‘When you take on the ruling party, you expect to pay some price’
‘I got messages saying, do your reading and writing. Why are you doing this street-fighting bit of it?’
‘All that hoo-ha about the UGC is not even a fraction of the price that I have paid privately’
‘The word aam aadmi has a resonance for everyone who is poor and disadvantaged, whether in economic or social terms’
‘Because of the Aam Aadmi Party people could speak about Robert Vadra and the Ranjan Bhattacharyas of the world’
‘If you ask me for an overall caption for the AAP movement, it would be, from subject-ship to citizenship’
‘The AAP movement has drawn people from outside the activist class. The one big gain for me is that every day I meet people who are fired by idealism’
‘The radicals of this country have always managed to not be where the people are, and to be where the people are not. The Anna andolan itself was one of the biggest examples’
‘The problem with our revolutionaries is that they want history to enact their own script for them’
’If you question crony capitalism, then the only inference they draw is that the Reds are coming, socialists are coming’
‘We used our internal survey – because it was truthful, because we were technically on firm grounds – as a political weapon to counter professionally flawed, technically erroneous information’
‘Even at the risk of being proven wrong later, I would say that we should not rule out the possibly for a wave-like situation for the Aam Aadmi Party’
‘We are weak in the top 10 per cent and in the bottom 20 per cent. But in the rest of segments we are leading, doing much better than anyone else.’
‘One of the most pleasing aspects for me personally is that the Aam Aadmi Party is No 1 party among the Dalits in Delhi’
‘After a long time, someone has challenged the Congress monopoly over Muslim votes in Delhi’
Yogendra Yadav symbolises the idea of the new Indian politician which the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has inspired people to re-imagine. A Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a political scientist and psephologist by training, a popular TV personality who often provides heft to the vacuous political debates. It took him nearly a year to decide on joining the fledgling outfit, a decision which led to his ouster from the honorary position he held in the University Grants Commission (UGC).
In this lengthy interview with Ajaz Ashraf, Yogendra Yadav speaks on his political evolution, the man who inspired him and from whom he subsequently differed, the three fundamental flaws with the social movements, the glaring absence of radicals from the site of mass protests, his reasons for joining the Aam Aadmi Party and the sources of its popular appeal, on the party’s electoral prospects, and why the AAP decided to make public its poll surveys.
When Anna Hazare went on fast unto death at the Ramlila Maidan demanding that Parliament enact the Lokpal Bill, you were then watching the movement from the sidelines. What made you join the movement and, subsequently, the Aam Aadmi Party?
While the public got to see only the television face of what I did – which is the narrow, technical professional work called, somewhat rather grandly, psephology, which involves looking at election data, interpreting it, and at times projecting it – for me, this was never Number One thing in my life. For the last three decades, in fact dating back to 1983, I have been involved in social movements.
For studying them?
No, no, no, I have been very much part of them, as a fellow-traveler, as a member, as a co-conspirator, as a comrade. From 1983, when I was in the university, it was the presence of Kishan Patnaik…
This was at Jawaharlal University, Delhi, where I was a member of the Samata Yuvjan Sabha. The JNU politics was very active those days. You had the official Left – the SFI and AISF – and against that, was our kind of Left, which is the Gandhi, Lohia, Jayaprakash Left. The Samata Yuvjan Sabha was not associated with any of the official socialist parties of the day, but was attached to a small organisation called the Samata Sangathan, which was a political organisation founded by Kishan Patnaik, who came from the Lohiaite tradition. My initiation in public life, in fact my understanding of politics, dates back to that.
Kishan Patnaik was a big influence on you?
I call him my political guru. For me, reading Gramsci and Lukacs on one hand and speaking to Kishan Patnaik on the other hand, this was where my real political education happened. I always feel the formal discipline of political science maybe taught me less than these engagements with politics. With someone like Kishan Patnaik…
What was Kishan Patnaik all about?
He was a socialist, a member of the Socialist Party under Lohia, came from Bargarh, Orissa, became a member of Parliament when he was 27 years old, when he was in the jail. By the time, he was 40, the socialist movement had disintegrated and merged into the Janata Party, but he refused to join it.
He, then, spent the rest of his life, from the mid-Seventies till 2004, when he passed away, simply travelling, organising people’s movement. He was absolutely confident that established political parties had become irrelevant for political transformation in the country, that the real energy would come from social movements, like movements against big dams, movements against displacement of people, which were considered very unprogressive and backward in those days. This was because ecology hadn’t become a concern in the country. He was the one who started recognising these movements, including the farmers’ movement, which too was considered somewhat retrogressive then. His dream was to create a national political platform which would bring all these social movements together. He was, in many ways, the guiding spirit behind the National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM). Medha Patkar, for instance, would consider him as much her political guru as I do.
