The AAP’s symbol, slogans and attire have an inherent debate

If so many democratic symbols were not linked with Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s new chief minister, and the party that he leads, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), one would not have been tempted to deliberate on their democratic importance. The dress code of Kejriwal and his party members strongly reflects the degree to which the common man in India can identify with the AAP. They are not seen in the traditional starched white kurta-pyjamas or kurta-dhoti worn by most male politicians or the sari, usually worn by female politicians. Even at their swearing-in ceremony, Kejriwal and his cabinet members were seen in the attire used by most Indians, that is, shirts and trousers. The only woman in his cabinet wore salwar-kameez for the occasion.

Interestingly, though the cap worn by AAP members, also known as the Gandhi cap, symbolises the democratic values Mahatma Gandhi stood for, their attire can hardly be described as Gandhian. It may be argued that just as Gandhi opted for the dhoti, the apparel then commonly worn, to link themselves with the common man, AAP members have decided to give greater importance to the clothes most Indians are now seen in.

The cap, though not commonly worn in today’s India, has apparently been opted for due to several reasons. Without the cap, the AAP members and supporters would not probably stand out in a crowd of Indians. The cap sets them apart. Besides, the message written on the cap does not take much time to reach the viewers. The caps worn by most AAP members have, “I am an Aam Aadmi” printed on one side and on the other, “I want complete independence”.

Paradoxically, the party’s name and its message, “I am an Aam Aadmi,” have a severe democratic limitation. The party identifies itself only with the common man who is male. A male in the Indian languages Hindi and Urdu is called an aadmi, while a female is called an aurat. Generally, a crowd of people can be referred to as a gathering of common men. However, social ethics and cultural values do not allow a female (aurat) to be referred to as a male (aadmi). It just isn’t permissible.

By labelling itself a common male’s party, what could be the AAP’s message? Is the party keen to assure that Indian males don’t get sidelined in politics? Or perhaps the party founders did not focus substantially on women being virtually ignored in this process? This point needs to be deliberated on seriously by AAP members ahead of their campaign for parliamentary elections. The voters have probably not given it much importance at this stage. But ahead of national polls, the apparent gender bias is not likely to be ignored by democratically conscious women leaders as well as women voters.

Perhaps, had the AAP not chosen the broom as its political symbol, it may not have tasted so much success. The symbol is the one with which India’s labour class of sweepers immediately identify themselves. Socially, the majority hails from lower castes. This implies that Kejriwal has succeeded in linking his party with this class and caste. Now, the same class is keeping a close watch on the returns that Kejriwal’s stay in power can bring for them.

Kejriwal’s political success also rests on the importance given to his agenda by the new generation of first-time voters. The young political enthusiasts may not give too much time to Kejriwal and his AAP team to function as promised. Kejriwal’s ride atop his democratic symbols has brought him this far. He has emerged as a populist leader and succeeded in taking command of the Delhi government. His real democratic test begins now!

Nilofar Suhrawardy is an India-based freelancer Khaleej Times