When leading activist of National Alliance for People’s Movement (NAPM) from across the country met last month to discuss the possibility of participating in upcoming elections with an alliance with or directly joining the Aam Aadmi Party, it evoked a mixture of surprise and elation among many people who have been following NAPM’s long history of people’s struggle and campaigns. Surprise because the years of deliberation on this topic over last two decades hasn’t progressed much and elation that the moment may finally be here.
Aam Aadmi Party’s Delhi election victory has certainly opened the world of possibilities for civil society activists. Contesting elections and taking people’s voices inside the parliament is not a novel thought by any means and has been a hot topic of discussion by the movements for decades. Many of these groups or their affiliated organizations have put up candidates in local and national elections and ran spirited campaigns only to end with few hundred or thousand votes and loads of disappointment. Disappointment not for losing but at the inability to convert the support of local people into votes. Even in places where there is popular support for the movements, and where thousands of people participated in local campaigns, getting a small fraction of those votes in election meant there is a big disconnect somewhere.
Candidates put up by these movements were often upright, had strong local connections and hardworking yet most people didn’t see them as viable option to be elected. Rather, they saw politics as a business that is best left to ‘politicians’. Common wisdom was that politics is art of compromise and quid-pro-quo, practiced well only by the craftsmen in entrenched political parties. These politicians had no qualms in promising the world while seeking their votes only to leave them high and dry for next 5 years. Many of them becomes inaccessible completely or extremely difficult to meet. Even then, come next election, the whole cycle is repeated and life went on.
Call it the Stockholm syndrome of Indian voters, people sympathized with their representatives who were indifferent or out rightly against the people’s interests. Politicians were hardly confronted for their past failures, rather people connected with the incumbents when they come knocking their doors, after disappearing on them earlier, making the same old false promises again. May be that the power-centers begging to a lay wo/man gave them a small sense of satisfaction. This factor proved challenging for the ‘change’ candidates to beat and it reflected in poll after polls.
Delhi election has changed the perspective of both people and the civil society. Suddenly, people’s politics looks plausible for everyone. It has enthused small parties who now dream of repeating success of AAP in their respective states. After years of protests and demands for rights fell on the deaf ears of the power-centers, activists believe time has come to take the fight inside the parliament and electoral politics seems viable path to do so. Seething anger against the current administrators combined with winds of change blowing across nation can indeed make the unthinkable happen. People-powered politics, where ordinary people donate and volunteer their time to ensure victory of their trusted candidates is certainly a health trend in our democracy. Not too long ago that many used to hate the term politics and have choicest words for politicians but not anymore; the interest to know and contribute to political process is in the upswing. This is the key factor that has beckoned many activists to throw their hat in the ring.
Well-known people’s leaders’ like Medha Patkar, Dayamani Barla, Alok Agarwal, Subash Ware and possibility of few more including SP Udaykumar along with his fellow anti-nuclear activists in TN, Bhopal gas survivors’ rights activists in MP, RTI and farmers’ activists in AP and Orissa, Chipko movement activists in Uttarkhand, human rights and land rights activists in Bihar and Jharkhand among many others have excited both optimists and cynics alike. These contests will be more closely watched than rest as their fight, and result, will define the future of people’s movements’ continued participation in elections. Whether they actually win or not, they have certainly injected a sense of new hope in their followers.
This election will certainly be known as watershed moment of people’s movements in electoral politics. It is time to cash in those years of grassroots organizing, hard work and the resultant goodwill and support among common people and turn them to votes so the battle from the streets can be taken into parliament. Sloganeering and petitions can be converted to passing people-friendly laws and amendments to arcane, colonial ones. Let us hope that NAPM, currently stands for National Alliance for People’s Movements, will also be known as National Alliance of People’s MPs.
By Somu Kumar