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AAP must take up cultural decentralisation of power

Kiran Batni http://kiranbatni

Updated: February 12, 2014, 10:42 AM IST
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Arvind Kejriwal is not a career politician who has no option but to cling to power. AAP is not a standard political party which does everything possible to get to power and - more importantly - remain there at all costs (a.k.a. maintain stability). These are clear by now, as also that this Chief Minister likes to live a simple life and make it known. What is not clear is the party's ideology.

Sure, AAP has declared anti-corruption to be its ideology, but it's not quite one. Anti-corruption, as understood by AAP and its supporters, is really an attempt to reduce inefficiency in the execution of one or the other ideology-not an ideology itself.

Yet, it would be wrong to conclude that the party possesses no ideology whatsoever. Both Arvind Kejriwal in his book Swaraj, and Yogendra Yadav on several occasions, have indicated that they would like to see more and more decentralisation of power-even down to the panchayat level. Yadav recently got into a tight spot by appreciating Khap panchayats. Kejriwal, recently, is said to have commented that there's no point in having elections in Delhi if the Government of Delhi has to approach the Centre for every little thing. These ideas stem from an ideology. They cannot properly be explained as offshoots of AAP's focus on getting rid of bribing Sub Inspectors, Regional Transport Officers and what have you.

In recognising the importance of decentralisation of power in a much deeper sense than Congress and BJP, AAP stands apart from these two parties which pay only lip-service to the idea. But it is not only in walking the talk that AAP needs to differentiate itself: it will need to talk right, too. It must recognize that the problem of decentralisation of power in India is fundamentally different from that in, say, Germany or France-a recognition that seems to elude Congress and BJP high-commands.

So what is this fundamental difference? It's actually quite obvious: In Germany or France, centralization of power is merely of a numerical nature. That is, power is centralized in a few Germans or a few Frenchmen (a few hundreds) who are not very different in terms of language and culture from the rest of people of the respective country (who are tens of millions in number). Clearly, decentralization in this case means taking power from the few and giving it to the many, who are not very different from the few.

In India, on the other hand, centralization of power is not only numerical but also cultural. The States of India, with their unique languages and cultures, do not enjoy equal representation in the Parliament. Representation by population (rep-by-pop) ensures that languages and cultures that are more populous hold more power than others. The few who hold most of the political power in India are linguistically and culturally different from the many. Therefore, even decentralisation of power in must be cultural in India.

Fortunately, this is not a difficult problem to solve. Since the States are, even to this day, quite homogenous within (as homogenous as they get anywhere in the world, in any case), the problem of cultural decentralisation of power is simply one of institutionalising true federalism in India. How much power should the Centre hold? How much should the States hold? These are questions that can be taken up in a project to rewrite the Constitution of India-something that's long due.

Arvind Kejriwal & Co., who seem to be on the right path, must recognize this cultural angle to the problem of decentralisation of power. The numerical angle is not only taken, but also carries the danger of the Central Government becoming more powerful than today by literally getting rid of the middle layer: the States. If AAP goes down that path, it will end up centralising power, not decentralising it.

First Published: February 12, 2014, 10:42 AM IST

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