Aam Aadmi Party: A Milestone in Indian Politics
An ordinary middle-class man becomes the face of the anti-corruption movement, fighting for the common man’s cause: Arvind Kejriwal, an IITian. Some members of the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement decided to peel away, form a group and change from being a forum of social activism into a political party. Naming itself Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), it contested the New Delhi legislative elections in 2013 and emerged as a political force, going on to form a government with outside support this January. The AAP has changed the traditional face of Indian elections, with the fervour of anti-corruption touching a chord among the great Indian middle class.
When founder of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) Arvind Kejriwal was sworn in as the Chief Minister of the Union Territory of Delhi, heading a minority government, a surge of excitement shot through the country since a new chapter had begun in Indian politics and governance. The fledgling party came second in the December 2013 elections, winning 28 of the 70 seats. With no party emerging a clear winner, capable of forming a government on its own, the AAP decided to form the government with outside support from the Congress. Against a background of a series of scams, there is a general hope that India can look forward to corruption and scandal-free governments in other States and at the Centre as well.
The Aam Admi Party
The AAP (meaning Party of the Common Man, whose acronym translates to the Hindi you) is a phenomenon for several reasons. It was started by a first-time politician and is not the offshoot of an age-old party. It started by accepting public donations – from former law minister Shanti Bhushan and a group of about 20 Indians residing in the USA. The party can be viewed as a spiritual child of Anna Hazare, the indefatigable crusader against corruption.
The founders of the AAP were all a part of the IAC movement which was agitating for the enactment of the Lok Pal Bill to enable the setting up of ‘people’s courts’ to investigate and try cases of corruption among public servants. They were all a prominent part of Hazare’s fast at the Ram Lila maidan demanding immediate passing of the Act. The Anna Hazare ‘anti-corruption’ movement caught the imagination of people everywhere, from 2011. While Hazare was firm in his belief that this movement should not be politicised, Kejriwal and a few others felt that agitation alone could not bring about the desired change in the system while working from within could. In other words, they felt the need of the hour was to enter the political system themselves, and thus the political party emerged in October 2012 and was officially launched a month later. The Election Commission (EC) recognised the AAP as a political party in March 2013. The AAP chose the broom as its election symbol in the 2013 Delhi election. On December 28, 45-year old Kejriwal was sworn in as Chief Minister of Delhi. The swearing-in ceremony was held at the Ram Lila maidan, making it possible for lakhs of ordinary people to witness it.
The AAP Promise
The AAP made an impressive debut in the Delhi elections based on its promise of free water to every household with a water meter (up to 20 kilolitres). The AAP’s major premise is that the promise of equality and justice that is enshrined in our Constitution has not been upheld by successive governments. The common man, who was enslaved by an oppressive foreign power, remains enslaved by the political elite. Drawing on the Gandhian concept of swaraj, the AAP promises that the government will be directly accountable to its people. It will hold public meetings, as a way of getting to know people’s grievances. In short it will be a government for the people and not a government for the government.
Taking on electricity and water cost in Delhi, Kejriwal promised that he would bring it down if he formed a government. His argument was that a nexus between private companies and the government was the cause for higher than justifiable prices. The AAP was very vocal in condemning the ‘rape culture’ in Delhi and called for better law enforcement.
He also promised enactment of the Jan Lokpal Bill within 15 days of forming the government.
The AAP Phenomenon
Initially ridiculed and written off as a featherweight non- contestant, the AAP benefited from several bold initiatives. Using the social media effectively and inducting highly principled and motivated volunteers, it embarked on a campaign of door to door canvassing to spread its message in Delhi. It was helped by the focus on Delhi, a geographically small and relatively sensitised State.
The entire nation was agitated about corruption and government inaction on several critical issues. The common man was resigned to the situation as something too large to be handled, but the price rise and high cost of living were major burdens.
The AAP touched a chord in every individual who was angry with the system and gave them hope that at last something could be done.
An Endorsement for Change
The result in Delhi was a total rejection of the ruling party and an endorsement for change. Even though the established BJP with substantial resources garnered more seats, for a new entrant the AAP did amazingly well.
Kejriwal has thus far stayed true to his promise of swaraj. He has referred crucial issues to the people for their decision. For example, on the question of whether to form a government by accepting support from the Congress party, the AAP held a series of meetings and a collection of views through SMS. These steps were not only consistent with the party’s stated values but were also a politically smart move.
On assuming office, the AAP has quickly moved in terms of cost of water and cost of electricity. They have also obtained permission for the private electricity companies to be audited by the CAG.
The AAP’s success in Delhi has opened the floodgates in terms of people’s desire to become a part of this movement. Prominent personalities are joining the party every day, including high profile professionals who are quitting their careers to do so. The AAP has announced its intent to contest the Lok Sabha elections scheduled to be held within a few months. It has launched a membership drive that will take the party strength to one crore in a few weeks.
Infighting and Detraction
The party is not without detractors. Internal dissension has started in the form of some disgruntled members finding fault with their leader. Other political parties, waking up from a state of denial, are trying to score points against the AAP at every opportunity. These things are to be expected in an open democratic society and can be seen as healthy signs.
While the AAP has been quick to deliver on promises there are many challenges ahead. First, it is still a one-man party, being carried forward by the charisma of its leader Kejriwal. It is essential to find credible leaders in order to move ahead. To find leaders with impeccable backgrounds and a selfless drive to serve the nation is indeed the first challenge.
The second and more important challenge is to find an economic model that will deliver not only a clean government to its people but also a continuously improving standard of living – in other words, growth. It is said that good economics is bad politics. The converse may be equally true. It is a long-term challenge for the people’s party and people’s government to deliver economic growth.