In 1980, he founded a political organisation, Samata Sangathan, which decided not to contest election for 10 years and which eventually did not till 1995. Then, in 1995, many other smaller groups also joined and he created a small political party called the Samajwadi Jan Parishad, which contested elections. I was a member of that party from Day One. I was involved with Kishan Patnaik in writing the policy document for the party.
What was the policy document about?
That policy document was actually about imagining what it would mean to be Left Radical in the 21st century. That is my politics. In the 20th century, so much of energy came from the Left, the socialist movement and so on. But what would that mean in the 21st century? That was very much my concern. I joined the party in 1995 and continued with it. So whenever elections took place, the party would contest in one or two constituencies. As a dutiful member, I’d go there, but before that I’d inform the editors (who had commissioned him to conduct polls). Of course, no one ever saw a conflict of interest because it was such a small party. All its candidates would dutifully lose their deposits. Obviously, there was nothing secret about it, but everybody thought of it as a tiny hobby I had with my professional work. But for me, that was very serious work. It is where my heart lies.
Then, in 2004 and 2009, I was involved in attempts at creating an alternative radical platform, attempts in which people Justice Rajinder Sachar, Kuldip Nayyar, Swami Agnivesh, Aruna Roy, and Medha Patkar were involved. But those attempts never fructified, because of some fundamental flaws that social movements have. These attempts came to a naught. It was a non-serious affair. Yet, these experiments were very important for my understanding of politics. It taught me why you can’t simply bring all the existing social movements on one common platform and turn it into a political party.
Because of three fundamental flaws, and these apply to a very large range of those who believe in social transformation and radical changes. One, they misunderstand the nature of electoral competition. Like in economy, there are compulsions of minimum scale involved in politics. Kanshi Ram was the first person to understand this very well. That if you want to contest election, say, in Haryana, you have to field candidates in all the 90 constituencies. Otherwise you won’t get even votes in one constituency where you have a genuine support base. Social movements, on the other hand, believe they have to have areas of concentrated influence and then they contest elections in these select constituencies. As a result, people who worked with them for five years, who supported them, who agitated with them, who worshipped them, did not go and vote them.
That’s because people realise their heroes won’t be in a position to capture power.
I know of a friend in Madhya Pradesh, who could match Gandhi in his moral courage, in intellect. Sunil is his name. He was one of the brightest students in my days in JNU, my leader then, who left it to live in an Adivasi area for the last 30 years, who still lives in the Adivasi area, in Hoshangabad, and led an extraordinary struggle among the Adivasis. If they could they would make a temple in his honour. Yet they did not vote him when he stood for a parliamentary election. He lost his deposit. So, one, compulsion of minimum scale is a must. I kept pleading with these movements that we should put up candidates in all constituencies, and they thought I was suggesting something very superficial.
What are the other flaws?
The second thing social movement never understood is that you cannot do mainstream politics basing yourself on one issue or one segment of the population. You need cross-sectional mobilisation. Yes, you can keep one per cent out, yes, you can keep two per cent out. It can be 99 per cent versus one. Yes, you can do that, you don’t need to include the Ambanis in your party. But you can’t do politics of 50 per cent or 60 per cent. This is what most of our social movements never understood. If you take the greatest of them, Narmada Bachao Andolan, all the people affected by the Narmada dam put together wouldn’t be able to swing even one parliamentary constituency. And you are talking about the biggest movement, which has inspired me so much.
The third problem with our revolutionaries and radical social movements was that they wanted history to enact their own script for them. They had their script, which identified who the vanguard will be, what kind of shape and size it would be, when it would happen, because of what…. All this, I think, is the legacy of Marxism, which said you had to have a map ready before any action takes place. Then, in a sense, you plot real life events on that map. If they fail to conform to that map, then it isn’t revolutionary. What looked nice on the map turned you against all the revolutionary and progressive transformations that were actually taking place on the ground, simply because it didn’t match your script. So instead of radicals and progressives being where the people are, somehow they – the radicals, the progressives of this country – have always managed to not be where the people are, and to be where the people are not.
Give me some examples.
The Anna andolan itself was one of the biggest examples. But take the example of Mahendra Singh Tikait. He had one million people descend on Delhi (in the 1980s) and brought it to a standstill. Yes, he did not speak your and mine language. Yes, he spoke the language of his caste as well. He was a peasant leader who came to ask the question: What is the future of the peasant and agriculture in this country? I can’t imagine anything more radical than that. But because he did not speak my pre-scripted language, I thought he was retrograde.
