Published: February 7, 2014 - 18:14

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.

We need to understand that elite circuits of NGOs, self-professed activists, and progressive academics have a certain vision of participation, which is deeply entrenched in political culture of AAP. It involves defining all social problems as arising from the ‘mentality’ of government, bureaucracy, police, etc, which desperately needs ‘fixing’.  We also need to understand that the much touted ‘innovation’ and ‘creativity’ of AAP methods and approach undermine the mainstream political contests, which may be the only arena where depressed masses can disrupt neo-liberalising influences that have financial power, media hype and corporate influence. Ultimately, these processes are going to result in erosion of democratic citizenship as an equalising status.

Second, the AAP is playing dangerously since its IAC days with its illusion of large numbers. Their rhetoric has always been full of suggestions that they represent the wishes and aspirations of the ‘majority’. It was argued both by their leaders and supporters in the progressive circles that the passionate sentiment of a large number of people by itself sufficiently justified whatever demands they were making. Do we have to begin to argue afresh in India that democracy is more than just the wishes of the majority? That without social justice we will end up with a tyranny of a belligerent majority. Do not be surprised now when the ‘claim of large numbers’ is accompanied by the ‘fear of small numbers’1, as in Khirki extension.

First they came for the Ugandans...

In addition, AAP rhetoric that only they are different while all the other political parties are the same must ring hollow to the Muslims, if they listen carefully. They have to know the difference between the BJP and the Congress, between the Samajwadi Party and the BahujanSamaj Party and so on. Quite simply put, the difference can be as wide as the difference between life and death.

The question that bears serious consideration in the final analysis is, what do Muslims – a people who experience a deficit in citizenship by virtue of their effective exclusion by the systems of governance – want? The desires of those who live in a state of exclusion are strangely most often to be included in the political community as an equal. In so many instances around the world, a large number of people alienated by the state aspire to equal citizenship of the same State. It cannot be overstated that alienation by the State is not a sufficient condition for people to turn against it. A close reading of recent Dalit critiques of recent political events will clearly illuminate the most interesting paradox of modern democracy. It is that the people who extend the most nuanced, informed albeit a qualified support without succumbing to blind nationalist rhetoric are actually those who are at its periphery. Those who suffer oppression and exploitation cannot but place their hope within the juridico-political setup of the State.

As for the earlier mentioned confusion of the progressive intellectuals supporting AAP, they fail to acknowledge in public debates that it is not only the police or the corrupt politicians but also the people, the ‘AamAadmi’ if you please, together acting their part in popularising oppressive stereotypes and promoting love of authoritarianism within democracies. They have been blatantly resorting to portraying the former as largely unadulterated evil, but the latter as essentially ‘angelic’. To me, it seems today that the ‘AamAadmi’ can do no wrong, no matter what he does. Not only that, but he may also revel in having the leading intellectuals, academics, activists, psephologists of the country rising to his defence.

They forget that the phenomenon ‘people’ is nowhere close to being angelic in a deeply divided society such as India. It is the aamaadmi who consistently thwarts the claim of ‘others’ to equal citizenship, calling them foreigners, and infiltrators. Those who discriminate against Muslims in opportunities at policy formulation, opportunities in education, jobs and welfare services are also aamaadmi.

Too often, elite mobilisations form a symbiotic relationship with forces that go on passionately in their relentless persecution projects in different parts of India. They may choose to portray it as colourful plurality but those at the receiving end of the system of discrimination can see its fractured and diffused parts. We have to recognise that AAP may not articulate it thus, but it had the seeds of these tendencies in its IAC avatar and the seeds have now begun to germinate.

At this point, it should be enough to realise that the decision regarding who gets designated as ‘not fit to be an equal human’ is not always a top level decision. I end by remembering the words of Deleuze and Guattari cautioning us of “rural fascism and city or neighborhood fascism, youth fascism, and war veteran’s fascism, fascism of the Left and fascism of the Right, fascism of the couple, family, school, and office.” And that “Fascism works at the micro level in the actions of soccer hooligans, nationalist militias, trigger-happy Blackwater mercenaries, racist bartenders, and bigoted party leaders.”


1 Arjun Appadurai says that the violence that minorities are facing across the globe is intrinsically linked to and is a manifestation of the processes of globalisation. He opines that the exploitative relationships manifest in globalisation when coupled with its amorphous and slippery nature, evoke what he calls ‘fear of small number’.  


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 


This story is from print issue of HardNews