Kejriwal’s great AAP experiment seems to be losing steam for now. The anti-corruption message does not work as well against Modi as it did against the Congress. And for the most part Modi quite aptly does not respond to AAPs barbs. Where are they going wrong? AAPs fight is at many different levels – they want to shake the current system, and somehow eliminate corruption, and they want to free us from the dalal (politician) who earns a commission in the name of progress. The AAP believes that the former requires it to win elections, and the latter requires it to build institutions that can guard against corrupt activities. Though these assumptions are questionable, I think there is a deeper problem.
AAP loves participative democracy – people sit around and bring out their views and through a back and forth a common decision can be taken. Such decision-making is transparent and not in one or two peoples control, and therefore less susceptible to corruption. And so convinced is AAP of this that they even drafted a bill introducing such an institution in the urban government in Delhi through their Swaraj Bill.
But AAPs problem is actually their great love for participative decision making. Good decision-making does require being aware of wide variety of views and preference. And so AAP decisions such as forming the government, leaving it, standing in national elections, all it is claimed are taken through a participative and consultative process. And so we are more democratic the AAP types claim.
Remember pre-independence Congress? Gandhiji kept certain dictatorial powers with him. Gandhi and his cohort made sure that they spelt out all the key decisions. They heard everyone, spoke across the Congress hierarchy and also outsiders, but they were not doing referendums. The Quit India movement did not either start or stop through a referendum or vote within the party.
Participative decision-making tends to average out views. The more the people involved the more decision-making gets averaged out. Moreover not everyone around the table has the same view on what makes for good governance – some want tight laws, other want liberal ones, some want greater role of the government in society and less so for others. Hence perfectly well-meaning people, when forced to come up with a consensus on any policy, will come out with nothing but the obvious but wrapped in high-sounding words.
Any new idea is accepted in its entirety and there is some chipping at the original thought at it as it goes around a table – a kind of an averaging out occurs. People in a collective instinctively know this and therefore rarely come up with new ideas. Participative decision-making is among the worst ways to decide on most policy matters. Read Mancur Olson’s Logic of Collective Action of when collective action works well and when it does not. Moreover, many times arguments get out of hand, a few more vocal members tend to dominate the discussion, time runs out and either no decision is taken or taken without considering important aspects, etc.
Having said that, the participative approach does sound quite attractive, where many different people are able to voice their thoughts and views and through a process of back and forth and questioning many problems can be deciphered in a transparent and democratic manner. That is in theory.
In reality an external disciplining mechanism is very critical for any participative decision-making to work. In other words, in this case the people accept that they aren’t as well informed, or do not have as good a capability to understand or decipher a problem, or don’t have the physical strength to oppose, and consequently are willing to defer to someone else’s views. This leader needs to give a sense of direction to his flock, who can then take a decision via a participative process if the leader is democratic, or sign on the dotted line if he is a dictator. But without such direction or discipline, the decision making process would be flawed.
In the case of AAP, it is clear that Kejriwal has a worldview – and he does what he wants as per his internal preferences, and without the need for any consultative process. However in many cases his worldview fails him – it does not tell him what is the best course of action, and he indulges in participative decision-making then. The problem is that the people he asks for are neither as invested in AAP as he is, nor are they as aware of the internal issues, strengths and weaknesses. And so the decision making itself is flawed, not to mention the quality of the decisions in furthering AAPs causes.
The solution for AAP is for Kejriwal is to brush up his economic and social understanding of India, which should then help him take decisions for himself.