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AAP landslide: A dawn of new politics for India

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aapThe results of just concluded elections for five Indian states, interpreted by many as the “semi-final” before general elections in 2014, has produced results of far-reaching consequence for the country’s politics and democracy.

While the hammering dealt to the ruling Congress Party indicates a possible changing of the guard at the center in favor of the Bharatiya Janata Party, an extreme right nationalist party, the stunning debut of the one-year-old Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), or the Common Man’s Party, signals the arrival of new politics in India.

The party, which emerged on the backdrop of the collapse of an inspiring urban protest movement led by the noted anti-corruption icon Anna Hazare in August 2011, has generated unprecedented national attention for its stunning electoral successes in Delhi.

kejriwalConsisting of old and very young volunteers, housewives, retired officials, journalists and social workers and led by Arvind Kejriwal, a bureaucrat-turned citizen activist known for his clean image and straight-talking, the AAP capitalized on the growing public anger about the discredited political class, their increasing disconnect with average citizens on a range of issues such as price rises, poor governance especially law and order and access to basic public services, among other issues.

Out of a house of 70 Delhi Assembly seats, it was able to notch up 28 seats, a rare feat in India.

The success of the AAP movement has shaken the old-style politics that laid primacy on money and patronage routes for electoral mobilization. The AAP’s success has removed the heavy “entry-barriers” to Indian politics by ensuring the elections of ordinary people with extraordinary resolves.

There are others who would like to bet big on the AAP’s recent successes. To them, the AAP’s spectacular Delhi debut can be converted into a springboard for the 2014 elections, thereby emerging as the third entity between the two mainstream national parties.

The AAP has an opportunity to emerge as India’s “new Left.” There are other idealists to whom the AAP’s arrival can change the politics and governance in India’s cities, especially mega cities which have been overshadowed by state politics, which is overtly pro-rural.

Given the fact that India is rapidly urbanizing, the success of the APP may be able to free cities from the tyranny of rural politics.

They hope the success of the AAP will encourage more such political entrepreneurs to emerge in mega cities such as Mumbai and Kolkata.

Yet, there are an equal number of analysts who view the AAP’s success as an isolated example and that too much should not be read into its nationwide replication. To them, India is not Delhi. Being the national capital region, the headquarters of most media outlets and active civil society participants and citizenry, the AAP’s success has been largely manufactured and cannot be replicated elsewhere for reasons such as dominant role of identity politics, apart from finding suitable local level leadership and issues to ignite such localized stirrings.

Also, replicating the Delhi experiment would require raising a huge amount of money which is difficult to do legally.

Moreover, history has been very harsh on such political outfits that are born out of a single issue, in this instance anti-corruption. Finally, high expectations and internal contradictions, as many of them are drawn from diverse segments, would come as a major barrier in their national progression.

Nevertheless, the movement has already arrived.

No matter whether it brings new politics or not, it has already impacted the old-style politics. With the union government indicating its willingness to pass the Ombudsman bill in the current session of the Parliament, it would be too early to write it off so soon.

Also, in the wake of the AAP’s impact, there are murmurs in political circles that they should be careful in keeping candidates with criminal pasts out of politics.

 (The author is a Senior Fellow with Observer Research Foundation, a public policy think tank headquartered in New Delhi) 

— Courtesy: ORF and Global Times; The article can also be read on http://orfonline.org


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