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Yogendra Yadav on Swaraj India: We need a secular politics that is not shy of offending anyone

Nihar Gokhale @CatchNews

 

Political scientist Yogendra Yadav is back in politics. After being forced out of the Aam Aadmi Party in early 2015, Yadav and senior advocate Prashant Bhushan formed Swaraj Abhiyan, a "socio-political organisation" consisting mainly of AAP dissidents. Now, they have formed Swaraj India, a political party, with Yadav at its helm.

In a conversation with Catch, Yadav describes what sets Swaraj India apart. The party, which promises to fulfil the "needs and requirements of 21st century India", has reserved 25% of its positions for women. In the future, they want their election candidates to be elected by their supporters and not the party\'s top brass. Swaraj India supports a gradual phase-out of alcohol sale and consumption.

Yadav clarifies that Swaraj India will not contest the upcoming assembly election in Punjab - where AAP stands a good chance to win - nor, contrary to reports, has the party decided to fight the municipal polls in Mumbai.

Experts from the conversation:

NG:

How is Swaraj India different from other political parties?

YY:

Here's a party which is consciously trying to align itself with the needs and requirements of 21st century India. We either have political parties that cling to one or another of the 20th century dogmas, or we have parties which simply mumble the lingo of those ideologies without meaning a word of what they say. In the first category you can place parties like the CPI(M), in the second category you can place most other parties like the Samajwadi Party. The Congress has always has been a mix of these.

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The more BJP-style majoritarian communalism gains, the more old style secularism retreats into its shell, becomes harder and purer and unable to communicate to the rest of the country. What we need is a secularism which can firmly stand against the practice of keeping minorities hostage like the Congress, SP, RJD and even the Left have done. What we need is a secular politics that can take principled stand on issues irrespective of who they offend.

On the selection of candidates, our intent is clear: to steadily move away from a leader distributing tickets to the people and volunteers at the local level deciding who should be their candidate.

There's was a lovely cartoon in the Times of India yesterday in which I am promising transparency, democracy and everything and there's this ordinary voter who says Deja 'Woo'. Aam Aadmi Party also said a few things of this kind when Prashant Bhushan and I were a part of it. People have heard it before so there is that sense of deja vu and the accompanying disbelief, which is understandable and which I don't grudge.

In a sense it is better that we are received with some caution so as to save everyone from that syndrome of complete infatuation to begin with and complete hatred to follow.

NG:

There are reports that you will contest 50 seats in the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai? Why the hurry to fight elections so soon?

YY:

About Mumbai there is no final decision yet. I also saw it in the news and it's in a sense a good sign that the thinking in this party does not originate in Delhi, and I get to read it in the newspapers rather than being consulted. But I think they may have expressed an intent. I don't think the party unit has met, I don't think the executive has met, I don't think we have a clear decision on that as yet. I personally am opposed to contesting elections without adequate preparations because it actually takes away from the point you wish to make.

NG:

What about Punjab?

YY:

Punjab politics is in a flux. People hate the ruling party and will throw it out at any cost. Unfortunately, the alternatives they have so far - the Congress and AAP - don't look much like alternatives. So, Punjab needs, and I think it's ready for, a genuine alternative. The trouble is that what is required in history is not always in quick supply. Lots of conversations are happening there right now. All I can say is that if a genuine alternative comes up in and from within Punjab, we would be very happy to extend moral and political support to it.

I don't think Swaraj India on its own is going to contest the Punjab election. We don't have that kind of preparation. As I said, going to Punjab with the sole intent of somehow damaging AAP is not our politics. That's something we will certainly not do.

NG:

Many people remember your words that a new party loses the first election, gets noticed in the next and wins the third.

YY:

These are Kanshiram ji's words. He understood Indian politics much better than the scientists do. He did not say we should fight in order to lose, but he was trying to summarise the lesson of history that the consequence of a new force coming up is that very often the first time it loses, the second time it becomes a factor in deciding who wins and loses, and the third time it is a winner. So, he had a slow and steady route to political success.

Looking at the experiment of AAP, I think we need to think hard about Kashiramji's theory because a very short rapid-fire route to power is full of pitfalls. Unfortunately, those who want change have had very little patience.

NG:

What about contesting elections in other states?

YY:

For me, election is important because it provides a unique occasion to speak to the public and convince them about your viewpoint, to take your message to them and convert some of them to your side. That you can do only if you have made adequate preparations in advance. So if my colleagues from Goa or Uttarakhand come, my question won't be, "Are you going to win?". My question will be, "Will you be able to take the occasion of the election to take your message to the last person?" They have to judge that.

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Given the situation, all I can say is that you will not see us contesting anywhere and everywhere, or distributing large number of tickets, but focusing on a few things and putting a lot of energy behind that.

NG:

Since you are taking proactive steps on many other fronts, would you also field a large number of women candidates?

YY:

In our constitution, we have reserved a fourth of our positions at every level for women. We have not kept it at 33 per cent because there are other social groups that we have thought of. We have kept special positions for youth and for other groups which are under represented. The real challenge is not whether we are going to give tickets to women, the real challenge is what proportion of the women candidates will be women leaders in their own right.

NG:

Swaraj Abhiyan has campaigned against alcohol shops running in residential areas. Do you support prohibition?

YY:

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that drinking is a social menace in our country. Unfortunately, there is a temptation to go for one stroke solution - prohibition. It has brought temporary relief but in the medium and long run it has had other serious consequences - bootlegging, smuggling and spurious liquor production, which is very dangerous.

I personally think that we need to adopt a firm but gradual approach to reduction of alcohol. Kerala, I think, is one of the smartest states in the country in terms of liquor regulation policies. Which is to say, give yourself a 10-year target and use all policy instruments for gradual and systematic reduction. Keep closing two windows every year, go step by step, and provide for facilities for de-addiction, for help and support to those who are alcoholics, and encourage a vibrant sports culture for the youth. That to my mind is a sensible policy.

But one thing that even such a sensible policy would require is a severe reduction in the number of liquor shops. The minimum condition for a liquor vend to operate in an area has to be that it receives permission of the locality; and I would insist on the permission of women from the locality. This is the absolute minimum.

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Nihar Gokhale @nihargokhale

Nihar is a reporter with Catch, writing about the environment, water, and other public policy matters. He wrote about stock markets for a business daily before pursuing an interdisciplinary Master's degree in environmental and ecological economics. He likes listening to classical, folk and jazz music and dreams of learning to play the saxophone.