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?

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Jave­ria Shakil

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.

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