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Home >Opinion >Blogs >BETWEEN THE LINES: Meghnad Desai says India has come of age politically

Jaipur:Meghnad Desai is an economist and a Labour party peer (in the UK). He was created Lord Desai of St Clement Danes in 1991. A professor at London School of Economics, Desai has been a long term observer of British and Indian politics. At a panel at this year’s Jaipur Literature Festival, Desai told the audience that India’s greatest political hurdle is its fundamental lack of citizen equality. Until the time when a person of a lower caste can stand in front of someone of the elite, and say, “I am your equal", India will never make progress, Desai said. Afterwards he expanded on his view of Indian politics in the run-up to the election, his excitement at the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and what effect the party’s innovations will have on the political landscape in general. Edited excerpts:

What are the major difficulties India faces as it moves towards the general election?

In India, when people think of equality they only think of economic equality, but there’s a primary aim and that is social equality. Equality of rank and dignity. Within India, inequality is hard to conquer because of the caste system, it’s a deeply ingrained social inegality. The people who administrate policies to the poor are the upper castes.

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Does the surprising success of the AAP in the recent Delhi election give us reason to think the old way of doing politics may be losing favour?

Arvind Kejriwal (AAP chief) represents someone who has seen that a change is overdue. The other parties will have to follow now. There have been previous mass movements but they never translated into a political party. When the emergency ended and political power went to a collection of parties it fell apart very quickly. Kejriwal saw that it’s not enough to have a movement. But he’s started a modern, membership-based party without family domination. It will make them disciplined as a party.

The alliance between business and political parties in India is an old style of feudal politics. All political parties are populist. If AAP does recruit MBAs and IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology graduates) they will change the perspective.

What if the success in Delhi is not replicated on a larger scale?

New parties will come up, it takes very little to define success. BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) got 21 seats in 2009. If AAP gets 25 they are a permanent feature. The problem now is scale. From that point of view it’s a good innovation. It’s only after the 2014 elections that the real breakthrough will be seen.

It may be that India needs four parties like them but at least the innovation has been made. It’s a complete innovation for India. India has come of age and that’s an amazing, amazing thing.

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