FACE TO FACE: Atishi Marlena, Aam Aadmi Party

‘In Rural India, what is going to make a difference is the coming together of many social movements and political parties’
Souzeina S Mushtaq Delhi

Atishi Marlena, 32, a key intellectual face of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), was also instrumental in drafting the manifestos of the party in the Delhi Assembly elections. Marlena read history in college in Delhi, and went to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. She was always interested in policymaking and academia, but it was while working for a non-profit in Himachal Pradesh that she met AAP leader Prashant Bhushan and got involved in one of the party’s 31 committees.

She spoke to Hardnews about AAP’s future, especially regarding the immediate
obstacles to performing in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Excerpts:

It’s said that mature liberal democracies with strong political institutions often spawn self-correcting mechanisms. Is AAP merely doing the job of a strong grassroots organization till the country is back on track?

AAP is doing more than just taking up corruption. Even when we are talking of addressing corruption, in the short term, yes, we are talking about corrective mechanisms and legal mechanisms like the Lokpal, but our long-time perspective is basically a form of participatory decentralized democracy. One of our major agendas is devolving power to Gram Sabhas and Mohalla Sabhas where people themselves get the right to take decisions about things that affect their lives.

Political parties or, for that matter, political movements arise when historic circumstances create the need. We do not exist just to exist; we exist to create a better society, a better country. And if we are successful in creating that, maybe there will be a situation when there is no need for the AAP. But till then, we can create a more just, equitable, and  more participatory democracy. There is space for a political party that can act as a vehicle of change. 


Yogendra Yadav recently said that AAP does not believe in any ‘isms’. And according to the party, it seems corruption is the only issue plaguing the country. Do you think you will be able to woo voters with that?

The party has arisen from an anti-corruption movement. Therefore, corruption being the centre of the party’s agenda is but natural. But the party has expanded its mandate, from looking at anti-corruption to the idea of swaraj, and even to looking at what are the basic issues that affect the common man.

Our policies have not come out of any pre-decided ideology. We went amongst the people of the city and found their problems and we tried to look for solutions. This is exactly what we are going to do even at the national level. We are actually slotting large-scale consultations with groups to try and understand what their problems are, and then finding solutions to those problems.


Prominent personalities are joining AAP, and the strong expanding support base from the masses reminds one of the Jayaprakash Narayan movement. How is the AAP different from that, if at all it is?

I have actually found a lot of commonality in AAP and the Independence movement. Even then, you had various strands of thought. On the one hand, you had someone like Sardar Patel, who was clearly right; on the other hand, you had Jayaprakash Narayan, who was a socialist. And within that spectrum, you had Nehru, who, while representing a certain kind of developmental modernity, was very much influenced by the socialist movement. And then you had someone like Gandhi, who was representing a completely false stream of development.

AAP has a very clear structure. Along with being a political party, it is actually a political movement. On the one hand, you have people’s movements that are coming in and joining AAP, and on the other hand, you have professionals quitting their jobs to join the party. It is a coming together of these various groups that can also define what shape the party can take.

When people are dissatisfied, they start looking for substitutes, but the kind of support we are getting shows that people of the country are looking for an alternative. They are looking for a politics that can be fought with less and clean money, and with honesty, and that can keep the people’s issue at the centre. That is actually what we represent.


But the problem with the JP movement was that it could not sustain itself for more than 18 months, and it fizzled out. Do you think that could be the case with AAP?

It is very difficult to say that right now. Time will tell in terms of how it pans out. The crucial thing that might make a difference in deciding whether the party survives is how effectively it is able to address the concerns of the common people of the country.

The results of the Delhi election have shown us that there existed a vast political vacuum. That is why we have been able to occupy the mindspace of the people. The interesting thing about AAP is that it has shown an ability to evolve. That is the reason I think the party is likely to have a longer life. If you look at the circumstances, it is not just AAP that is driving the change; the entire country is driving the change.


AAP, despite its spectacular debut, is called an urban phenomenon. Are you trying to reach out to the rural population as well?

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2014