By I, you mean..
The radicals, the revolutionaries, everyone. When his politics disintegrated and met a tragic end, partly because of his own follies, I think we all heaved a sigh of relief. I think it was the death of one of the most radical possibilities of the politics of transformation in India. Kanshi Ram, again, did not speak the pre-scripted language. His language was different. Today, all the Left intellectuals celebrate Dalit politics. But when Dalit politics was being shaped, they (Dalits) were political untouchables then. In JNU, I remember, those who spoke of caste were considered the most retrograde people. You could not mention the words caste even though caste oppression was so much there.
This is the third big folly – instead of discovering what is radical in actual practices on the ground, you set out a map from the top and say, match me otherwise you are out. Arrogance. Elitist arrogance, that too not coming from the Indian experience, but from the European experience. It is borrowed elitism, it is pathological.
Is all this connected to your decision to join the Anna movement and the Aam Aadmi Party?
After all these experiences and the three firm conclusions I reached, many of us in the people’s movement started thinking and saying that the only way out is to bypass them, that by bringing these people’s movements on one political platform, you cannot form a political party unless they begin to recognise the three flaws I have referred to. They have tremendous energy, they have idealism of the finest variety – I have had the pleasure of meeting some of the finest persons in our country, and I cherish that – but they were just wrong-headed about their politics. And we thought that there has to be some way of bypassing this.
It was then the Anna movement arrived. At the very beginning of it, I was outside and, like many friends, I wrote to applaud it. I said it was such a welcome development for our democracy. There are dangers, and I identified three dangers – one, the language of anti-politics, because anti-politics is anti-democracy.
What do you mean by anti-politics?
At the time of Anna’s very first fast, there were statements such as sab neta chor hain (All leaders are corrupt), politics is corrupt. This was prior to the Ramlila agitation. So I wrote welcoming the Anna agitation saying it was such a great thing for our democracy…
Great in what sense?
Because people are coming to take on the political establishment, and that corruption is an issue that is euphemism for so many structural flaws in our country, that in the context of the 2G and Commonwealth scams, if there were no public protest then it would be dangerous for democracy, that democracy would lose its legitimacy. So I wrote saying it was a great sign people were on the streets, and we should salute these things in a democracy. But I also wrote that the language of anti-politics was dangerous, and the occasional references to symbols…
Bharat Mata etc, there was just too much of it in the beginning. I, personally, don’t have anything against the slogan of Bharat Mata ki Jai. (Nevertheless) I also wrote wishing it would turn political. Logically, anti-corruption protest has to become a political protest, I said this right from the beginning. Then Arvind (Kejriwal) and Manish (Sisodia) approached me between Anna’s April and July fasts. They had read me, they knew of my public support for it, and they wanted me to join.
For various reasons, I wasn’t quite persuaded then. I said I would come, I would support, but I would not join the organisation formally. So I went to the Ramlila Maidan, spoke from there three or four times, and thought there were some deficits. Instead of standing out and saying these are the deficits, I said let me try make them up. If there are not enough Dalits, then why not speak to Dalit groups and invite them there. This is what I did. Not enough Muslims? I had friends in Mewat and I told them, why don’t you join. They did.
For the next one year, I was informally with them – a fellow-traveler, someone who would be invited to some of the key meetings, but who reserved the right to criticise in public. I said I would come to your meetings, speak my mind and then leave before you take your formal decision, because I don’t want to be a party to you decision, so that I can criticise you from outside.
I kept saying I don’t see a future other than a political future. Very soon, I could see there were three streams there.
You mean, in the anti-corruption movement?
Yes, there was the anti-politics stream, which said sab neta chor hain (All leaders are corrupt). Second, there was the anti-Congress stream, which said you had to identify your first enemy first. Congress is your enemy. Therefore, indirectly, BJP is the one that you need to support. Third, there was the alternative politics stream. I threw my lot with the third stream. I thought my role was to strengthen the third sub-stream within this movement.
For me, when 20 eminent personalities wrote to Arvind to end his fast at the Jantar Mantar last year –I was involved in drafting that letter – and when the letter was accepted and a political party was formed, there was no reason for me not to join them. After that, it would have been dishonest. It was then that I joined the Aam Aadmi Party.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this movement is that it has attracted middle class professionals and academicians like you?
