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AAP's new definition: Asking the people

The party is asking people to respond through various technologies whether it should accept outside political support or not

Somesh Jha & Sahil Makkar  |  New Delhi 

Arvind Kejriwal

In an unprecedented move, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has used a bouquet of technology instruments to not only get to political power but also conduct a referendum on whether it should accept outside political support to form a government or not.

The Congress party is waiting to hear what AAP’s unique consultation will reveal. Privately, its leaders contend it will lead to the newest party on the block being exposed if it accepts office, as it will be unable to implement the promises it made in its manifesto. For instance, halving power rates.

Nor are other parties jumping to replicate AAP’s model of leveraging mobile connectivity to hear what voters want. For the first time, people have been asked by a political party for their opinion on a likely alliance with a rival.

So far, a record 600,000 have participated in the referendum, says AAP, to decide if it should accept support from the Congress and form a government. People have been asked to send a ‘yes’ or ‘No’ through mediums such as text messages (on number 8806110335), online polls (on the party website), and recorded telephone lines. AAP activists are also to organise small meetings at block levels in all the 70 city constituencies. The results will be announced, with an overall result, on Monday.

AAP leader Dilip Pandey says people are stakeholders in the formation of a government, so it is imperative to have their opinion. “When we saw there is a fractured mandate in Delhi and, hence, no clarity, we thought we should go to the public and take their view. After all, we need to form a government for them,” he said.

The party said it had adopted the already prevalent exercises of participatory democracy followed in parts of countries such as America, Switzerland and Brazil. “The budgetary allocations at Porto Alegre in Brazil are decided based on discussion through general body meetings and the views of people are factored in,” said Pandey. A similar practice is followed in 70 cities of Brazil, according to Unesco.

It seems to have touched a chord— 300,000 sent responses within four hours of the first announcement. But, are they all AAP members or supporters? Couldn’t the Congress – understandably anxious to avoid another election right now – have manipulated the result of the ‘referendum’?

The party says it has been very careful. “We are aware of possibilities of manipulation and have implemented certain checks,” says one of the party workers, who refused to be identified. For instance, the computer will accept only the first response from a particular phone number or Internet Protocol address, unique to every computer. For this, the party has tied with a telecom operator in Maharashtra.

Special software would de-duplicate the responses and produce a result in a short time. In this, some say, AAP has bested the Election Commission of India.

Expectedly, the Bharatiya Janata Party says it isn’t impressed. “We have already been tested and have been voted the single largest party in a free and fair election. We are clear that AAP does not have the mandate to rule, especially with the help of a party they had vowed to defeat and throw out forever. This ‘referendum is just a spurious alibi to get at what they really want – political power,” said a BJP activist.

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First Published: Sat, December 21 2013. 00:30 IST