’s evolving political doctrine that parallels the transition that the pigs in Animal Farm made while turning their revolution into a counter-revolution.

As someone who wishes the new Aam Aadmi Party dispensation in Delhi well, and believes that the aspirations it claims to represent could (given the cultivation of the right conditions and attitudes) actually evolve into what it says is “the alternative to, not the substitute for” the decadence of the Indian political mainstream, I certainly hope that is not the case.

I have been told that the Aam Aadmi Party is a work in progress. I take that claim on face value. There are elections coming, and the Aam Aadmi Party has said that it has constituted 31 groups with around 115 members to work on policy aspects of its manifesto. It is also in the process of setting up a coordination team to finalise a national road map. This process involves consultations, amongst others, with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). That is as it should be. What I am interested to know is whether it also involves, say, consultations with the workers of the Maruti Suzuki plant in Manesar who might have ideas very different from the leading lights of the CII (and lest the AAP think they are insignificant, let us remember that industrial workers in Haryana constitute a sizable force, just as the Khap Panchayats, whom Yogendra Yadav, an AAP luminary, has offered to have a dialogue with, also represent a sizable force in Haryana).

I am all for dialogue, with as many different kinds of people as possible, even with Khap Panchayats and the CII and the Waqf Board of X and the Bhajan Kirtan Mandali of Y and the Resident Welfare Association of Z  and the Parent Teacher Association of Q, and the Revolutionary LGBT League (M-L) because naturally, it is possible to create a robust political charter that attends to different interests only by listening to a great diversity of views, from mainstream to fringe, and then choosing the ones, regardless of where they come from, that are genuinely democratic, egalitarian and conducive to the sustenance of a free society.

But if the AAP can find the time to have dialogue  with the CII and not with workers’ councils, with the ex-servicemen and not with the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society, with security experts and not with the Peoples Union of Democratic Rights, or with khap panchayats of Haryana and not with with queer men and women in Gurgaon, then I, and many others like me, will begin to have questions about exactly how big the tent of the Aam Aadmi Party is going to be. I would like it to be as big, as messy, as maddeningly fascinating as the social world we all inhabit.

If the Aam Aadmi Party does not intend to degenerate into the Telegu Desam or the Trinamool Congress of Delhi, or find its niche as the B team of the Congress, the BJP or some rump Third From made up to accommodate the idiocies of Mulayam and Mamata, or even transform itself into a dose of steroids for the comatose apparatchiki of the CPI(M), then it can and must rise above the din of cliches that dominate the mainstream of political imagination in India. To do this, it will have to prove that it can speak an entirely new and different political language. This is not impossible.

And If it can dare to at least desire to be different on so many significant issues, why should we not expect it to dare to desire to be different, say about the shibboleth of National Security ? Why should someone who does not subscribe to the overarching doctrine of National Security (which is used to terrorize large sections of the population) not be entitled to the dignity of being just as aam an Aadmi as any other? And if the AAP readily admits to being post-ideological, and pragmatist, then why can we not (very reasonably) expect it to (pragmatically) be ‘post’ the ideology of nationalism as well?  Or are we to believe that some ideologies, such as nationalism, like some aadmi, such as the citizens of Delhi, are more khaas than others?

The maintenance of the massive military infrastructure of the nation state in the territories governed by the Indian republic is an enormous burden not just on aam-Kashmiris, but on  all aam-Hindustanis as well. Why can the Aam Aadmi Party not take a stand on this that includes—among other things—a pledge towards unilateral nuclear disarmament, a substantial cut in defence spending (which would automatically decrease corruption and release more resources for the welfare of the population), the lifting of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. and dialogue in Kashmir and elsewhere outside the purely ideological framework of the commitment to the sanctity of Indian republic’s current borders and constitution? Why can a pragmatic commitment to a humane attitude to all existing problems that beset this fractious republic not be part of the core agenda of the manifesto of the Aam Aadmi Party. In other words, why not argue for one, two, three, many referendums in Kashmir, or anywhere, at all, on as many issues, as necessary?

If, on the other hand, we follow Arvind Kejriwal’s current line of thinking on the question,  then, referendums by citizen centric Mohalla Committees in Delhi about whether or not Kejriwal should rule them, because he promises them electricity and water are ok, but referendums by identical citizen centric Mohalla Committees in Srinagar, Sopore or Baramulla about whether the Army, the BSF or the CRPF should shoot them, if they take out protests against erratic electricity supply during a cold winter are not ok. In other words—we should all talk about Bijli-Paani (Electricity and Water) issues and corruption, but the people of Srinagar should keep quiet about what happens if you talk about Bijli-Paani and corruption. I am hoping that the Aam Aadmi Party has enough people with a more capacious political imagination than the limitations (whether sincere or cynical) of Arvind Kejriwal’s tight embrace of the obscene fetish of National Security.

