A new party with an unexpectedly large vote-share blossoming among the tired aggressions of old players in the Delhi assembly automatically acquires a halo of freshness and hope. Particularly since the party has been born out of the India Against Corruption movement and celebrates the people of India in its name — the Aam Aadmi Party. So it is no wonder that anything novel it does would be looked upon as a new style of functioning. Arvind Kejriwal, at the head of the AAP, has the party sending off 25 lakh letters, thousands of text messages and arranging meetings in every ward so that the people get a chance to let the AAP know whether the majority would support its move to form a government with Congress support. The issue here, of course, is that the AAP was formed precisely to oppose the Congress’s and BJP’s corruption.
Direct democracy itself is not quite new; the Athenians had it. But it is a novel move in the land of representative democracy, and appears, at first sight, to be invested with all the transparency and fairness that the AAP claims to be fighting for. Looked at more closely, however, Mr Kejriwal’s dazzling move loses some of its dazzle. Athens had a very limited number of citizens with little diversity. Besides, they, too, voted on policy and other issues in different groups on selected days and according to neighbourhoods. The scale of Mr Kejriwal’s operation is already staggering, and the mind boggles when it is imaginatively projected on to the context of the whole of India. At a basic level, it is simply impractical. It is certainly a question of numbers and size, and also of unparalleled diversities among the population. One of the objections to direct democracy has been the worry that the majority will simply bulldoze the minority, or, less politely, the wisdom of the mob may not be the best for the country. India would be the perfect place to have such worries realized. Even in Delhi, the passion of the moment may drive a lot of the answers Mr Kejriwal is seeking; how good a basis would that be for the AAP’s decision? Surely, the party that has taken the responsibility of leading the way to ‘clean’ politics must also be responsible for its decision to rule — or not? The people have voted once; why should they vote again? Being moral cannot mean putting them through hoops, and that by using a dramatic but impractical technique. Not all novelty is desirable.