“IN DELHI WE WANTED TO MAKE IT AAP VS CONGRESS.NOW WE WANT TO MAKE IT AAP VS BJP”
Senior leader of AAP and its national spokesperson Yogendra Yadav has gone from predicting poll outcomes to participating in one as a candidate. The psephologist-turned-politician hasn’t lost any of his glibness while dodging crucial questions, or even resorting to contradictions when the heat is turned on him
Sadiq Naqvi & Souzeina S Mushtaq Mewat
You have been a psephologist. What is your reading of the Parliamentary elections, independent of your relationship with the Aam Aadmi Party?
Much before I joined AAP, I had said goodbye to the business of election forecasting. I had done my stint, was happy and relieved and had no intention of going back. As I keep saying in Hindi, ‘Pehle bhaviysha batata tha, ab bhavishya banata hoon’. I find this more enjoyable, challenging and rewarding. Psephology, or electoral forecasting, doesn’t excite me anymore.
You have been campaigning in Haryana for a long time. What is the response so far? There are people who still have no idea about the party, especially women...
That is a fair assessment, especially here in Mewat. Do bear in mind that we are in one of the least literate regions of the country, especially among women. The Sachar Committee report established that the most disadvantaged Muslim-dominated area in terms of literacy is not Bihar, it’s Mewat. Haryana has been relatively strong for AAP right from the Anna days. During the Delhi assembly elections, we had more volunteers from Haryana than from any other place in the country. Established political parties may not have organizational depth, but they have a strong patronage network that is widespread. They have lots of resources too. Our party has none. The challenge for us is to make a breakthrough. Once we become the viable political player, then the coming Assembly election is where our real challenge lies.
Don’t you think going straight into elections without any organization on the ground was a bad move?
Politics is one of those things where you cannot have gradual ascendance. Post-Delhi elections, there was a lot of energy lying intact and the dilemma was whether to say this is not enough, wait for five years, and trust that the hope we had would actually stay and grow, or fear that it would be squandered away. We decided we wanted to make the most of the given opportunity, not just in Delhi or Haryana but all across the country. The best time to judge all this is probably 20 years from now, to see if it was an error of judgement or not. But I think the real question is counterfactual. How would we have done if we had not taken up the opportunity after the Delhi elections? Judging that is hard.
But the support you got in the elections is waning fast, at least that’s what the surveys are saying. One such survey said the support has come down from 52 per cent to 34 per cent...
One error that many surveys make is to compare Vidhan Sabha election support to Lok Sabha election support. Parties like the Congress and the BJP do a little better in the Lok Sabha elections. I feel we are still doing very well in Delhi. I can see that there is a plateau, if not a decline, in our popularity. I would say there is equilibrium in where we are placed now; it’s substantially higher than where we were just before the Delhi elections.
You constantly allude to the Modi wave in your address when you say Modi ka rath chal raha hai...
No, I don’t use the word ‘wave’. ‘Rath chal raha hai’ doesn’t mean wave. Rather, it means there is a clear move to make Modi the prime minister of the country, backed by some of the most powerful interests in the country. It is backed by big capital, by significant sections of the media. This is never highlighted. Fortunately, the fate of the country is not decided by the media and big capital. It is still decided by the people. There is a lot of talk about the Modi wave. If I was in my earlier avatar, I would have seen the evidence. It exists but I don’t have any professional data with me so I would not be able to either confirm or deny this. But when I speak to people, I don’t see that hard resolve to support him. There are of course many diehard Modi fans you come across, but you get diehard Chautala fans too.
Why has the AAP only lately started targetting Modi?
AAP started focusing on Modi after the Delhi elections, but people like me have been speaking about this individually long before even joining the party. As a leader of AAP, I have said a hundred times that Modi is opposed to the very idea of India.
