AAP lines up social activists as election candidates

Medha Patkar (Narmada Bachao Andolan), Rachna Dhingra (Bhopal gas tragedy) and Soni Sori (tribal rights) are a few of the activists fielded by AAP

Tapping into popular social activists may not win it votes in the Lok Sabha elections, but it is seen helping the party widen its support base. Photo: Hindustan Times
Tapping into popular social activists may not win it votes in the Lok Sabha elections, but it is seen helping the party widen its support base. Photo: Hindustan Times

New Delhi: Drawing a link with its fight against graft and crony capitalism, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is tapping into a myriad popular social movements by fielding activists who have been closely associated with them, bolstering its chances in the general election, voting for which begins on Monday.

These include activists associated with the Kudankulam anti-nuclear protests, the anti-displacement Narmada Bachao Andolan, public agitations over the Bhopal gas tragedy and several tribal conflicts.

While such candidates feel that contesting and winning elections will help them contribute to a resolution of these conflicts, some experts are of the view that the strategy will help the 18-month-old party in the long run by widening its support base.

AAP candidates include anti-nuclear activist S.P. Udayakumar from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, human rights activist Medha Patkar from Mumbai North East, Rachna Dhingra from Bhopal who has been fighting for victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, and tribal rights activist Soni Sori from Bastar in Chhattisgarh.

“We have been struggling on the streets so far and established parties don’t take our concerns seriously. We are now trying to assume their role and responsibility instead of begging (with) them. If I were to be elected then I will have access to the parliamentary forum and media, will have more power that I can put to use,” Udayakumar said.

Udayakumar, who spearheaded the movement of people affected by the Kudankulam nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu, said that contestants like him would want to set an example by being a “good” fighter and parliamentarian. Udayakumar’s organization, the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, has been protesting against the nuclear power plant that was built in collaboration with Russia.

More than 2,000km away, another candidate of the AAP, Dhingra, who earned an MBA from the University of Michigan, agrees with Udayakumar and equated activists standing for elections to the “second freedom struggle” for people “oppressed” by the current political class in interest of multi-national corporations. Dhingra resigned from her job in the US in 2002 and has since been working with the survivors of the Bhopal gas leak tragedy.

“In activism, a change in policy takes place at a very slow pace. Rehabilitation, compensation and punishment have not been able to move fast as there is no political will. We have accomplished very small things,” Dhingra said. “There are anti-people policies in the country and corporations are given more importance. All the conflicts in the country can be linked to the influence that corporations exert on political and bureaucratic class,” she said.

The Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP has positioned itself as a champion of the marginalized. At the same time, Kejriwal has sought to portray the Congress and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party as political parties that encourage crony capitalism.

By fielding activists, the AAP is only enhancing its credentials of being pro-poor, while standing to enlist the support of the activist support base, experts said.

“It is not a bad strategy in the long run. If it builds up well, it will create a profile of the party that will create a kind of understanding that it is responsive to the needs of the people who are not really well off,” Pradip Kumar Datta, a professor of political science at the University of Delhi, said. Datta said the AAP’s strategy is to make inroads into movements that are essentially against displacements, pro-environment and those that can be tied to corporate capital.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan, one of the most popular pro-environment and anti-displacement campaigns, now finds its leader Patkar contesting from a Lok Sabha seat from her state, Maharashtra.

“We never wanted to remain peripheral. Even as a movement, we were intervening in mainstream politics. We not only want issues to be discussed in Parliament and state assemblies, but we also want people to be consulted before forming policies,” she said.

However, not every activist considers party politics as a goal to aspire to. Rajendra Singh, a water conservationist from Alwar in Rajasthan, also known as the “waterman of India” at one point was supporting the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement, but parted ways once it turned political.

“I was only involved with the anti-corruption movement till the time there was no politics involved,” he said. “Activism should be separate from party politics. It is not a healthy trend as activism and party politics are in conflict with each other.”


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