I am not a representative case because I was never an academic proper. I am a political animal who had strayed into the world of political science. But the AAP movement in general has brought in a lot of middle class professionals, less from academia but more from IT, from management, who have joined and worked for it. In that sense, idealism moving people to political action is something which is happening after a long time, after the Naxalite and the JP movements, then, in some sense, pro- and anti-Mandal movements, and in a very limited sense, even the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
A big movement tends to draw people from outside the activist class and creates a new activist class. This is what the AAP movement has done. If you come to our office, then you realise people from a very diverse background have come in. Honestly, the one big gain for me after coming to this party – and it allows me to sleep well every night irrespective of whatever else keeps happening – that every day I get to meet people who are fired by idealism – like someone telling you that he was preparing for the IAS examination but has postponed it for two years, or that he has closed his shop for three months, or that he has given up his job in the US and wants to do something for the country. Whichever way they understand it, even if their understanding is flawed, even if I have lots of questions, even if I am opposed to some of their naïve, simplistic beliefs about how this can be done, but the fact is here is positive energy coming into your public life.
Apart from the issue of corruption, what is the idea you think has moved them?
One thing that amazes me is the power of nationalism. We tend to believe, and academics have convinced themselves and everyone else as well, that nationalism has died the death in India.
You mean the idea of belonging to an entity called India.
Yes, in the high academic circles, this is mocked at. People talk about us having moved beyond the nation-phase etc. What amazes me is that how much of the legacy of our freedom movement still survives in the collective unconscious of this country. You know the willingness to say desh ke liye karna hai (we have to do it for the nation). Now, this metaphor lends itself to narrow misuse as well, because it lends itself to a BJP-style of thinking, because it lends itself to a very shrill anti-Pakistan rhetoric, but once properly oriented to thinking about the people of this country – like saying India means its people of India, that India includes Manipur – then this energy can be very creative. The simple sense of pride about the country, and it is particularly so among those who have been abroad for a little while – now bit of it gets diverted into the VHP-kind of things, but I also see a very creative aspect of it. So I’d say a lot of it is driven by nationalism, and a good part of it is a simple-minded desire to do good to society. Every collectivity in the world has people who want to do something good out there. There’s a lot of that element as well.
For me, new ideas of citizenry seem to be the movement’s most attractive aspect.
That’s a conceptual grid that you and I would put on that. For me, this movement is about a very large number of Indians transiting from being subjects to being citizens. If you ask me for an overall caption for the AAP movement, it would be, from subject-ship to citizenship. People who think they can demand things of their rulers, people who believe they have certain rights, who are not becharaas (the helpless) who are not to be taken for granted, and that the rulers are not mai-baap. And that’s a very major transition.
Has there been a blowback to your decision to join the AAP movement? Would you classify the University Grants Commission (UGC) controversy as a blowback?
That’s a very silly and small affair. It came on the front-page. In my mind, the moment you decide to take on the ruling party on the street, you expect to pay some price.
Was the UGC controversy the only price you paid?
There are lots of other things that are difficult to talk about. They have been trying to put pressure on my family.
Anything to do with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)?
I am particularly privileged to be in an institution where this won’t happen and…
No, no, what I mean pressure on CSDS because of you?
Of course, there is pressure on CSDS.
I remember CSDS had encountered financial squeeze at the time the NDA was in power.
It hasn’t happened directly yet. In fact, Outlook magazine did a story on it. Both the CSDS and the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) because of what Bhanu Pratap Pratap (He’s the CPR president) has been writing, because of what I have been doing, and in a very, very different way, what Madhu Kishwar is doing, there is pressure… A long questionnaire was sent to CSDS and CPR asking them all kinds of silly questions.
The government sent the questionnaire through proper channels to CSDS and to CPR about the sources of funding and all kinds of bureaucratic questions. This has never been done. This was very unusual… answers being demanded in three days. It seems saner elements prevailed: it was realised that perhaps it would turn out more embarrassing for them to go ahead with it. So yes, there have been pressures, and every well-meaning friend warned me right in the beginning that my joining the AAP would be very costly for me. In the month of Feb-March again, I got messages that it is alright, you have joined a party, but you know, you do your reading and writing. Why are you doing this street-fighting bit of it?
Did this message come from the government?
I got messages, yes. It did not matter to me.
But what mattered to me a little more was that the movement I have been with – NAPM and Samajwadi Jan Parishad – these are colleagues who I have worked with and who have mattered a lot to me, this is where my conscience has been, this is where whatever I found meaningful was being done, not visible to the public, not on television, but quietly. I failed to win their confidence in this movement. I thought, and still think this party is the natural home for all social movements of this country.
So, in that sense, joining the AAP has been a personal loss as well.
