Deep introspection is perhaps the most devalued expression in India’s political discourse. Leaders of political parties that lose elections are quick to announce a phase of “deep introspection” in the aftermath of their defeat. It is meant to convey a degree of humility and willingness to enforce corrective mechanisms for future elections. In reality, it is just a glib subterfuge.
Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi has announced “deep introspection” after a fairly resounding defeat of her party in four state assembly elections. Introspection, even of the deep kind, should be an ongoing feature of political life and not something to be fished out in the face of defeat. It then just becomes part of the political spin.
Political parties win and lose all the time. That is in the nature of the business. At one level every electoral defeat and victory is unique and dictated by a pretty complex combination of factors. Equally, there are underlying factors that generally remain the same for all parties. One of them is related to any party’s structure of decision making. Parties which have been around for a long time as is the case with the Congress, which has been around for 128 years, develop political osteoporosis. Their decision making comes from entrenched and outdated thinking. For the Congress in particular,which has ruled India federally for most of the 66 years of since 1947, there is another significant challenge to deal with—a sense of entitlement mixed with complacency.
Individual Congress leaders may be conscious of the need to constantly innovate and adapt but institutionally the party has so much sloth and redundancies built in over the decades that it loses its nimbleness and suppleness. That’s what I meant by political osteoporosis.
There is predictable excitement about the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), literally Ordinary People’s Party, which has won big in New Delhi’s state elections. It is a party that has made its debut after it morphed from an organic anti-corruption, anti-status quo, anti- everything civil society movement of a couple of years ago. The breathless media TV anchors see in the emergence of the AAP as a whole new phenomenon when the fact is that over the decades India has seen the rise of many such players across the states which have systematically eaten away at the vitals of the Congress behemoth.
I would grant that the AAP story, particularly that of its unfailingly articulate and idealistic mascot Arvind Kejriwal, makes for a great political drama in the 24/7 news cycle. But if the monster of India’s peculiar politics is efficient at one thing it is to devour idealism. The AAP, like all new parties, will have to watch out for that real danger.
Once again Rahul Gandhi, the Congress Party’s most identifiable national figure, is saying things which are remarkably un self-aware. He has spoken about the need to learn from the rise of the AAP, which by itself is a mature thing to say. However, when you consider that there is virtually nothing stopping him from doing inside his own party what the AAP is doing you begin to wonder why he always chooses to treat himself as an aggrieved outsider when he is,in fact, the ultimate insider. Perhaps he is itching to create a political startup outside the Congress machine that allows him to do all that he really wants to do to empower India’s hundreds of millions of politically aware people.
I have reported on so many elections, both national and state, over the years that there is a degree of jadedness towards the narrative that is always dished out by the smug media know-alls, including me. It is always possible to read too much into a phenomenon such as the AAP and that is precisely why it is important to remind everyone that India’s political history is replete with the emergence of such outsiders who fairly quickly become coopted by the political machine and become insiders. So while it is good to know about the rise of the AAP, I think pronouncements and declarations of a profound political revolution afoot would be rather reckless.