Here comes the AAP!
What is it that drives the Aam Aadmi Party and scares the daylights out of the Congress, the BJP and others?
The Aam Aadmi Party owes much of its success to the educated, urban middle class of Delhi
They came, they campaigned and they conquered New Delhi. Regardless of how worn-out this clichéd expression may sound, nothing fits the description better when the subject under discussion is the victory of the Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi state elections. Out of the 70 assembly seats, it has won 28. Its rivals, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, have won 32 and 8 seats, respectively. Delhi has traditionally been a Congress stronghold and, in fact, Congress leader Sheila Dikshit was Delhi’s chief minister for three consecutive terms.
Ruling the state for 15 years filled Dikshit with such confidence that she arrogantly made some remarks whose hollowness will haunt her for a long time. “Who is Arvind Kejriwal? What is AAP? Can you call it a party that can be compared to the Congress or the BJP?” Dikshit disdainfully asked reporters on polling day.
She got the answer within hours when the ‘nonentity’ chairman of the AAP, Arvind Kejriwal defeated her in her very own constituency with a margin of 25,000 votes. Some other Congress and BJP giants who were defeated by AAP’s relatively unknown candidates were three-times Congress MLA and minister Raj Kumar Chauhan who was defeated by 25-year-old former journalist Rakhi Birla and Congress heavyweight Prem Singh who was defeated by Ashok Kumar Chauhan Singh had the distinction of never losing an election from
his constituency since 1958; Delhi’s Health Minister, A K Walia who was defeated by AAP’s Ashok Kumar Binny. These are just a few names from a long list of Congress veterans who bit the dust that day.
So what made the AAP a force to be reckoned with in such a short time, given that the party was formally registered by the Election Commission of India in March 2013? Its manifesto, for one. The AAP raised its voice against corruption at all levels of governance; its anti-graft stance struck a chord with the masses. With one-thirds of the legislators facing criminal cases, there couldn’t have been a more opportune time to start a campaign against corruption.
AAP also espoused populist causes and took a firm stand on issues that affect the common man – inflated electricity and water bills, for example – to gain their sympathy and support in the process. Arvind Kejriwal sat with rickshaw driver for days as they protested against the government’s decision of banning advertisements on rickshaws. The central theme of AAP’s manifesto is to empower the common man. It believes in giving people the right to reject and replace public servants holding important posts if they are guilty of committing corruption. It wants legislation for decentralization of power.
The other reason given for AAP’s unexpected victory is its candidates. When the party announced that it would participate in Delhi’s state elections, it set an example by selecting candidates with unblemished records. From teachers to journalists to former public servants, it gave tickets to candidates many of whom did not have any previous experience of politics but had a clean professional and personal record and were sincere to the party’s cause. The party also clicked with the masses because, in addition to a central manifesto, it announced a separate manifesto for each constituency that focused on its peculiar set of problems.
But perhaps what appealed to the people the most was its slogan of change. This fascination with change is not limited to India and it seems to be the one idea that catches the imagination of the masses of the Indian subcontinent like no other. In Pakistan, the PTI, a relatively new entrant to the political field in comparison with the established parties, emerged as the second biggest party in terms of votes and the third-biggest party in terms of seats in the May 2013 elections.. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it almost whitewashed the ANP which had been ruling the province for the past five years.
Although comparisons are drawn between the AAP and the PTI, what differentiates both parties is that the PTI has existed for over ten years and was able to make its presence felt in the power corridors after years of struggle. The rise of AAP, on the other hand, is a sudden phenomenon. And although it has succeeded in grabbing the second-largest number of seats in the state assembly, it initially refused to form a government. It is hard to say that the reason for its initial reluctance to take charge of this all-important state was its principled stance of not forming an alliance with its rivals – the BJP and the Congress – or the lack of confidence in its ability to undertake this huge responsibility.
Delhi was on the verge of a constitutional deadlock with AAP’s refusal to sit on the treasury benches, and the inability of both the BJP and the Congress to form a government because of lack of the required number of seats. After conducting a referendum, the AAP finally decided to take over the reins of Delhi with outside support from the Congress. Its performance in this all important state will determine its political future as the AAP has its eyes set on greater goals – the Lok Sabha polls.
To contest the general elections in 2014 may not be easy, as, apart from the performance factor, the dynamics of other states are completely different from those of a metro state like Delhi. Here, the AAP owed much of its success to the educated, urban middle class which is highly active on the social media – a tool extensively used by the AAP to run its election
Whether AAP will manage to win the people’s hearts and votes in other states will become clear in the coming weeks as political parties gear up for the general elections.
campaign. The same is not the case in the majority of Indian states. In rural areas, for example, votes are mostly divided along caste and religious lines. What is in AAP’s favor, however, is that it won 29 percent of the Dalit votes in Delhi albeit in the absence of the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Whether AAP will manage to win the people’s hearts and votes in other states will become clear in the coming weeks as political parties gear up for the general elections. This party will face tough competition from traditional parties, especially the Congress, which must have taken stock of the situation. However, given the people’s longing for change, the AAP just might do the unthinkable.