Andolanwaaley vs. Buddhijeevi: The Conflict between Protestors and Laptop Warriors

It’s been one month since I joined the Aam Aadmi Party full-time. While there is much to write about regarding politics, policy and Parliament, I thought I’d jot down my thoughts as different observation capsules as opposed to doing long posts, which are rather unreadable.

An observation about the Aam Aadmi Party and politics at-large in India that has probably stood out rather starkly is the following. It is the constant war between the worlds of the “intellectuals” and the “protestors”, or as it was put to me “Buddhijeevi” and “Andolanwaaley”(literally meaning revolutionaries).

When I say “protestors”, I mean the men and women of the masses who have risen literally from the streets, people who have fought for the rights of the people and gained respect by protesting against repression and the establishment. These are the people who can mobilize people and votes, and are the people who will win the election. They receive their popular mandate because they raise issues that people identify with, or can rally the public together, for good or bad reasons. Their education in many cases didn’t come from university, but from the old cliché of life. I think nearly every Prime Minister with the exception of Dr. Manmohan Singh, a large proportion of Members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies come from this background.

When I say “intellectual”, I mean laptop warriors, speech writers, policy analysts, economists, ideologues, the great debaters and well, to borrow a phrase I heard from one of the “protestor” kind from Haryana:  “The educated folk who sound lovely on English debates on CNN or NDTV”. So think Yogendra Yadav, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Nirmala Sitharaman. I don’t have statistics but I daresay a greater proportion of the Rajya Sabha might compose of these folk, considering it has been the entry point for those party leaders who haven’t been able to win an election.

The problem I’ve noticed is that nothing has been done to address the friction between the two factions: the House of Commons vs. House of Lords kind. And they’ve been allowed to diverge further away from each other as time has progressed without any attempts at reconciliation or dialogue that helps one side see the importance and need for the other. The fact that they are two different sides is by itself, a big problem. This is the polarisation that people don’t talk about. And for a party like the Aam Aadmi Party, which is still in its nascent stage, it’s rather important to solve this problem at its root before it institutionalizes itself in the organisation.

The protestors call the intellectuals snobs who speak in English, talk in their closed-door meetings and come up with technical policy with no connection or consultation of ground realities. The intellectuals feel that the protestors are interested just in raising hell, don’t raise the appropriate issues in what is known ironically as Parliamentary language or method, have trouble understanding nuances and don’t have the necessary expertise to do the work that intellectuals do. This self-imposed hierarchy of importance that each side pushes on the other is dangerous especially when both need to work together for a common cause.

How do we attempt to solve it? Engage in a dialogue on the work that each group does, give and take appraisals on the issues and problems they face and most importantly ensuring that no part of the party is alienated from the other. If the so-called intellectuals are involved in the process or kept informed about the logistics, issues and difficulties of organizing an agitation or rally or large public meetings, it will develop immense respect in them for the protestors. On the other hand, if at every stage of the policy process, ground consultations and reviews or at least comments can be invited and talked about to build consensus around policy decisions and positions, it will be immensely helpful for the protestors to understand the technical expertise and nuance required to run government. More importantly, it will help generate buy-in from all sections of the party, which will be important in generating support from the public, not to mention make the intellectuals think about exceptions, use-cases and interpretations generated from the ground-up that they might not have thought about.

There will be communication overhead and noise when this process of reconnection is attempted, but it will be worth it, in my opinion.