Atanu Dey On India's Development

AAP: The transition to Nehruvian Socialism 2.0

| 11 Comments

Social media has a derogatory term for people who enthusiastically support the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). They are called “AAPtards”. Perhaps retards is a little too extreme; maybe these people are merely seriously deluded, gullible, somewhat ignorant, easily misled, et cetera, et cetera. But that’s not the worst of it. Kejriwal is a serious threat to the possibility of India giving the Maino-led UPA a quick burial. Here’s why —

AAP: The transition to Nehruvian Socialism 2.0

Elections are to a large extent partly popularity contests and partly driven by narrowly defined individual self-interest expressed in a group setting. The popularity contest is peculiarly of the kind what is known as a Keynesian beauty contest where the individual votes not on her own assessment of the suitability of the candidates but instead on her beliefs about the others’ assessment of the candidates. That makes it quite possible that the winner of elections is not really the most competent but instead is one who has been able to mold public perception in his favor. This is true of all elections in general but more so in so-called developing countries where personalities matter more than issues. Personalities dominate over issues primarily because issues are harder to evaluate than personalities. Note it is personality and not character which drives the calculus of choice. That fact is illustrated by unending examples of characterless elected officials.

I make these general remarks to provide the context for my assessment of Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party. To me, Kejriwal epitomizes all that is wrong with Indian politics. That is saying something when you consider that Indian politics is riddled with stupidity, dynastic succession, public corruption, insane populism, crude factionalism, blatant pandering, naked dishonesty, extreme selfishness, myopia and other repulsive features. The major concern that I have with the AAP and its leadership relates to its agenda.

It began as a coalition of people fighting against public corruption. Public corruption, we must remember, is a phenomenon that is directly linked to the government. There cannot be public corruption without an active involvement of the government. Public corruption arises out of a combination of power that wields control, and a lack of accountability and responsibility. If this basic feature of the problem of public corruption is not understood, all actions to eradicated corruption or even to curb it is going to be not just futile but could make the problem much worse. That lack of understanding by the group called “India Against Corruption” was the glaring problem with it. It led to the quite mindless proposed solution of creating yet another layer of government with even more control and even less accountability to fight the problem of public corruption which, as I note above, is because of too much government, not too little. It is akin to bringing more gasoline to put out a raging fire.

Regardless of motivations good or bad, all do-gooders are at some level people who want control over others. The desire to control and direct others is present in all to some degree but it reaches saturation levels in those who are convinced that only if they had greater control over people would the world become a better place. This tendency finds its most potent expression in politicians. It is cynically said that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. It can also be that the first impulse of an over-controlling person is politics. They want power but they justify it by claiming that personally they are not power-hungry but want it only as a means to fix the problem.

As if it was not evident during the IAC days, Kejriwal’s ambition and motivation became obvious when he and his cohort of hangers-on decided to start AAP. His basic mindset is not too different from the mindset of those whom he appears to be fighting against. The ones in power got there on the same promise to people — deliverance from the misery of daily existence — and here was AAP going to deliver the people from the control of a rapacious government. AAP will fight the monster by becoming a bigger monster. To make such a promise and be believed requires a lot of guts, and of course a gullible public that cannot see through even the most blatant of deceptions.

The public is gullible. There isn’t a nicer way to say it. The public has been electing venal politicians for decades and I don’t see any reason to believe that suddenly it has become smarter and is not going to be taken in by glib promises made by fast-talking charlatans. Certainly politicians do get voted out but the ones that get voted in are no different in any meaningful sense. It is a different bucketful but it is still drawn from the same cesspool as the one before.

Ambitious, opportunistic, manipulative, authoritarian, self-aggrandizing, controlling: these are descriptive of people you don’t want to associate with perhaps. Yet those are the characteristics of all successful politicians. But a good politician is more than that. A good politician is one who fundamentally understands what the public good is, knows what needs to be done to achieve it and is motivated to work for it. It is a matter of objectives, intelligence and diligence.

I don’t see Kejriwal as a good politician. He is clever and evidently very shrewd but not intelligent enough to understand the nature of the problem that he proclaims he will solve. Part of this inability arises from his background as a civil servant. Bureaucrats are trained to believe that controlling others is the key to solving problems. More rules, more regulations, more controls – these are the instinctive reactions of bureaucrats to any and all problems.

