When Delhi votes in a new government, will the Aam Aadmi Party be able to repeat the excellent performance it displayed in last year's Delhi assembly elections? Will it achieve the countrywide popularity it received last year? While the answers to these questions are not clear, what is evident is that AAP will continue to serve as a case study of the uneasy relationship between people’s movements and electoral politics.

AAP was a recurring theme at the 20th anniversary meet of the National Alliance of People’s Movements, a coalition of progressive movements, which concluded in Pune on Sunday. Many NAPM activists, from Medha Patkar to tribal rights activist Dayamani Barla, took their first plunge into electoral politics by contesting the Lok Sabha elections on AAP tickets

The big questions that figured at the meet were: was AAP relevant outside Delhi? How did a party like AAP deal with people’s movements?

Limits of people's movements

Patkar, who is the founder of the anti-big dam Narmada Bachao Andolan and had fought as an AAP candidate from Mumbai North-East, said people’s movements had their limits.

“You need to enter the system to question it and maybe influence it,” Patkar said in an interview to Scroll.in. “In the past, many people entered the Congress hoping to reform it. Even George Fernandes [the former trade unionist and Socialist politician] teamed up with the BJP to get his swadeshi agenda implemented.”

But AAP seemed confused about its relationship with mass movements after elections, she said. “When people from these movements enter the electoral process, they put many things at stake," Patkar noted. "Their involvement in the party impacts their work of decades.” This relationship needs to be worked out. The party also needs to spell out its stand on issues such as development, she said.

“If it was a mistake to have left Delhi, it was equally a mistake to have left the rest of the country,” she said, referring to AAP’s decisions first to resign from the Delhi government after just 49 days in power and then to not contest the assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana.

A mistake

Despite her defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, Patkar, who continues to be an AAP member, believed the party should have contested at least a few seats in these state polls. This would have raised its vote share and boosted the fledgling organisational structure built during the general elections.

“But more than that, the ideology of AAP would have remained alive," Patkar said. "Its candidates would have raised questions about development and secularism. In its absence, a party such as the Nationalist Congress Party was seen as a secular force.”

Given APP leader Arvind Kejriwal’s decision to focus on Delhi till the next assembly elections there, what happens to the party elsewhere? Yogendra Yadav, who had contested the Lok Sabha elections in Haryana on an AAP ticket and who is now the party’s chief spokesman, set off a debate with his claim that people’s movements needed a political party as an instrument to bring about a new alternative politics.

Many instruments at hand 

Patkar challenged Yadav’s argument, saying that a political party was just one of the many instruments needed in a democracy to monitor and pressure rulers. In fact, if not elected to power, a party representing people’s movements may find its demands denied as the ruling party may see it as a rival. But this competitive politics does not figure when a people’s movement persistently raises demands. “That is how the Right to Information Act and Forest Rights Act were passed by the Congress,” said Patkar.

Given that Narendra Modi has a brute majority, and that his economic agenda contravenes what organisations in the National Alliance of People’s Movements stand for, the mood at the Pune meet was surprisingly upbeat. Speaker after speaker at the event expressed determination to fight the government. “We cannot but be hopeful,” said Patkar. “It is a question of survival. We either rejuvenate or give up. This new government has moved so fast in changing laws that we feel people will see through it."

She added, “That faith in the people has to be there. After all, people’s participation in the political process is not confined just to voting. The day after the voting, it is our raj.”