Yes, when they didn’t come in, and I did think Samajwadi Jan Parishad, a group of idealist people, would join the AAP. But they did not because they wanted to know what the party’s position was on the WTO, liberalisation, globalization, etc. In others words, they wanted a certain ideological map to be endorsed before they could sign on. I understand that frame of mind, but this is not how you engage with movements. So I failed to win their confidence, I had to leave that small party, and step into this one. This may not matter to anybody else. But for me, it was a very painful decision, to move away from colleagues who I personally admire.
You mean to say there was a personal distancing from them.
If you ask me, all that hoo-ha about the UGC is not even a fraction of the price that I have paid privately. Fortunately, there is no enmity as yet. I do hope someday various people’s movements will come and join. Some of my very close friends, not in Samajwadi Jan Parishad, but outside, who have been very critical of the Anna movement, they were very dismissive of this move (of mine). Convincing them has been very difficult and I have not succeeded. That is more of a cost to me than this silly business of UGC.
Nevertheless, your ouster from the UGC speaks a lot about the State, which is supposed to be the neutral arbitrator of conflicting interests but it unleashes its might against those….
In all fairness we must say this cuts across all parties and regimes. If anything, the Congress was supposed to be a shade better than the BJP and the CPM, which were supposed to be the worst in terms of micro-controlling every aspect under their regimes. The Congress was supposed to be a bit liberal and which it indeed was.
When I decided to join the party, which hadn’t then been constituted formally, I informed the minister Kapil Sibal about it. I got a response within 24 hours that, no, we are a different regime, that your presence in the UGC has made a difference, so we’d like you to continue. There was a certain liberality to this regime, but I guess whenever regimes have a sense of being under a siege – and in the current ruling party there is a sense of being under a siege – then they lose the sense of proportion and balance. I suspect that is more the case here. In all fairness, I can’t think of any other regime which would have acted differently. Yes, what they have done to me in the UGC is illegal. Yes, what they have done has no precedent. Indeed, there is exactly an opposite precedent of Subhash Yadav (a Congressman who too had been a part of the UGC)… I knew about it when I decided not to take them to court.
But it does serve a very, very poor signal to anyone who serves on any of the autonomous bodies. Yet, I wouldn’t say it is just this regime which is guilty of it. Unfortunately, most of the autonomous bodies in the country have been reduced to being an extended arm of the ruling party. While in this we must blame the political bosses, I also feel academics, bureaucrats and scientists are guilty of not standing up and I saw much of what was said during the Emergency – that when asked to bend, they began crawling.
But, ultimately, it does come down to the ruling regime not accepting differences of opinion and dissent.
That’s right, but also about people not expressing their opinion and dissent. You know, issue after issue, I could see people were uneasy with the decision, but did not express that before the education secretary that this is wrong.
You are speaking about the UGC?
Yes. The burden of speaking all this was on me. People would come and tell me, a wrong decision is being taken. You should speak against it.
Why did you all release the opinion surveys that were done for the AAP? I don’t think any other political party has ever released its surveys that were conducted for internal assessment.
When I joined the party, when we decided to contest the Delhi election, my suggestion to my colleagues was that we shouldn’t go by hearsay and individual impressions, and that we need a scientific survey. This is particularly important for a new party which doesn’t have any visible support. They agreed. In the month of February, we conducted a poll, which was strictly for internal consumption. We found that we had a 14 per cent vote-share, which, I must say, encouraged me a lot. I had prepared myself for a very, very long haul, and for me, anything above 10 per cent signified decent success, which would give us a foothold. I was encouraged with 14 per cent, my friends were not.
Then, in June-July, I was not in Delhi and we tried to have our volunteers to carry out a survey. It did not work out, because volunteers can’t do such surveys. It doesn’t give you an independent feedback.
Who did the first survey?
Cicero, we have been using them. When I came back to Delhi, I said let us not involve our volunteers, it has to be done by an independent agency, by someone who is on the ground but who doesn’t know who he is working for. The results we were getting (from the one that AAP volunteers were doing) were fantastic results and I said, you can’t take these results seriously.
So, in the month of August, we requested the same agency to carry out yet another round. It showed us at 27 per cent. I was very surprised. While we knew that because of the bijli-paani agitation the mood had changed, I had not anticipated that it would change this much. I conveyed this to my colleagues with a note of caution saying, let us wait for the results of other independent polls to be released, that our result could be off by a few points. But, yes, I told them, we have broken the threshold of viability. That’s all we should conclude as of now.