It was a bureaucratic mindset that created the notorious license-quota-permit-control raj, much beloved of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty led Congress. It created the monster of public corruption that devours the poor and keeps the economy shackled. Kejriwal does not understand the root cause of public corruption. To my mind, that’s the first strike against him.

The second strike against him is closely related to the first. Not being content with just fighting corruption, he expanded his horizons and set a socialist agenda. Every time socialism has been advanced as the solution for poverty, it has only deepened poverty. This generalization is without exception. Why has socialism failed? Because it denies people freedom, and without freedom people are unable to produce what is needed to live decent, productive lives. Socialism imposes the will of a small set of people on the rest. Socialism is a recipe for disaster.

India had the double misfortune of first being entrapped by British colonialism and then escaping it only to fall into the deadly embrace of Nehruvian socialism. India went from British Raj 1.0 to British Raj 2.0. The transition was easy since the state machinery of extractive and exploitative policies was created by the British and readily adopted by Nehru and his descendants. The rulers of post-independence India continued the dysfunctional rule of India. It was not as if they were unhappy with the way things were; their major concern was that they themselves wanted to rule instead of the British.

The same type of transition is what India has in store if, god forbid, Kejriwal and AAP are able to come to power. The transition will be this time from Nehruvian Socialism 1.0 (aka British Raj 2.0) to Nehruvian Socialism 2.0 under the new AAP dispensation. The entire machinery is in place, waiting for new operators. Once again, it is not as if Kejriwal is unhappy about the way things are done – total bureaucratic control of the people – but rather he would like to be the one in control.

Truth be told, there is no danger that AAP will get to govern India at the center, even as a coalition partner. The danger is that it can spoil India’s chances of moving out of Nehruvian socialism. AAP has nuisance value and the Maino-led UPA/Congress is well aware of that. It will now attempt to use AAP to scuttle India’s chances of getting out of poverty. They know that a segment of the middle-class urban voters are seduced by idiotic notions of a “clean government by sincere people.” This segment will not vote for the UPA/Congress but to prevent it from voting for a Modi-led BJP, it would promote Kejriwal.

Here’s how that strategy would work. The UPA/Congress has bought and paid for a significant chunk of the mainstream media journalists. These will be instructed to talk up Kejriwal and provide him wall to wall media coverage. This will deflect attention from the prince and his little band of merry men. Voters have a short attention span and even shorter memories. Since the Modi versus Gandhi fight has already been called in favor of Modi, the new fighter the Congress will push into the ring against Modi will be Kejriwal. The Congress is a past master of the game and will fund the AAP to make sure that the BJP loses even if the Congress does not win.

Kejriwal is the willing useful idiot that the Congress/UPA was looking for and the Delhi voters have obliged. It is all karma, neh?

{This was previously published at Niti Central.}

  • Anon

    Social media has a derogatory
    term for people who enthusiastically support the BJP. They are called “BJPtards”.
    Perhaps retards is a little too extreme; maybe these people are merely
    seriously deluded, gullible, somewhat ignorant, easily misled, et cetera, et
    cetera. But that’s not the worst of it. Modi is a serious threat to the
    possibility of India giving the Maino-led UPA a quick burial. Here’s why —

    BJP:
    The transition to Nehruvian Socialism 2.0

    Elections are to a large
    extent partly popularity contests and partly driven by narrowly defined
    individual self-interest expressed in a group setting. The popularity contest
    is peculiarly of the kind what is known as a Keynesian beauty contest where the
    individual votes not on her own assessment of the suitability of the candidates
    but instead on her beliefs about the others’ assessment of the candidates. That
    makes it quite possible that the winner of elections is not really the most
    competent but instead is one who has been able to mold public perception in his
    favor. This is true of all elections in general but more so in so-called
    developing countries where personalities matter more than issues. Personalities
    dominate over issues primarily because issues are harder to evaluate than personalities.
    Note it is personality and not character which drives the calculus of choice.
    That fact is illustrated by unending examples of characterless elected
    officials.

