The aam aadmi is back on centre stage in the new political paradigm that the AAP has ushered in. But in a deeply divided society as India’s, there’s the danger that the aamaadmi could very well be promoting oppressive stereotypes and thwarting the rights of the ‘other’

Ghazala Jamil Delhi 

Citizenship’ has usually been understood as a legal promise, to extend equality and full integration in the political community, made by the state to all its subjects. It is easy to see in reality that citizenship as experienced by all the legal citizens of India is not an equalizing status. It is rather an asset that is inequitably distributed. Some ‘legal citizens’, such as Muslims or Dalits, experience a deficit in citizenship while some others enjoy citizenship in surplus. This is evident in the routinisation of the violent attacks on marginalised communities, and in the customary lack of appropriate response by the responsible institutions. So, in reality, the issue of citizenship is decided not just in the writing of the Constitution but in the interpretation and practice of the Constitution in institutions.

Today, much is known regarding the socio-economic status of Muslim communities across India. It is perplexing that this knowledge exists amidst the continued allegations and uproar over ‘appeasement’ of the Muslims. These allegations are directed more generally at the Indian state but in recent past have become more and more sharply aimed at the Congress and Congress-led governments. The absurdity that it is this ‘appeasement’ that makes Muslims vote for a party is so well-entrenched in mainstream debates that even the sangh groups and their affiliates have come to believe it. Recently, the Shiv Sena accused Narendra Modi and the BJP of ‘appeasing’ Muslims! When that happens, know that ‘appeasement’ is a code for something else.

It is a truism that the Indian Muslim languishes deeply in poverty and backwardness. It is also true that Congress-led governments after independence have done little to address this in an effective way. For example, any effort that calls for the implementation of Sachar commission recommendations is snubbed as an act of appeasement. In fact, Muslims have all but been told to forget about it! Salman Khurshid, who owes his career to being a ‘Muslim leader’ in Congress, told Muslims that “Sachar committee report is not the Quran” that it must be followed. Actually, the findings of Sachar committee report are continuously and effectively being used to legitimise the seemingly benign reasoning that acute poverty, deprivation and communal attacks/violence are enough to turn Indian Muslims into terrorists. All Muslims, thus, are potential terrorists and traitors. Since they also happen to be conveniently ‘secluded’ into ‘ghettos’, everyone can believe this to be true. They are the ‘lesser citizens’ and deserve to be treated unequally. The vicious circle can happily roll along.

Enter Aam Aadmi Party.

Nuanced debates have a way of not fitting between two commercial breaks and in pigeon-holed screens. Be that as it may, the Indian public sphere has been completely usurped by television news media. If it is not on TV, it may well have not occurred in reality. As a result, the Indian public sphere today is a hodgepodge of witticisms, shouting matches and rabble-rousing clichés. Along with the clichés about Muslims, many others are also in circulation. The most common is that the ‘state cannot deliver’. The receding of the ‘inefficient’ and ‘corrupt’ state is offered as a pill-of-all-ills that plague the aamaadmi in India. Mr Narendra Modi promises that his personal iron hand will set everything right. Mr Arvind Kejriwal asserts that a collectivity of the ‘average man’ is our only defence against the ‘corrupt’ politicians
and system.

I will not go here into greater details of why Muslims in India are feeling tired of Congress and aching for an alternative. I think I also do not need to discuss with Muslims why BJP and MrModi are not that alternative. It is understandable then that Mr Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party may seem like a viable choice to them. But this is not a real choice and there are several clues that can caution those willing to pay heed to them. In fact, the AAP and the BJP are similar in many ways. Their voter – the ‘active citizen’, ‘volunteer’, ‘aamaadmi’ who wanted MrKejriwal as Chief Minister in Delhi and MrModi as Prime Minister of
India – knows it.

AAP was buoyed by the India Against Corruption (IAC) campaign that was claimed to be comprised of ‘active citizens’ who cared for a nation ravaged by corruption. In Delhi, this so called ‘active citizen’ or ‘aamaadmi’ was also easily conceivable because of the ground prepared by two complimentary processes. On one hand were the elite RWAs of Bhagidari Programme acting as pressure groups and claiming exclusive benefits for their members. On the other hand were the NGOs of Mission Convergence controlling ‘targeted’ governance for the rest of the population, focusing on excluding the ‘unworthy’ and ‘undesirables’. Even in IAC days, many including Aruna Roy, had argued that the route of corporate-funded and sometimes even openly corporate-governed civil society is on the rise in view of the buying prowess or potential of this active citizen in the middle of media hype. Urban studies scholar Solomon Benjamin argues that this ‘active citizen’ confused urban progressive activists and academics who have always sung paeans to the ideas of participation and good citizenship.

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