It was then we got reports of other surveys being released, which were claiming to have given us 16-17 per cent vote-share. We also heard that the same surveys were being released by more than one channel, that five channels were releasing two surveys on the same day. This was an extraordinary thing. Nobody telecasts surveys which they haven’t sponsored, and no one gives the data of any survey to anyone who hasn’t been paid for it. It looked something like a design. The impression being created was that we were a party which could, at best, get four-six seats, that it is a vote-katua party. We felt it would dampen the spirits of our workers, that this would feed into the campaign which the Congress and the BJP wanted to unleash. And, above all, we knew that what was to be projected in the evening was incorrect. The question was: what were we to do?
It was then I suggested to my colleagues that, for us, truth and transparency have been the way out. I said, maybe the way out was to release our survey findings. To this, someone asked: why would anyone trust us? It then occurred to me that what we could do was to make our raw data transparent, to put it out in the public domain. I remember at the time I was in the CSDS, on a couple of occasions, when serious questions were asked about the honesty of our surveys, we had made our data file open to a group of experts. I know raw data file can be checked. If I am given a raw data file, I can tell within a couple of hours whether it is fake or genuine. So we decided to do that with the AAP survey. Yes, this was a very deliberate decision. The opinion survey wasn’t to be made public, that this wasn’t the reason why we had carried out the survey in the first place.
But, in the face of what appeared to us professionally flawed, technically erroneous information, which was being spread on a scale that could be politically very damaging to us, we used what was our internal survey – because it was truthful, because we were technically on firm grounds –as a political weapon. I have no hesitation in saying that. The trouble is people don’t associate politics with truth, that truth can be your weapon is something people don’t understand.
Once we had done that (released our survey), then the third survey which we had commissioned – which was conducted through the month of September and was completed on Oct 5 – showed that we had moved from 27 per cent to 32 per cent, that we had moved to the first slot and, therefore, we released that as well.
We demanded similar transparency from others. Yes, we wanted to put pressure on other opinion pollsters to be more transparent. The irony of the situation was, and continues to be, that a political party is willing to be transparent about its methodology, sample technique, sample size, conversion of votes into seats and so on, and the pollsters are not. And when we demanded transparency from the media, we got some, but we did not get all. When the methodologies of these surveys were forwarded to us, we discovered contradictions in the statement of methodology, for which we got no answer.
What were these contradictions?
One prominent survey claimed that they had randomly selected respondents from the voters list, which is an ideal method. But in the very next sentence they said they had picked their respondents from every nth household on the right-hand side. Now, how can you possibly do two things at the same time and say two things in the same paragraph? While we did not succeed in getting transparent answers, for some reason which I still can’t fully fathom, both the surveys gave different results when their second rounds came. The C-Voter revised its forecast to say that we were at 25 per cent. It is possible they went back and did a fresh survey and found…
Obviously, the two surveys of the C-Voter must have happened over a period of time and it is possible…
Yes, it is indeed possible that what they had reported earlier was exactly what they found earlier, and the second figure too was what they found. In the first survey they said (AAP would get) 17 per cent and in the second they said 25 per cent. In the case of the Nielsen survey, they said 15 per cent for the Aam Aadmi Party, in the second survey they said 26 per cent. Now, nothing would please me more than to discover that our party gained 11 percentage in one month. But I must say this is rather unusual for a party, even if it is my own party, that it gained 11 percentage points in a month. This doesn’t happen even in very unusual elections. So it is possible that certain technical corrections were made.
Forget all that, at least all surveys now acknowledge some basics. One, the AAP is not a distant third player, a spoiler, and that it is a triangular contest in which all the three parties are 25 per cent+. Second, in this triangular contest, it is the Aam Aadmi Party which has the momentum. Any survey which has done more than one reading has found that we have gained substantially in the second reading over the first reading – and others have declined. Third, there are 45 days still to go for the polls. Unless there is an extraordinary happening, there is no reason why this momentum should suddenly stop.
As I keep telling my friends, why would the race stop the moment I click the camera? My clicking the camera is external to the race. The race is still on, there’s still 45 meters to go, so don’t just look at the photograph that has been clicked. Do also look at the velocity, the time available and do some projections about that. So all the conclusions drawn about the Assembly being hung based on the data taken at this time, to me, looks a little besides the point. It is, in a way, an extraordinary situation and things are changing rapidly – and all surveys seem to establish that – so how come we have such firm conclusions (of the Assembly being hung) at a certain point at which we have done surveys?
