For a generation born after the 1980s, there is less patience for the ‘long-term’ promises or for that matter an ‘analytical’ paradigm that would bring ‘long-lasting’ changes. The generation that emerged in the late eighties and nineties got a different set of expectations and many of them do not have the ‘nostalgia’ of the idealists and principled political leaders who emerged through the freedom struggles or grew up in the ‘nation-building’ phase of the ‘free’ India. The generation of the 1990s was less inclined to look at the past-struggles or the nostalgia of the ‘great Indian’ variety as they grew up in an era of new aspirations of the neo-liberal era. In the last twenty five years, globalisation of media, communication and information also raised the level of aspirations and young people wanted better paid jobs, and wanted to exploit the new opportunities like the latest technology, travelling and other consumption options that money offered. It is during the last twenty five years, that the nature and character of education and campus politics too shifted.
So a whole range of new aspirations and expectations emerged in different band-width ‘income’ groups. Those third or fourth generation graduates aspired to become well-paid professionals in the global market for high-skilled labour. However, the first generation graduated or semi-skilled workers have few opportunities to climb the income ladder, even though their level of aspirations has also increased due to the exposure to information, consumer market as well as consumer choice. Many of those in the relatively low-income segment (earning less than twenty five thousand in a month) also found that the new urban housing or high rise buildings are way beyond their economic capacity. For them, a decent housing, electricity, water, petrol price and a stable job mattered more than long term promises of ‘revolution’ or ‘egalitarian world.
The aspiring lower-middle class has significantly increased during the neoliberal era. They have migrated from villages to small towns and small towns to big cities in search for better opportunities. The two decades of economic growth played in multiple ways. On the one hand it provided new opportunities for the middle-class to move in to the high income group and for the vulnerable poor better options for education and employment opportunities. However, the very same economic growth model also deprived the very same aspiring lower-middle class population of the chance to live out their aspirations as their there has been a disjunction between their aspirations, hopes and the real income. As the economy growth slowed down and large corporations and stock-market driven economic paradigm began to dominate, many of the small and medium scale industries began to suffer, creating new insecurities and vulnerabilities within the aspiring lower middle class. With more access to information (TV, Internet, Mobile), there is an increasing awareness about the increasing gap between rhetoric and reality; promises and performances of government
Most of the political leaders who grew up on the ideological framework of the nineteenth or twentieth century often could not understand or appreciate the anxieties, expectations and discontent of a significant majority of young people from middle class and aspiring middle class. Many of them saw politics as ‘dirty’, politicians as ‘thieves’ or politics as a career to amass wealth and power. Political parties were seen as gangs of criminals that consisted of only the rich and the ‘babas and babies’ of the ‘political’ families. While the relatively younger class felt an aversion towards political party establishments and the ‘rich and powerful’ that controlled the political party establishments, they were aspiring for a new politics of assertion, aspirations and performance. It is the political discontent as well as the political cynicism of the upper-middle class that the AAP tried to mobilise through anti-corruption initiatives, ‘clean’ politics and post-ideological politics. The traditional left completely failed to capture the mood of the younger generation that grew in the neoliberal era. While the left made fantastic ideological critiques and managed party establishments where they managed to retain the governmental power, the traditional left completely failed to engage and negotiate with a pan-Indian aspiring middle class and address policy and political initiatives.
The key issue has been that political party establishments paradoxically become too top-heavy with lots of baggage of power and paraphernalia to be flexible to the emerging generational shift and situation. Most of the aspiring middle class or middle class professionals found it extremely difficult to deal with ‘closed-spaces’ and ‘insulated leadership’ of political party establishment. The top-heavy leadership of political parties ‘interacted’ with ordinary people only during elections and that too from the large podium or from a ‘comfortable’ and ‘safe’ distance. Those young political leaders in many political parties emerged due to their kinship or lineage rather than their quality or leadership competence. There is hardly any space for the politically aware middle class people to join the political party establishments as they are still in the old mode driven by old structures.
It is in this space AAP as a new political party with fresh faces from the aspiring middle class emerged and the innovative ideas and political imagination helped them to outsmart the traditional modes of organising, campaigning and communicating used by the established political parties. This was evident in the entirely different modes of campaign tactics and communications strategies between AAP and established political parties such as BJP and congress. While AAP reclaimed the voluntary spaces of activism and contribution at the grassroots level, established political parties operated on top-down management of campaigns managed with funds largely raised from corporate business interests. The perceived dominance of crony capitalism, and the huge distance between rhetoric and reality as well as promises and performance created a set of new discontent among the electorate in Delhi. However, it is the promise of a clean politics and responsive, inclusive and performing government devoid of corruption that captured the imagination a large number of people. Now the key challenge for the leadership of AAP is to transform the huge positive energy that it derived from an unprecedented electoral verdict into governance with integrity, imagination as well as performance to make a real difference in the lives of the poor and marginalised. The question is whether the second coming of the Aam Aadmi party be able to herald a new era of politics of promises and hope and whether they will be able to keep the promise for change?