Column: AAP ki Tea Party

Updated: Dec 21 2013, 05:36am hrs
The search is over. Ever since the conservative, doctrinaire, adamant, self-righteous, right-wing political movement called the Tea Party (TP) was formed in the US in time for the Congressional elections in November 2010, analysts and political junkies have searched far and wide to find its left-wing clone. And India has found it in its own backyard. There is a grand equivalence between the two and thus if you want to forecast what the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will do, for which we have no history, we can look at the Tea Party successes and failures to gauge the future. This is admittedly a counter-factual analysis, but it is the need of the hour.

The counter-factual works because the two parties are near identical in most important respects. To begin with, their entry into politics. It was the same year, 2010, with the Tea Party several months earlier. (Legitimate queryhow much of tactical politics did the AAP actively and consciously copy from TP)

The record of the TP is as follows: In their debut, the November 2010 elections, it won 5 out of 10 Senate seats contested and 40 out of 130 Congressional seats. Batting average40%. The AAP party won 28 out of 70 seatsbatting average identical, at 40%! Data for the 2012 election are murky in terms of definition as to who was a Tea Party candidate. Broad consensus is that the TP fared worse than 2010. It is believed to have won 4/16 Senate seats and about 15-20% less seats in the House. Batting percentagea lower 25%. This is a decline of 15 percentage points from their initial 2010 performance. If symmetry and parallels were to hold, then AAP should win 25% in a re-poll of Delhi Assembly, or 18 seats.

How twin-like are the two

parties Very!

n The Tea Party claims that it represents the voice of the true owners

of the United StatesWe the people. AAP has stated repeatedly that they represent the common man, the true owners

of IndiaHum hain

aam aadmi.

n The core belief of the TP is in decentralisation of power; if the TP did not exist, one would have thought that the AAP discovered decentralisation, e.g., the plan to implement Mohalla Sabhas. The obsession with decentralisation is so complete within AAP that soon their supporters will be polled as to whether they believe in the Right to Happinessand if they say yes, then the aam aadmi will make happiness a right, at least in Delhi.

n Paths to power: The TPs rise to power was punctuated by protests against certain laws and/or policies. They first came to prominence in 2009 in their opposition to the TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program), and continued with their obsession with Obamacare in 2010. That both might be hallmark legislations and good for the country and/or economy is another story. On this side of the TP border, the AAP came to prominence, indeed existence, compliments of Anna Hazares campaign against corruption. (Interestingly, Hazare is now a critic of AAP).

n Both have a strict, conservative streak and are infatuated with their own views. The TPs commitment to their sloganMy Way or No Waymanifested itself during the negotiations over the US debt ceiling; ditto with the AAP over the discussion and passage of the Lokpal bill. One important difference between the TP and the AAP is that the TP has had several issues on which it has made noises and protests, while the AAP, so far, has been a one-trick ponyI am against corruption, and I will make sure you know it.

n The political strategy of the two parties has been near identical;

appeal to people never before involved in politics to enter politics and change the system. The support base of the two parties has one important common featurethe more educated tend to favour the TP and the AAP. But there are differencesTP voters tend to be ethnically

homogeneous (white), older, and religious. The AAP voter is younger

and with no known

religious affiliations.

No discussion about the Aam Aadmi Party (or the Tea Party) can be complete without a comment on their economic beliefs and/or recommended policies. It is in this area that the two parties are different, vastly different. And if you will, the AAP comes out to strongly subscribe to the inconsistent sab chalta hai doctrine. The Tea Party is for decentralisation, for private initiative, for less state control, and less state expenditure. Whether one agrees with them or not, one has to grant that they are acting out of a set of core principles, from which their positions on various issues can be derived.

Contrast that with the Aam Aadmi Party. One important reason the AAP believes in street theatre, street democracy (preferably over expensive street Wi-Fi systems) and street voting is that the leaders themselves do not know what to think on various political or economic issues. When the chance came to form a government in Delhi, the AAP has so far dithered, and generally refrained from accepting responsibility to govern.

On economic issues, the AAP is against corruption and for decentralisation but finds no contradiction in increasing state involvement in government programs. It believes in halving the electricity bill and providing 700 litres of free water to every Delhi household. Where will this money come from Surprisingly, given that AAPs reason for existence is opposition to corruption, the party does not believe in cash transfers and/or Aadhaar to help reduce corruption. Instead, it wants to increase PDS coverage to pulses and edible oils, and most likelyno, definitelyincrease the large corruption that the AAP believes exists in the administration of PDS. In terms of their economic views, the AAP is closer to the US 99% brigade, a loose anti-establishment, hippie outfit of the 21st century. And, in terms of its populism, AAPs recommendations exceed Sonia Gandhis experiments in populism, and far exceeds anything the erstwhile populist champion, Hugo Chavez, attempted in Venezuela.

What both the Tea Party and AAP have achieved is greater accountability on part of the established political parties, and greater transparency in governance. History will therefore assess both to have has a positive impact on governance and political reform. On economic policies, the judgement on TP is already in, and does not bode well for how history will treat the AAP. If the AAP forms the new government in Delhi (a likely and desirable prospect), their bluff would have been called, and their economic prescriptions are likely to go the way of the Luddite views of the Tea Partyinto the dustbins of history.

Surjit S Bhalla

The author is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory firm, and a senior advisor to Zyfin, a leading financial information company. Twitter: @surjitbhalla