We do have a decisive edge. I don’t know what that decisive edge would lead to, convert into. All that I can say, even at the risk of being proven wrong later, is that we should not rule out the possibly for a wave-like situation for the Aam Aadmi Party. I am not saying that there is a wave, that we have an overwhelming majority – I was misquoted in the media. All that I am saying is that the stage at which we have reached, the momentum that we have gathered, and the time that is still available opens the possibility of a wave in favour of the Aam Aadmi Party. I can’t say with confidence whether it will happen.
One big criticism of AAP is that it doesn’t question the structural arrangement of power, that it doesn’t come out and speak in very sharp ideological terms. How would you react to that?
I think the objection is not that it doesn’t question the structural arrangement of power. I think the objection is that it doesn’t do so in a language that I (the critics) like and certify. To my mind that while on the face of it, the AAP looks like an anti-corruption movement, the most powerful strand in it is about the radical restructuring of political power. The whole concept of swaraj is about radical devolution of power and people’s participation. And that is the most direct interrogation of the structure of power in this country, because it seeks to question the very format of representative democracy and the concentration of political power in the existing system. And if there is one party which has questioned it and has actually put it in its very constitution, that party is the Aam Aadmi Party.
I suspect we can see the issue of structure of power in a somewhat different way – which is what the 20th century radical political ideologies have done, namely, divide the society into different sections and argue for disadvantaged sections, disadvantaged classes, disadvantaged communities. On that we have a fairly evolved language in the radical political discourse of the 20th century. It is true that the Aam Aadmi Party doesn’t begin with that given vocabulary. You can see it as a weakness, but you can also see it as a potential strength, because you can see the difficulty with the language of the sectoral disadvantage was that while it enabled on the one hand to sharpen the issues, to identify them very precisely, it simultaneously created the problem of mediating between different sections and groups. You speak about the Dalits but you don’t know how to talk about the adivasis. You speak about the Dalits and adivasis but you cannot know how to speak about the urban working classes. How do you mediate between competing claims after having put them so sharply, occasionally over-sharply?
This has been the classic problem of the 20th century radical ideologies. So while there is so much talk of Dalit-adivasi politics in our country, there is not a single political party which has ever tried to do Dalit politics and adivasi politics and bring it together. In fact, there are very few movements which have tried to do both things together.
What are the advantages?
The advantage is that it enables you to set up a new conversation across groups, which is to say you talk about injustice to minorities without giving up the responsibility of speaking to the genuine concerns of the majority as well. The last two or three decades have seen the political discourse in our country sliced up – and each side, whether out of accident or predilection, has taken up one slice without bothering about the rest of it. I suspect what is called the political Left has left the job of earning money to Manmohan Singh and his like, and has taken up the job of expenditure ministry. We leave the job of national security to Advani and his ilk and take up the ministry of minority and human rights. This kind of slicing of political role is utterly irresponsible. I, therefore, quite like the idea of someone starting without these sectoral maps and moving into it while maintaining the responsibility of mediation. It is never going to be easy. It can occasionally give the impression of being the undifferentiated vocabulary that did not recognise the existence of the marginalized groups. Yes, it is not easy. Yes, there is a lot to be learnt, and a long road to be traveled. I am not willing to concede right away that this is a wrong point to have started from.
From this perspective then, what has made the Aam Aadmi party click? Forget the seats it might win, the party seems to have expanded its base beyond, or below, the middle class, which was thought to be its biggest supporters.
Our evidence suggests that we are the strongest in the middle, but middle not in the sense in which the word middle class is understood, because in India the middle class is a euphemism for the ruling class, for the top 10 per cent. Our evidence, based on our opinion polls, shows we are weak in the top 10 per cent and in the bottom 20 per cent. In the bottom 20 per cent we barely match the Congress; in the top 10 per cent we trail behind the big parties. But in the rest of segments we are leading, doing much better than anyone else. So we have clearly moved far beyond what the media calls the middle class.
When you say below 20 per cent, you are categorizing it in economic terms.
Yes, clearly. The bottom 20 per cent, in terms of Delhi politics, used to be the vote-bank of Congress, we have managed to match it but we are not ahead of it. In the top 10 per cent, which used to be the BJP stronghold, we are behind it though I need to confirm the figures. In the in-between 70 per cent we are ahead of everyone else. In terms of caste-communities, we are ahead in every community except for the two major religious minorities – the Sikhs and Muslims. Among the Sikhs, the BJP is still ahead of us though not by a very big margin. Among the Muslims the Congress is still ahead of us but not by that kind of margin which it used to have over other parties in the past. In Delhi, the Congress used to have 70 per cent plus vote-share in this group.
Essentially, it used to have a monopoly.
