Identifying themselves with common citizens, anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal and his team on Saturday christened their political party “Aam Aadmi Party” (AAP) and adopted a constitution that focuses on the ideology of decentralised democracy. “Youth and women will play important role in the party,” Mr. Kejriwal told supporters after the party name was adopted at a meeting of the newly formed National Council.
The name will be adopted at a public meeting on Monday at Jantar Mantar here.
The party has already applied for registration with the Election Commission which will allot a symbol to it.
He said the name India Against Corruption (IAC) would no longer be used by them.
Stung by the choice of the name that strikes at the Congress’ core slogan — Congress ka haath aam aadmi ke saath (Congress is with the common man) — Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said the term aam aadmi had been synonymous with the Indian National Congress since 1885. Nobody could hijack the intrinsic relationship between the Congress and the aam aadmi.
Responding to it, AAP member Sanjay Singh said the Congress had never been with the aam aadmi. “It has been with the likes of Robert Vadra, Ambanis, A. Raja and Kalmadi.”
The name, Aam Aadmi Party, was proposed by Mr. Kejriwal himself and adopted unanimously at the council meeting attended by 300 members. The constitution of the party was also adopted. The council elected a 23-member National Executive which has eight vacancies and can co-opt five more members.
Among the National Executive members are Mr. Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan, Anand Kumar, Yogendra Yadav, Christina Samy, Shazia Ilmi, Illiyas Azmi, Habung Peyand, Prem Singh Pahadi, Manish Sisodia, Mr. Sanjay Singh, Gopal Rai and Mayank Gandhi.
Questions were raised about lack of representation from the South, to which Mr. Kejriwal said they were looking for the right people. He admitted that the number of women too was lower than what they had hoped for.
Asked if the AAP would contest all 545 Lok Sabha seats and give women 33 per cent representation, Mr. Kejriwal said the party would contest all seats. “But if there is an election tomorrow, we may not have candidates to contest all seats. As for women, we have said that one of the two conveners will be a woman at all levels from college, to village to block, district and upwards.” An ‘ordinary member’ would have no voting rights until he/she was made an active member after four months of working for the party.
The party would contest the Delhi Assembly elections next year.
The council decided that the gram sabha would be taken as the unit for development and mohalla panels in cities would decide about their development needs. They might exercise the “right to recall” candidates who did not deliver. Getting justice from judiciary would be a “right” and people would have the power to move an ‘initiative’ on any law they require or a ‘referendum’ on any legislation they want to be revised.
Mr. Bhushan said the party would work for bringing about a systemic change in politics. Psephologist Yogendra Yadav described the birth of the AAP as a result of a “spontaneous upsurge of masses.”
“The party will shun dynastic politics and have provisions against more than one member of a family holding office during one term,” Mr. Kejriwal said. “
Instruments that permit people to vote directly on policy and to initiate legislation can ensure that the citizen’s voice is heard
Independent India has been a large-scale experiment in democracy. Unlike many other nations that gained independence from colonial rule but descended into dictatorships and military rule, India has remained a democracy, despite its size and diversity. While we pride ourselves on this achievement, we also need to reflect more on the problems and challenges that face Indian democracy. Concerns relating to scams, criminal records of elected representatives and disorder in Parliament recur, but a deeper question needs to be asked: how democratic, actually, is Indian democracy?
India is a representative democracy, where people select their representatives once in five years to make laws and policies on their behalf. Limiting the participation of the people merely to voting once in five years has significantly reduced the responsiveness of the representatives to the people. Further, representatives often make policies that are not aligned with the wishes of the people. A key reason for this is that political parties require huge funds to contest elections, which are usually provided by moneyed special interests. Once elected, it is these special interests to whom our representatives often cater, rather than the interests of the people. So, what institutional mechanism do the people have to make their voice heard, if their representatives do not represent their interests?
REFERENDUM & INITIATIVE
This problem is not unique to India. Representative democracies around the world have searched for solutions to this structural flaw. One innovative solution tried in numerous countries is the Referendum (R) and the Initiative (I). These are instruments whereby some decisions of policy and law-making are ‘referred’ to a direct vote by the electorate, rather than solely being decided by their representatives. They provide a formal, institutional channel for the voice of the citizens, if they feel that their representatives are not adequately representing them.
Switzerland was the first country to introduce these instruments, as far back as 1848. Now 36 other countries, mainly in Europe and Latin America, have these instruments at a national level, and various other countries like Germany, Brazil and the United States, at the state and regional levels. Interestingly, India is one of only five democracies never to have used these instruments.
The Referendum (R): The citizen-initiated Referendum is an instrument whereby citizens, by a direct vote, can decide whether a legislation passed by Parliament should be rejected. Citizens sceptical of a certain law or policy can gather signatures of a small percentage of the electorate which can force a direct vote, by the entire electorate, on the legislation in question. If a majority vote opposes the legislation, then their rejection is binding upon Parliament. In the case of Switzerland, one per cent of its electorate needs to signal support through signatures, before a nationwide vote is conducted.
For example in 2000, the Swiss Parliament introduced the ‘Electricity Market Law’ for liberalisation and deregulation of the electricity market. There was, however, resentment against deregulation and what was perceived as the dismantling of a well-functioning public service. So the people asked for a referendum on this law. After the required signatures were collected, the law was put to a nationwide vote. A majority of the people opposed the law, so the law was rejected.
The Initiative (I): While the Referendum is an instrument that allows citizens to accept or reject legislation passed by the Parliament, an ‘Initiative’ lets citizens initiate a new legislation or constitutional amendment, by putting their own proposal on the political agenda that Parliament is ignoring. A bill drafted by a group of citizens and supported by a small percentage of the electorate (again established by signatures) is put to a nationwide direct vote. In Switzerland, two per cent of its electorate needs to sign and support an Initiative, to make it eligible for a nationwide direct vote. If the citizen-initiated legislation gets a majority it becomes a law.