    I make these general remarks
    to provide the context for my assessment of Modi and his BJP. To me, Modi
    epitomizes all that is wrong with Indian politics. That is saying something
    when you consider that Indian politics is riddled with stupidity, dynastic
    succession, public corruption, insane populism, crude factionalism, blatant
    pandering, naked dishonesty, extreme selfishness, myopia and other repulsive
    features. The major concern that I have with the BJP and its leadership relates
    to its agenda.

    It began as a coalition of
    people fighting against public corruption. Public corruption, we must remember,
    is a phenomenon that is directly linked to the government. There cannot be
    public corruption without an active involvement of the government. Public
    corruption arises out of a combination of power that wields control, and a lack
    of accountability and responsibility. If this basic feature of the problem of
    public corruption is not understood, all actions to eradicated corruption or
    even to curb it is going to be not just futile but could make the problem much
    worse. That lack of understanding by the group called “India Against
    Corruption” was the glaring problem with it. It led to the quite mindless
    proposed solution of creating yet another layer of government with even more
    control and even less accountability to fight the problem of public corruption
    which, as I note above, is because of too much government, not too little. It
    is akin to bringing more gasoline to put out a raging fire.

    Regardless of motivations
    good or bad, all do-gooders are at some level people who want control over
    others. The desire to control and direct others is present in all to some
    degree but it reaches saturation levels in those who are convinced that only if
    they had greater control over people would the world become a better place.
    This tendency finds its most potent expression in politicians. It is cynically
    said that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. It can also be that
    the first impulse of an over-controlling person is politics. They want power
    but they justify it by claiming that personally they are not power-hungry but
    want it only as a means to fix the problem.

    As if it was not evident
    during the IAC days, Modi’s ambition and motivation became obvious when he and
    his cohort of hangers-on decided to start BJP. His basic mindset is not too
    different from the mindset of those whom he appears to be fighting against. The
    ones in power got there on the same promise to people — deliverance from the
    misery of daily existence — and here was BJP going to deliver the people from
    the control of a rapacious government. BJP will fight the monster by becoming a
    bigger monster. To make such a promise and be believed requires a lot of guts,
    and of course a gullible public that cannot see through even the most blatant
    of deceptions.

    The public is gullible. There
    isn’t a nicer way to say it. The public has been electing venal politicians for
    decades and I don’t see any reason to believe that suddenly it has become
    smarter and is not going to be taken in by glib promises made by fast-talking charlatans.
    Certainly politicians do get voted out but the ones that get voted in are no
    different in any meaningful sense. It is a different bucketful but it is still
    drawn from the same cesspool as the one before.

    Ambitious, opportunistic,
    manipulative, authoritarian, self-aggrandizing, controlling: these are
    descriptive of people you don’t want to associate with perhaps. Yet those are
    the characteristics of all successful politicians. But a good politician is
    more than that. A good politician is one who fundamentally understands what the
    public good is, knows what needs to be done to achieve it and is motivated to
    work for it. It is a matter of objectives, intelligence and diligence.

    I don’t see Modi as a good
    politician. He is clever and evidently very shrewd but not intelligent enough
    to understand the nature of the problem that he proclaims he will solve. Part
    of this inability arises from his background as a civil servant. Bureaucrats
    are trained to believe that controlling others is the key to solving problems.
    More rules, more regulations, more controls – these are the instinctive
    reactions of bureaucrats to any and all problems.

    It was a bureaucratic mindset
    that created the notorious license-quota-permit-control raj, much beloved of
    the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty led Congress. It created the monster of public
    corruption that devours the poor and keeps the economy shackled. Modi does not
    understand the root cause of public corruption. To my mind, that’s the first
    strike against him.

    The second strike against him
    is closely related to the first. Not being content with just fighting
    corruption, he expanded his horizons and set a socialist agenda. Every time
    socialism has been advanced as the solution for poverty, it has only deepened
    poverty. This generalization is without exception. Why has socialism failed?
    Because it denies people freedom, and without freedom people are unable to
    produce what is needed to live decent, productive lives. Socialism imposes the
    will of a small set of people on the rest. Socialism is a recipe for disaster.

    India had the double
    misfortune of first being entrapped by British colonialism and then escaping it
    only to fall into the deadly embrace of Nehruvian socialism. India went from
    British Raj 1.0 to British Raj 2.0. The transition was easy since the state
    machinery of extractive and exploitative policies was created by the British
    and readily adopted by Nehru and his descendants. The rulers of
    post-independence India continued the dysfunctional rule of India. It was not
    as if they were unhappy with the way things were; their major concern was that
    they themselves wanted to rule instead of the British.