Yes, it used to be a monopolistic situation. But now, in the latest poll, it is down to 45 per cent and we have 25 per cent plus, which is to say that after a long time, after the Janata Dal broke the Congress monopoly over Muslim votes in Delhi, nearly after 20 years, someone has challenged the Congress monopoly over Muslim votes. The most exciting and insightful thing is that if we look strictly within the Muslim vote, it is the educated and the young who are voting overwhelmingly for us. If you take the educated and young, we are ahead of the Congress in that group. It is a small group but it is important that if you are educated, we tend to do better, if you are young, we tend to do better, but if you are both an educated and young Muslim, then the Aam Aadmi Party is your first choice. At least in that segment, we have already moved ahead of the Congress.
So the cross-sectoral dialogue strategy you just talked about has paid off?
That’s right. One of the most pleasing aspects for me personally is that the Aam Aadmi is No 1 party among the Dalits in Delhi. Now, you don’t associate the Aam Aadmi Party with Dalits, because we haven’t obviously played out any Dalit politics card, apart from, in a small way, the broom symbol we have and a little more attention we have paid to the Valmiki community. But our vote-share in the Dalit community is 32 per cent, exactly which is what our average vote-share is. What we see here is cross-sectional mobilisation. Almost in every community, except in the case of Sikhs and Muslims because of historical reasons in Delhi, our support is within the five per cent band of our average. This suggests cross-sectional mobilisation has worked.
What you are suggesting is that problems common to every section are uniting them?
That’s right, because a Dalit has a water problem, a Dalit needs cheap electricity, a Dalit needs a better education. A party that talks about these things, and a party which calls itself the Aam Aadmi Party, well, the word aam aadmi has a resonance for everyone who is poor and disadvantaged, whether in economic or social terms. It seems to be clicking. I have always maintained that Delhi’s politics is much more class politics than caste politics. An Aam Aadmi appeal, which is a class appeal, seems to be working.
There is a feeling that the privatization of utilities would be reversed if the Aam Aadmi Party were to come to power.
Once again, it draws upon the perception of the binaries of the past. Like social movements and radicals want to us to play to their script, similarly, those on the other end of the divide also think of the world only through those categories. So, if you question crony capitalism, if you question the corruption by Reliance and others, if you question the collusion among regulators, government, and companies, then the only inference they draw is that Reds are coming, socialists are coming. Unfortunately, in their universe, these are the only categories. We have taken a strict agnostic position on this question: why should we decide before we look at the evidence, why should we decide before we look at the specificities of a question, why should we decide that the public sector is the solution for everything or the private sector is the solution for everything?
In the economic debate of the ‘60s and ‘70s, there was a big confusion about means and ends. The Left was particularly guilty of that. The end was and must continue to be the last person, but whether the last person is served better by the government taking charge of certain goods and services or by asking someone else to take charge of those things, it is best left to contingent judgement, is best left to evidence, is best left to actual experience. Why should I take doctrinaire positions on these purely contingent question of efficacy is something which is not clear to me? After all, when it comes to our own life, we don’t take such positions on medicine.
Medicine, now what’s that?
After all, we don’t say, l shall follow certain kinds of medicine, and even if something were to be seen to be benefiting me, I won’t take it. I will not touch ayurveda. I will not touch homeopathy. We never say that. So why take a doctrinaire position on these questions.
Last year, you wrote about the conspiracy of silence around corruption. Is the silence still continuing or has it been broken?
Big conspiracies don’t get shattered overnight. Yes, one of the first impact of the Aam Aadmi Party which one could feel was that at least in one limited respect the conspiracy was shattered – that is, you could speak about Robert Vadra and, by implication, you could also then speak about the Ranjan Bhattacharyas of the world. There was also a greater willingness to talk about families, take names, people at the top, those about whom you wouldn’t talk earlier. I see some more discussion about these things in the mainstream media. The kind of public discussion we have had about gas pricing hasn’t changed the gas pricing decision, but it has certainly generated much more awareness in the public about some of these things, which in the earlier days would have happened without any discussion. The kind of documents have come out on the coal-gate scam may not have come out in the older days. Yes, it has been dented, but it may not be correct to claim more than that.
I have always maintained that small players in politics can sometimes alter the rules of the game. And this is one respect we can take some credit for it – Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal, these two characters, in some ways, changed the rules of the game. The rules were spelt out by Digvijay Singh in a press conference – he said, kucch sharafat hoti hai, kucch cheezon ke bare mein baat nahin ki jati hai. (There is something called decency. There are certain issues you don’t talk about.) That was changed, and that is a lasting contribution, even if it is not shattered completely, even if it is only dented and not changed completely.