For example, in Uruguay, in 2002, the government committed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), that it would privatise the supply of drinking water and sanitation services to the entire country. This move met with opposition from the people, who responded with a citizens’ Initiative. The Initiative demanded that access to drinking water and sanitation should be enshrined in the constitution as a human right. This Initiative was voted on in 2004 and won with a resounding majority.
The primary value of I&R is to align legislative behaviour closer to public opinion. The mere presence of I&R, even when it is not used, makes the legislature more aligned to public opinion, since they know that citizens have the I&R channel to “trump” them. For example, in Uruguay in 2002, privatisation of the state-owned mobile phone operator was challenged by citizens. They collected the required number of signatures for a citizen-initiated Referendum. Before the voting happened, the government repealed the law and no referendum had to be held.
Second, I&R results in significant governance reforms — an area in which the legislature is least likely to act, since it typically curtails their own power. There is a conflict of interest, and the lawmakers typically ignore or even sabotage such reforms. For example, in India, one can see that the Lokpal Bill, which could lead to the investigation and prosecution of corrupt lawmakers, has languished for 42 years. However, in California, where I&R is frequently used, 67 Initiatives on governance have been voted on, between 1912 and 2006. Laws regarding campaign finance, prevention of elected representatives holding other offices have been introduced via Initiatives; laws that were unlikely to have been introduced by California’s legislature.
Third, an important impact of the I&R process is the educative and transformative effect it has in creating a more politically informed and participative citizenry. Scholars find that in Switzerland and American states where I&R is active, citizens are better informed and have more opportunities for direct political participation.
There are, however, some challenges in introducing I&R which need to be suitably addressed with appropriate solutions.
One logistical challenge is conducting in direct voting at the national or even state level. Various solutions exist, including the employment of information and communication technologies (ICT) in innovative ways. Further, the content of the ballot to be voted on, needs to be structured in a way that is easily understood by a wide variety of voters with varying linguistic backgrounds and levels of literacy. Here again various solutions exist.
Another challenge has to do with voter competence in making informed judgment on matters of law and policy. One response to this concern is if our elected representatives (who are clearly not experts on many of the issues they take decisions on) can make decisions on laws and policies taking into account the views of experts, so can the people. Additionally, in referendums it has been found that even when voters do not understand the complexity of issues, they are able to take simple cues — like who is supporting or opposing the proposition — to make informed and ideologically consistent choices. They also try to educate themselves on the issues to be voted on by listening to views of experts on the topic and engaging in debate. Mechanisms to make diverse expert opinions available in an easy to access manner need to be devised.
Yet another challenge is to prevent moneyed special interests from influencing the I&R process, by sponsoring high-spending misleading campaigns. This is an important issue that has emerged in some American states like California, Oregon and Colorado. For example in 2006, two oil companies contributed a combined $34 million to defeat an initiative for the funding of renewable energy research and production by oil companies.
One response to this concern is that it is far more difficult and expensive for moneyed special interests to convince citizens at large than to convince a smaller set of lawmakers through lobbying. That said, there is need to have safeguards that limit or eliminate campaign financing in the I&R process.
Whatever be the challenges in introducing such democratic reform, the time has come to discuss such a change to ensure that our government truly represents the people. Today, democracy is clearly falling short on this count and instruments of Initiatives and Referendums can provide a political mechanism to ensure that citizens’ voices counterbalance a legislature unresponsive to peoples’ interests. The time has come to recommit ourselves to a deeper and more participatory democracy; a democracy with greater alignment between public policy and people’s interests.
(Prashant Bhushan is a public interest lawyer and member of Team Anna. Atishi Marlena is an independent social educator and activist.)
This is the interesting part - Referendum and Initiative.
This means when the public wanted changes in a law, the former would be used; and when it wanted a new law, they could initiate the process,
This provision is available in some countries where a certain number of citizens if they petition, then a referendum is held over a law being enacted and likewise, if a certain number of citizens petition, then that law has to be discussed and voted in Parliament.
But will those who sit in power ever accept that they are not the new Sultans of the Delhi Durbar?
To be fair, there are those who call this Mango Party to be Hitler like and Fascists.
Anyone gullible enough to support Aam Admi Party either as a political outfit or as a pressure group should first look at the Arvind Kejriwal grilling in Agenda Ajj Tak. Mani Shankar and Ravishankar ripped him apart in front of live audience and poor little innocent sweet Arvind Kejriwal looked as cuddly as he possibly could and just wanted to say that the whole system, except for his magnificient white spotless self was.... Corrupt.
Before that he was speaking absolute rubbish, and after the ripping apart, he kept making faces.
This man suffers from an inferiority complex.
I have to hand it to you Sir. Out of all the apparently non starter issues this newly formed party desires to take up, you have indeed pointed out two which are worth pursuing.
Referendum is needed in any civilised country. However, it works best in the countries with small population. What happens in big countries is that, we always have a large number of people on both sides and when one group is disappointed, they just shore up their numbers and either play the victim card or create a lot of commotion. In Europe, the size of population is ideal for such instruments. Leave alone I and R, even representative democracy is not suitable for India Imho. It either needs to be under a benevolent dictator, or it needs to be divided into autonomies/a pure federation if people are to be kept satisfied.
As for initiative, the idea is good on paper. However, whatever is not of importance to a large number of people, though not unimportant, but can definitely not be more important than the business of the majority.
Having said that however, it would be very interesting to see how the party intends to bring about these reforms. Will they just employ the attention grabbing methods they are employing now or will they actually do some groundwork and raise a proper, dedicated cadre?