Dear Mr Yogendra Yadav
I happened to read your excellent interview published in Mint last week. Of particular interest to me was the question, “What is the ideology of AAP?” I can’t think of anyone better than you to articulate an understandable response to this question.
I must say, I was pleasantly surprised to notice that both Centre for Civil Society (CCS), an organisation I work for and admire very much and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have very similar ideologies. I could easily identify at least three main common principles to support my claim. In your own words,
The first principle being Swaraj itself. By Swaraj, we mean that in democracy, power has been alienated from the people. While it is called democracy, people wield very little power. So, our fundamental concern is, we want to return that power back to the people by devolving the power, by ensuring direct participation of the people, by doing decision making closer to the people.
Bravo! At CCS, we too believe in and work towards decentralisation of power.
With this, the second big conviction is what you may call the very name of the party ‘aam aadmi’ (or common man). We stand for the vulnerable; we stand for the last person. My own interpretation would be the last person first. When I have to think of economic priorities, when I have to think of social priorities, when I have to think of developmental priorities, I would apply the Gandhian test. This is something that Gandhiji said: ‘Think of the weakest person you ever met in your life and ask yourself, what I am going to propose, is it going to help him or her or not’. So that, I think, is a very good litmus test. So, the ‘last person first’ is clearly a principle that can be used.
At CCS, we also pride ourselves in championing cause of the ‘ordinary man’ – ‘ordinary man’ who is just trying to make a living despite all the chains put up by the government. Some of our work in this area that should interest you are – freedom of a street entrepreneur to earn his/her livelihood, freedom of parents/students to go to a school of their choice, freedom for youth to get vocational training of their choosing, etc.
It was also great to hear you say that AAP does not typecast itself into a standard ‘left’ or ‘right’ party. The fact that you acknowledge AAP’s political programme as evolving over time gives me great hope that your party has not already set itself in stone on different issues – left, right or centre. Once again, in your own words,
What is amazing is not that we retain a bit of those convictions; what is amazing is that in the course of one year, we have come to share a certain basic political programme which we go by. And that political programme is evolving, that programme refuses to typecast itself into standard ‘Left’ or ‘Right’. It looks at specific situations and it actually is into attaining our objective. So in a way of saying, you could say problem solving, responding to specific situations, looking at evidence and trying to say which is the best way forward. That is our ideology.
In other words, you seem to be saying that instead of getting married to one kind of ideology – left, right or centre, your party believes in ‘policy-that-works’, in other words, what we policywallahs call ‘evidence-based-policy’. When it comes to policy-making, we at CCS too firmly believe in ‘evidence-based policy making’. The same was also reiterated my your leader and the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in an interview on Saturday.
It thus dawns on me that we are not very different in what we are trying to achieve (Gandhian test of policy-making), or what we want to change (Swaraj, decentralisation of power) or how we want to go about it (evidence-based policy).
However, given some your party’s recent policy decisions, it would appear that your party is failing its own ideological test.
Your party has decided to ban FDI in retail. You may think that this will help kirana store owners by helping them continue in business. What you are missing is that each one of us is worse off as a result – since the efficiency brought about by greater investment is now missing, as are the new jobs that would have been created. So you see, the policy-ban may not pass your Gandhian test.
As promised, your government in Delhi is now providing free water (up to 20 kiloliters per household per month) and cheaper electricity (at 50 percent of the current rate). Such universally applied schemes would work against the objective that you are trying to achieve.
There are two sides to this largesse – scarcity aspect and incentive aspect. The scarcity aspect tells us that tax-subsidised water and electricity are not actually free and someone somewhere is paying for it all – more often than not, all of us are (through taxes, both direct and indirect and inflation). Basically, you cannot legislate away scarcity. The incentive aspect tells us that the tax-subsidised goods/services (water and electricity in this case) will lead to their misuse and misallocation by both households and businesses – unless the prices are market determined. Case in point here could be the long-standing policy of subsidy for diesel to help promote agriculture, which instead promoted diesel-based motor vehicles. Thus, your policy may not pass your own ‘evidence-based policy’ test.
All this tells me that while we broadly agree on our ideologies, we disagree on what policies will achieve the desired results.
I would urge you to kindly reconsider some of your methods employed to achieve many of these laudable goals. Please note the unintended and far-reaching consequences of your policies before you implement them, and not just the immediate help/profit it causes to a select group of beneficiaries. I am sure you understand that ‘good-intentions’ alone will not be sufficient for intended outcomes.
I understand that your government in Delhi is relatively new and you guys are still learning the ropes of policymaking. I also take this opportunity to commend your government for going about its business at a pace like no other government in India’s history. The zeal, commitment and the sincerity at display makes me hopeful. We hope that AAP’s ideology, as I understand it and as your party intends it, gets translated into policy making. All the Best!
Ek Aam Aadmi