    The same type of transition
    is what India has in store if, god forbid, Modi and BJP are able to come to
    power. The transition will be this time from Nehruvian Socialism 1.0 (aka
    British Raj 2.0) to Nehruvian Socialism 2.0 under the new BJP dispensation. The
    entire machinery is in place, waiting for new operators. Once again, it is not
    as if Modi is unhappy about the way things are done – total bureaucratic
    control of the people – but rather he would like to be the one in control.

    Truth be told, there is no
    danger that BJP will get to govern India at the center, even as a coalition
    partner. The danger is that it can spoil India’s chances of moving out of
    Nehruvian socialism. BJP has nuisance value and the Maino-led UPA/Congress is
    well aware of that. It will now attempt to use BJP to scuttle India’s chances
    of getting out of poverty. They know that a segment of the middle-class urban
    voters are seduced by idiotic notions of a “clean government by sincere
    people.” This segment will not vote for the UPA/Congress but to prevent it from
    voting for a Kejriwal-led AAP, it would promote Modi.

    Here’s how that strategy
    would work. The UPA/Congress has bought and paid for a significant chunk of the
    mainstream media journalists. These will be instructed to talk up Modi and
    provide him wall to wall media coverage. This will deflect attention from the
    prince and his little band of merry men. Voters have a short attention span and
    even shorter memories. Since the Kejriwal versus Gandhi fight has already been
    called in favor of Kejriwal, the new fighter the Congress will push into the
    ring against Kejriwal will be Modi. The Congress is a past master of the game
    and will fund the BJP to make sure that the AAP loses even if the Congress does
    not win.

    Modi is the willing useful
    idiot that the Congress/UPA was looking for and the Delhi voters have obliged.
    It is all karma, neh?

  • A.B

    Just what nonsense has the anonymous person belowwritten. trying to be too smart but coming across as a fool and not comprehending what he has written in the first place. Atleast should have been smart enough to make some sane changes while replacing AAP with BJP. Just require more AAP supporters like the ANON above to display their ignorance so that ppl get to know their true worth(lessness!)

  • Siddhartha Ray

    So it is the classic case of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. I feel the middle class in India basically has the right intentions and is driven largely by the right set of values. The middle class too knows very well that socialism is a greater menace and wouldn’t like to move in that direction. The middle class however is incredibly frustrated and feels trapped and cheated. Our roads are in a pathetic condition, crime against women is at an alarmingly high level, our children are malnutrishioned, government institutions highly ineffective and corrupt. The middle class is partly exposed to some of the problems and partly insulated. This being the background the sole cause of the problems prima facie seems to stem from the government being corrupt in the first place and lacking will to improve our condition and being only hungry for power. Keeping this in mind the so called “AAPtards” are swayed by the promise of a corruption free government concerned only about the wellbeing of the citizens and not bothered about power. I am not in favour of Psychoanalysing Kejriwal or for that matter labelling him. I for one want to trust that man because his ideals about being corruption free seem noble. However having the right ideals alone is not adequate to turn the fortunes of a country and its countrymen, so my question to you is what is the way forward for us from an electoral standpoint. So when I turn up at the poll booth who should I vote for and why?

  • Gautam Sharma

    Atanu ji,good writeup,but I believe you left out his Islamic appeasement antics.

  • abhishek gupta

    Dear Atanu,

    I am an admirer of your views and your writing. However, this time I would like to argue with you. Am nowhere as good as you are but allow me to express myself -

    First, to me, wanting to have some control by itself is not bad. So why make that as a central issue. Lack of accountability and responsibility to me is a bigger issue which will be resolved to an extent by Lokpal bill. Similarly, being ambitious or impaitent is not bad. what matters is the cause and intention. And having seen AAP from inside and outside, I have no doubts about their cause and intentions.

