Paradigm shift in politics: Aspirational Politics
J. N. Manokaran
The globalized world has changed. The connected world of technology has changed. The media and communication systems have changed. The politics also has changed. However, the change in the politics in India was dramatic, if not drastic. Attitude, Ambition and Aspiration in Indian politics has be redefined.
India as a free nation has evolved from Ideology driven political life to Identity driven political life. The idea of a free secular nation…where all citizens would be treated equal irrespective of their religion, equality nullifying hierarchical privileges based on caste and eradication of poverty; were some of the dominant pursuits of the Young Nation. However, in 1990s, the politics changed due to various reasons. Ideology was not important, but identity and assertion of identity was important. The identity of being ‘Indian first,’ was not a badge of honour. Groups became disenchanted with the system. Caste, religion, language and region were the driving forces of new Identity politics. The Other Backward Castes mobilized themselves and got political power in a few States. Hindutva became the trump card for the BJP. Shiv Sena banked on language while movement for certain regions; like Telengana, Gorka Land…etc., got momentum.
Nevertheless, movements based on ideology and identity seem to be coming to an end. Those who were born in the early 90s grew up in an Image Saturated World. Television, Cable Television and Satellite Television began to grow by leaps and bounds. These youngsters saw rather than heard, what was happening around the world. The ‘good life,’ ‘healthy life’ and ‘affluent life,’ need not be out there, it could be here and now. With technological advancement, a new Image Saturated Digital Generation has arrived. These children of the 90s are voters today in India. Nearly, 150 million new voters chose a brand new party: Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
This party symbolizes the Aspirers of the modern India. The name of the party is very significant. The word ‘Aam’ means common. Who are these common people? In the past, they were poor, primitive, village dwellers, less educated….etc. Traditional politicians defined the ‘common man,’ who needed help from them. For the AAP, common means ‘the aspirers’ as against the rich and powerful. The Indian society that was a triangle has become a pyramid. At the top 20-25 percent are super-rich and upper middle class. They are branded as the political class and their cronies. The bottom 25 percent are the traditional poor. The middle 50 percent are the young, aspirant, and dynamic digital generation. The AAP is trying to mobilize this 50 per cent, showing them that the top 25 percent as corrupt and using the political and economic systems to their advantage.
In the past, politics was discussed and debated in public forums, tea shops and parks. The digital generation changed the venue to cyber space: Facebook and Twitter. Also, digital media is a democratic media that provides ample space for anyone who wishes to share. This flat communication forum helped the young to voice their opinions, form communities and also get into action.
The AAP used this social media well. This digital media also provides the ability to communicate to narrow audiences. So, the AAP could bring out separate manifests for each constituency in Delhi. While the other parties were providing a common manifesto for the whole State, the AAP provided customized manifestos, reflecting the aspiration of the people in that particular constituency. While the traditional parties were touching on assumed or presumed ‘needs’ of the voters, the AAP voiced the aspirations of the voters.
This was possible, only by being active at the grass root level. Traditional parties may have cadres, fans and workers but the AAP had volunteers at the grass root level. Many political parties function with high command or specific families controlling all decisions. The voice of the workers is often suppressed. In the past, only the high command and family heard only from sycophants and flatterers. Communication was always top-down. The AAP turned that upside down and created opportunity for all to voice their opinion in a democratic manner. People were able to use the technology, like SMS, to voice their opinion.
Corruption is one of the major issues faced by India. With a liberal economy, the aspirations of people is insatiable. Becoming rich and being rich is considered as entitlement for all. The race for becoming rich has become highly competitive and ruthless, stampeding all ethics. The result is all activities are viewed from a prism of profit and loss. To derive the maximum with least effort and investment, is the motto. The modern adage is: Making money is fair, even if the means are foul. An auto-ricksaw driver, a peon in a Government office, clerks, officers, police, judges, army personnel, politicians…………all strata of society, devised ways and means to make money. Such corruption is a frustration for all Indians, especially for the Aspirers who want India to be like the West, or China, or Singapore. This new aspirant class is willing to accept good roads with tolls rather than no roads with no tolls.
In a low-middle class area in Chennai in the last five years, saloon (barber) shops have transformed into air-conditioned hair stylist shops. Even shops that were catering to the poor had to change. One shop owner said: “People want to sit in an air-conditioned shop even for few minutes. If not, they go away to shops that provide an air-conditioned atmosphere.” The aspiration of people is well captured here. The earlier generation was willing to wait for decades…investing in education and expecting their children to climb up the ladder. The present generation wants to experience the lifestyle here and now.
The Aspirant class abhors the VIP culture. Earlier ‘the privileged’ need not stand in queue. Those who were having to wait in line were poor, less educated or uneducated, timid and voiceless. Today, a VIP going ahead, skipping the queue would be seen with derision by the aspirant young people. Because, these young people are not poor and uneducated. They are well educated, bold, self confident and articulate. Understanding this, the AAP shuns VIP culture.
A new broom always sweeps well. The AAP broom – election symbol signifies that. But, sweeping alone is not governance. Certainly, the AAP has changed the rules of the game according to the environment. But, changing systems, structures and social norms is not going to be easy. Nevertheless, the changes they bring are welcome, though just a beginning. One hopes for more.