What people want

AAP needs to resolve its basic confusion about what constitutes 'people's consent', how it is expressed.

After Prashant Bhushan, a senior member of the Aam Aadmi Party, controversially recommended a referendum on deployment of the army in Kashmir, the party was constrained to distance itself from Bhushan's views. Security requirements could not be decided by the people, clarified party chief Arvind Kejriwal, while insisting, more generally and unexceptionably, that local sentiments must be respected. This controversy foregrounds the AAP's wobbly judgement on what political representation entails — the ways in which people exercise their voice in a democracy, and how their will is made manifest.

The AAP was born out of the Anna Hazare-fronted jan lokpal agitation, which made its impatience with representative institutions clear. They pressed their case with images of crowds, with amateur referendums and opinion polls, scorned Parliament and legislative deliberation. Arguing that other political parties neglected their compact with voters once in power, the AAP claimed and promised continuous contact with them, pledging to evolve its programme according to their desires. After it won enough seats to be within striking distance of forming government in Delhi, it sought to poll the public on whether or not to do so, holding jan sabhas, inviting views online, through phone calls and SMS. While this was an eye-catching strategy to announce its presence in a crowded political arena and to solicit support, being a party vested with a mandate to govern, the AAP will now need a more fine-grained understanding of how representatives are both delegates of their constituencies and trustees who make judgement calls on the collective interest. They must weigh competing and often conflicting demands, balance particular interests with the general good, ensure minority concerns don't go unheeded. In a large and diverse polity, it would be irresponsible and even dangerous to outsource complex decisions back to the people — because there are important disagreements between various groups of people, and governance-by-SMS could simply entrench majoritarianism.

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