As our political strategy for the Delhi elections, we decided to go for an all-out attack on the Congress, which was then epitomized by Sheila Dikshit. You would recall a lot of people then said we are the B-team of the BJP. But Arvind is quite unwavering in his focus. He said, let them say whatever they want; we will do what we have to do. The Congress at that time was the symbol of power. Our focus on the Delhi government actually delayed our entry into national politics. Why focus on Modi now? Because you can’t possibly kick the Congress, which is dead and gone. I was joking about this in a public meeting, but that joke has come true. No one wants to be a Congress candidate right now. So, as a political strategy, it would be foolish to attack a party that is not even contesting elections seriously. In Delhi we wanted to make it AAP vs Congress. Now we want it to be AAP vs BJP.
Does the AAP want to emerge as an alternative if the Congress is decimated?
We do not intend to simply fill up a vacuum in politics. There is a difference between intending to do something and ending up doing something. In politics, it is very rare that a political force or movement ends up taking the course that it intended to take. More precisely, it takes the course that some people on its behalf intend it to take. There’s a gap between the intended trajectory of a few and the final route taken by the many. If you ask me, I want the party to not simply fill the gap left behind by the Congress after its decimation. The past 20 or 30 years have seen the expansion of space in Indian politics. But there has been a disintegration of the third camp too. So the space has increased, but the force has shrunk. There is a need for a third force in Indian politics and I see AAP representing that. The last generation witnessed a lot of social energy that has not been accommodated by Indian politics. A lot of new issues have come up that have not been absorbed by politics: backward Muslims, lower OBCs, Mahadalits, etc. They have no party of their own, and issues like ecology, water, model of development, have been unresolved. Then there is a new generation of leadership, a significant section of which is comprised of women. But the leadership has not transformed into political leadership. I see AAP as a natural home for these energies. But that’s a dream script. The course of real politics doesn’t follow dream script.
AAP does not have a clear stand on issues like caste reservation. Is it hurting its prospects when you talk about emerging as the Third alternative, which right now comprises parties that represent marginalised groups?
To view parties of the so-called Third Front representing the voice of the third space is actually one of the biggest errors. The Third Front has betrayed the third space in our politics, it has become discredited, because those who occupied it were actually no different from the first two. The Samajwadi Party, RJD, and even the Left political establishment — their claims to being the alternative were specious. The point is, the third space needs a force that is different from the first two.
So what is AAP’s ideology?
It’s not that we don’t have a clear structure of ideology on caste reservation, etc. I hear it a lot, that our incoherent ide ological map disappoints many of our sympathizers. They see us in action and think we are a party that is conventional Left-wing. We raise issues but they do not see us. They get irritated that we do not have a theory. But social movements in the country see us as a natural ally because we are doing exactly what they want a political party to do.
They may sympathize with the AAP but not join the party...
Many social movements in the country find that our politics resonates with their politics. But we do not use their language. The charge against us is that we do not know how to use their language correctly. There is another way to look at it. The hold of 20th century ideology has been so powerful on our imagination that even after having entered another paradigm, we cannot imagine a world outside these possibilities. I think the power of ideology is its ability to define its own opponents and in that sense, 20th century ideologies have been very powerful. They are like religions. They tell you life after death. They are dead but they continue to rule the world. Therefore, those who have been tutored and trained in those ideologies continue to believe that if the world is not the way the theories wanted it to be, there is something wrong with the world, not with the ideologies. This is what you see in the reaction of progressive politics to AAP. They are so sure of their old ideology that they want to look at the world through that prism. They are so confident that they feel it’s the only way to look at the world. Every attempt to break free of that format is made to look illegitimate. AAP is a very difficult journey to break free from the dominant formats of progressive politics of the 20th century. Those formats are actually dead. But you don’t see them as dead.
What are your views on Khap panchayats...
We have not been silent. I have always said that almost every single caste and community group in this country has some social organisation or the other, like khap. As long as these organizations do internal dispute resolution by consensus, there is nothing wrong with it. They should be allowed to exist because every social dispute reaching a court of law can be disastrous. But consensus is where the limit holds. The moment there is any violation of any law, if there’s an attempt to justify things like murder, it must not be tolerated.