Many observers are wondering how the AAP has come so far in such a short span of time. The open source movement in the technology world offers some interesting lessons and parallels with rise of the AAP.
The open source movement has had significant impact on almost every aspect in the technology sector – the Linux operating system and, more recently, the Android operating system being two leading examples. The open source approach involves sharing the basic design, or code in a collaborative environment where anyone can participate and contribute. Subsequent improvements and features help the development community push the technology further, and ultimately benefit end-users.
While working within the open source community, the individuals involved can benefit by realising new ideas built on existing open source solutions. In the world of open source, people can pick up consulting opportunities, teaching gigs, and share a code solution they developed. But ultimately, it’s a community of developers that work together to progress technology in an open and transparent way.
It creates a fertile ground for new ideas, innovation, and out of the box thinking, unencumbered by commercial interests for the most part. In the process, it inspires an environment of healthy competition and selfless commitment.
The backbone of all these developments is a set of well-understood ground rules within which everyone involved operates. The system is self-correcting, in the sense that any “bad apples” are often weeded out by the developer community over time, and likewise, the genuinely committed folks often get the recognition they deserve. Very often, commercial ventures emerge from these initiatives – Red Hat in the case of Linux, the various browsers, and Apache web servers being some examples.
The open source community at large has no ulterior motive other than the betterment of technological progress, and in keeping the commercial vendors honest. It acts as a counter-balance to proprietary technology and provides end-users with potential alternatives.
In the world of politics, the AAP is akin to an open source movement. Its leader, Arvind, is in some sense, a pioneer like Linus Torvalds. He and his party have a defined a broad framework within which they operate – direct transparent funding, open candidate selection process, decentralised decision making, no high command, people empowerment, involving people in decision making, and commitment to the implementation of strict laws that act as deterrents.
The purpose of the movement is to “change the politics of the country,” while the mission is to end corruption, dynasty politics, communalism, and criminals in politics. The vision is to achieve transparency, reform, and accountability in government.
A number of people, including many who follow politics closely, appear to have a hard time making sense of the AAP phenomenon. Critics misconstrue the AAP as an attempt by an overly ambitious upstart with the overarching goal to grab power. Modi fans saw it as an attempt to obstruct his path to the PM’s chair. With this preconceived notion, they attribute ulterior motives to everything the party does, when, in reality, it is merely adhering to its basic framework.
The AAP was formed to serve as a platform for better, cleaner politics. Had the Jan Lokpal bill been implemented, the AAP wouldn’t ever have come into being. Any political party can adopt the ways of the AAP. Just as the purpose behind Linux operating system was not to put Microsoft out of business, but to offer an open source alterative, the AAP is offering that same alternative.
When viewed within this framework, answers to “frequently asked questions” come into sharper focus. I recall one event, when an economist taunted Kejriwal on Twitter asking why he hadn’t said anything about Sanjay Baru’s revelations in a recent book he had written about Manmohan Singh. To me, the question is much like asking Linus Torvalds to comment about a flaw in the Windows operating system. Torvalds is concerned with Linux, not with the flaws in a Windows product, so the question is a redundant one.
If we apply the open source lens to Arvind’s decision to resign, this also becomes clearer. The AAP is not in the business of conventional wheeling-dealing, and has ideologically defined itself in opposition to it. The expectation within the AAP is to live and die by its principles.
In this case, the Lokpal bill – a critical aspect of the AAP’s reform agenda – was never going to survive the Assembly. Without Lokpal, the very paradigm on which the AAP has been built falls apart. In this context, the decision to force a fresh election seemed a natural one.
After the punishing Lok Sabha election results, the AAP was accused of “spreading itself too thin.” ‘Why didn’t AAP fight one hundred seats instead of over four hundred?’ While misconstrued by some as a vain attempt to grab power, the AAP simply was extending an invitation to the rest of the country – offering an alternative to corrupt dynastic rule. Who is to say who can and cannot participate in politics? That someone should not be eligible to become a candidate and take their chances at the polls?
The AAP offered people a platform. All they had to do was submit their credentials, make the cut, and go make it happen. The more quality submissions the party gets, the more likely there will be more candidates. It is as simple as that. As Arvind pointed out, “Who am I to say who can and can’t contest, it’s for the people to decide if they want to step up, and for the voters to pick winners and losers.”
Of course, as the AAP learned during the Lok Sahba election, an open source approach to candidate selection means the risk of pre-selecting “bad apples.” There have been instances where AAP candidates have had active criminal cases pending, as well as candidates just not fit for office.
But just like in the world of code, the open source eco-system accepts the existence of “bad apples” and simply leaves it to the community to weed them out. No doubt the AAP’s system of candidate selection is not perfect, but what is important is that the AAP never shies away from admitting mistakes and attempting to correct them. Unlike other political parties, the AAP has promptly withdrawn candidates when problems are confirmed.
The reason why many people are flummoxed by much that the AAP does is because they look at the AAP like they look at other traditional political parties. If you understand the AAP as an open source movement born out of the genuine purpose of changing the politics of the country, most of its moves will start to make sense.
The AAP does not exist to put other political parties out of business. In fact, Arvind has repeatedly stated on the record, “Vote for whom you think is the best. I am not saying vote for AAP, but it is important that you cast your vote.” It is precisely because of this open source approach that the party has excited and inspired an unprecedented number of people to take the political plunge.
The AAP is here to stay, just as Linux and Windows will continue to co-exist. What the AAP offers the electorate is a refreshing, clean, and honest alternative packed with good intentions (despite the occasional chaos), something of the kind the nation has never witnessed. The choice between whether to embrace it or to ignore it, will always remain entirely up to the people. There is no “hard sell,” there is no Machiavellian master plan to take over the country, and there is no ambiguity about what the AAP has to offer. What you see is what you get.
Excerpted with permission from Arvind Kejriwal & The Aam Aadmi Party: An Inside Look, Pran Kurup, Bloomsbury.