Sleepless in Delhi

December 16, 2013


Arvind Kejriwal. -Photo by AFP
Arvind Kejriwal. -Photo by AFP
The fledgling Aam Aadmi Party headed by former bureaucrat-turned-activist Arvind Kejriwal stopped the Bharatiya Janata Party from wiping the Congress 4-0 in the Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh state assembly elections.

The one-year-old AAP, a product of the Anna Hazare-led corruption movement of 2011, put up a stunning show by winning 28 out of Delhi’s 70 Assembly seats, leaving the BJP short of a majority.

Toppling the Congress by a massive margin in Rajasthan and retaining Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the BJP rode the anti-Congress mood in the country.

The only consolation for the Congress came when the party retained power in the electorally insignificant state of Mizoram in northeast India.

There’s little doubt that with parliamentary elections four months away, the impressive performance by the BJP suggests that it could well emerge as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha.

Its hardline leader Narendra Modi seemed to make an impression in some areas, but came a cropper in Delhi and failed to help matters in Chhattisgarh where the BJP just managed to scrape through.

But Modi appears to have succeeded in his mission of pushing himself forward as a leader who is no longer confined to the state of Gujarat, which brought him to the national spotlight in the first place.

There’s a clear and present possibility that the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance government, whose performance has been judged as very poor by the electorate, will not manage a third term in office.

The overpowering anti-Central government, anti-Congress mood ensured that even half-way decent governments in Rajasthan and Delhi were ejected from office by the electorate.

The AAP also capitalised on this anti-Congress sentiment by putting up an impressive show in Delhi – the first-ever elections contested by the party in its year-long existence.

Impressive as the BJP’s victories were, its inability to return to power in Delhi raises questions about whether the party is the natural choice of the voter when a credible alternative is available.

The AAP targeted both the Congress and the BJP, holding these established political parties responsible for the rot in the country. After raising the corruption question, the AAP painted a sorry picture of overall governance in Delhi and the rest of the country.

A volunteer-based party, AAP raised funds from individuals and invited candidates to contest who had probably never seen the insides of a political party office before.

The enthusiasm and commitment of AAP workers, many of whom came to campaign in Delhi from other parts of India and even from overseas, touched a chord in the electorate.

Rich and poor, Muslim and Hindu, upper and lower caste all seemed to have voted with equal gusto for the AAP, which pulled a real rabbit out of Delhi’s hat.

Tired by the promises of established political parties that good governance was round the corner, the AAP has proved that the people of Delhi believe that idealistic political practice is not just possible but essential.

Sceptics like this writer believed that AAP might win up to 10 seats, but the party took as many as 28 seats and 27 per cent of the vote share in Delhi.

With electoral success comes responsibility.

Now that the BJP has refused to form the government despite winning 32 seats in Delhi, all eyes are on the AAP whether it will form a government with outside support or run a minority administration.

The Congress, which offered support to AAP, has been asked 18 questions by Arvind Kejriwal. On Monday morning, the Indian Express newspaper reported that central rule looked imminent since no party was keen on forming the government.

Unlike other regional parties in the country, AAP is planning to spread to states beyond Delhi and plans to contest the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as well.

There’s little doubt that the party can make a dent in the fortunes of established political parties. Already, AAP’s performance in Delhi would have sent a signal across the country – that shoestring, new politics – combining traditional outreach and new media initiatives – is possible.

AAP holds out a ray of hope for those who believe that India needs a new set of politicians who put people first.