Altaf Ahmed Sood, 18, Killed by CISF during protest against electricity outages, Boniyar, Kashmir
Those with a memory longer than the duration of a tweet might recall that the mass uprising that shook Kashmir in the winter of 1989-90 was actually triggered by the brutal repression of protests against power cuts during a particularly cold winter, when homes were left unheated.

At one such electricity-protest in Khanyar, in Old Srinagar, in the cold December of 1989, scores of protestors were killed. Bijli-Paani, which is so dear to Kejriwal, happened at that point, to come in the way of National Security, which is also dear to Kejriwal, and National Security won, as it has done again, and again. Only last week, as the new year had barely begun, on the 2nd of January, Altaf Ahmed Sood, an eighteen year old student of Barnait, Boniyar in North Kashmir’s Baramulla district was shot dead by troopers of the Central Industrial Security Force when they fired on people protesting against electricity shortages.

Arvind Kejriwal at an  indefinite fast against hike in power tariffs, at Sundar Nagari in New Delhi.
The citizen of say Sundar Nagri, New Delhi is as much an aam aadmi (common man or woman) as the aam aadmi of Boniyar, Baramulla or Khanyar, Old Sringar, but clearly, according to Arvind Kejriwal some aam (common) aadmi are more khaas (special) than others, or else what could explain the fact that Bijli-Paani protests in Sundar Nagri or Lajpat Nagar in Delhi are signs of civic democracy that we must all laud, while Bijli-Paani protests in Boniyar or Khanyar in Kashmir are occasions for the issuing of ‘shoot to kill’ orders. All aadmi are aam, but some are clearly more khaas than others. All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Is this the khaas-baat of the Aam Aadmi Party? is this blood stained legacy something that it wants to take forward ?

On the 27th of August, 2011, in a post titled Hazare, Khwahishein Aisi I had tried to sketch a way of thinking that might make it possible for those interested (like Arvind Kejriwal says he is) in thinking about corruption, to also think about Kashmir, and a few other things. This is what I found it necessary to say then. Substitute Arvind for Anna, and the AAP for ‘India Against Corruption’ (in this text, as has happened in life) and it remains what I think necessary to say now.

If by corruption, we mean a hollowing out of the things that make life worth living in dignity, then the low wage is as much a sign of corruption as the bribe. And yet, while Anna Hazare does talk about the evil of the bribe, I have yet to come across anyone in ‘India Against Corruption’ speak of the evil of the non-living wage. In all probability, some of the good men and women who endorse them today might tomorrow find workers taking to the streets for higher wages a very ‘corrupt’ sight. If, by the eradication of corruption we mean that a woman in Kashmir has no one to bribe in the local police to get news of her son in custody, then I would much rather have her pay the bribe and know whether her son is living or dead, and have the policeman take the bribe and give her the information that the dark legality of the state forbids him to do, then have her face the possibility that he might be one of the more than two thousand odd unidentified bodies that are now known to be rotting in mass graves in the valley. And yet, while Anna Hazare does talk about the evil of the bribe, the scam and the sleazy deal, I have yet to come across him speaking about the corruption and the corrosiveness that placed the rotten body in the unmarked grave in the first place. In the last week, while Anna has fasted, we have also come to know that a state agency (the J&K State Human Rights Commission) in Jammu and Kashmir has finally Aadmitted what was known all along. That there are at least two thousand and one hundred and fifty six unidentified dead bodies in thirty eight mass grave sites in different parts of the state. If this were to happen in any other part of the world, there would have been an immediate hue and cry. And yet, here, its as if, some remains have been found in an obscure set of archaeological digs. The problems of disappearances and of mass graves full of unidentified bodies that have been put there by people acting in the name of the Indian state ought to be central to any discussion of what it means to have corruption eat into the vitals of the political system. This is not just a question of bad policy, or errors of judgement. It is a huge, systematically constructed moral lapse, impelled by strong monetary incentives, at the very core of the functioning of the state in India. And Anna Hazare has nothing to say about this. His silence (and the silence of his close associates) about a black hole as profound as this at the heart of governance  is as disturbing to me as Manmohan Singh’s silence about the 2G scam.

Revolutions, as we know well by now, have a habit of eating their own children. This is actually as true of revolutions stained red in blood as it is of revolutions milked dry and lily white by by pious and peaceable virtue. While offering my salaam to the AAP for making its spectacular debut in Delhi, I sincerely hope, that unlike the pigs of Animal Farm, they do not end up making a salami of those they claim to speak for.

This was first published in Kafila

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