    Second, if feel major issue your have with AAP is their agenda, then a more constructive thing would be to work with AAP to change their agenda. these guys in my own experience are extremely meritocratic and if you, Atanu, could convince them using your special gifts of making forceful arguments , they will certainly change their views. Arvind has himself said, he is not socialist, he is not capitalist. all he wants is a solution centric approach. he is honest and willing to be transparent. Why not make them change their view instead of branding them socialists.

    Third, the popular refrain about a middle class that will vote for AAP instead of BJP leading to advantage for Congress. I am surprised that you are saying it even after delhi results. My information suggests that it is poor in the slum and minorities that voted for AAP in hoards. Yes, BJP would have won if AAP wasn’t there but consider that AAP would have won if there were more people who did not believe in the same idea that you propagate. Congress will , if they promote AAP, wake up only to find the results of delhi being replicated everywhere (at least in all urban areas if not in rural areas).

    Look forward to your views.

    a serious fan of yours. abhishek

    • Guest

      “First, to me, wanting to have some control by itself is not bad. So why make that as a central issue”

      I didn’t need to read anything after this line. It is undeniably bad and the source of evil. It is a central issue. Read the US constitution on how to establish a country where control is in the hand of the citizen and not the govt. In short, it is a matter of liberty from govt. One of the founders of the US republic said: democracy is two wolves and one sheep voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well armed sheep contesting the vote.

      If you don’t understand this central issue and are ok with ceding some control, then certainly there is nothing to discuss/argue.

  • KB

    There are some key assumptions you’ve made here. Maybe my understanding of Indian politics is naive. Nevertheless, I hope your readers/ you can educate me.

    First that AAP is trustworthy for the Congress from an ally/ BJP’s adversary point of view. AAP is new, comprised of youngsters and has won votes. Would such a massive political machinery as Congress trust AAP, to invest its media money on them to make them victorious?

    Second, BJP/ Modi is less desirable at the centre versus Modi. A two-party system has often yielded balance and continuity of interests. What’s the harm in sitting in the opposition for the Congress? After-all, it might be the desirable path since in the last few years most of the politicians have cashed out, and there has been a policy paralysis – let BJP clean-up the mess. It is all part of the plan. If BJP is not given an opportunity to come to power, and enjoy the limelight for some time, the ultimate power-balance gets disrupted. Congress won’t be able to enjoy its war spoils. They need time out. Go on a few vacations. Why is it so that even the world’s largest and arguably the most successful democracy has the Democrats and the Republicans co-exist in harmony? I’d be interested in reviewing examples where 3 parties have co-existed in harmony and are each of some significance. There are other examples (viz. Singapore) where only one party dominates – closer to a benevolent monarchy.

    Third, AAP is willing and capable of forming a National Party in the short term. With all due respect and credit to AAP for its achievements – it seems to be to be progressing organically. Of course, it has shown national interests. However, it has earmarked Mumbai as its next frontier. It knows it should not bite more than it can chew. The machinery required for a national level ambition cannot be underestimated, especially with the kind of staunch ideals AAP is working with. In AAP’s case building trust was not so difficult due to anti-incumbency – it’s retaining that trust at a national scale which will be the challenge.

    My personal sentiment is that AAP should be a worthy opposition in Delhi, help transform it and build solid roots nation-wide. Anything that comes too easily, leaves equally easily. Having experience building a city, state, multiple states will help AAP build the case for handling our beloved nation. AAP itself knows this.

    Fast escalation from external forces will decay the momentum. All one can hope is AAP does not fall for this.

    The likely outcome is AAP will crash and burn, given our history of such revolutionary upstarts. The desirable outcome is it replaces personality based politics with issue based politics in our beloved nation. Hopefully issues don’t include communal priorities.

  • Shivani

    Even the BJP is not free of vices – It has the likes of Nitin Gadkari who is deeply into corruption or RSS which influences its ideology .

    • Deepak

      Yes, BJP is less evil. Did you notice that witch hunt on Gadakari and Yeddy stopped the moment they relinquished their Official position. Smell something fishy?

  • Guest

    The AAP issue can best be summed up as: the path to hell is paved with noble intentions. Don’t talk to me about intent, talk to me about how and why your agenda is good. And, I don’t find his agenda to be any good at all. So, its a pretty easy decision.

  • Karthik Singh

    Indians(majority) are by nature retards and short term thinkers. Is there any wonder that India is dirtiest and poorest hell hole in the world?