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17 December, 2013

Harbinger of new politics

BRP Bhaskar
The Gulf Today

India’s mainstream political parties stand stupefied, not knowing how to cope with the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which made a stunning debut in the recent assembly elections in Delhi state.

A takeoff from Anna Hazare’s campaign for a tough anti-corruption law, the AAP dashed the Bharatiya Janata Party’s hope of regaining power and pushed the Congress party, which ruled the state for 15 years, down to the third place.

Its name comes from the Hindi words meaning Common Man. It chose as its election symbol the broom to signify its determination to clean the polluted political arena.

Hazare wasn’t pleased when Arvind Kejriwal, who was by his side when he fasted in Delhi in support of the demand for a Jan Lokpal (people’s ombudsman) decided to enter electoral politics and floated the party a year ago. But Kejriwal went ahead and drew to the party a large number of people, mostly urban youth, ready to devote time and money to advance the cause of clean politics.

Pollsters had said AAP would cut into the votes of the main parties resulting in a fractured verdict. The party did even better than they forecast. It came within striking distance of the leader of the pack, with a tally of 28 seats against the BJP’s 31.

The Congress got eight seats and the remaining three went to the Janata Dal (United), the Shiromani Akali Dal and an independent. The seat distribution blocked the BJP’s chance of mustering the support of five members needed to claim an absolute majority in the house of 70.

Kejriwal, 45, an engineering graduate, had worked as officer in the Income-tax department for 11 years before quitting to become a social activist. He received the Magsaysay award in 2006 for his contribution to the Right to Information campaign. He used the award money to found a body called Public Cause Research Foundation. He played a role in the drafting of the Jan Lokpal Bill which Hazare wants Parliament to pass.

When AAP announced plans to contest the Delhi elections, the Congress and the BJP did not view it as a serious contender. Chief Minister Sheila Dixit, who was to lead the Congress campaign for a fourth term, dismissed it as a bunch of broom-wielders. The BJP dubbed it a vote-cutter party and accused its leaders of being Congress agents.

As the elections approached the BJP realised the AAP had to be taken seriously. It asked Narendra Modi, its biggest crowd-puller, to address six rallies in the state, instead of the scheduled two. It did not help. The BJP’s vote share dropped from 36 per cent in 2008 to 34 per cent.

The AAP’s was no fluke performance. It cut into the votes of all parties to become the second largest party with 30 per cent of the votes polled. The Congress was the worst sufferer. Its vote share fell from 41 per cent to 25 per cent.

The AAP said the decimation of the Congress showed beyond doubt that there was yearning for change. The BJP’s inability to secure a majority showed the voters who wanted change were looking not for a substitute but for alternative politics.

It soon became evident that that there can be no smooth transition to alternative politics. After the BJP admitted to Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung that it lacks the numbers to form the government, he called in Kejriwal, as the leader of the next largest party. The Congress informed the Lt-Governor that it was ready to extend unconditional support to the AAP to form government. The BJP said it would provide constructive support.

Kejriwal, who saw the offers of support as a trap, wrote to the leaders of the two parties asking them to clarify their position on 18 issues. Some of the issues do not relate to Delhi administration, but fall in the realm of the Central government, led by the Congress, or the City Corporation, controlled by the BJP.

The BJP accused the AAP of making fun of democracy and shying away from responsibility.

While Delhi state’s future remains uncertain, enthused by the assembly election results, the AAP, which many view as the harbinger of a new kind of politics, has announced plans to contest the Lok Sabha elections due in less than five months. It remains to be seen whether it can replicate on the national scene its performance in a minuscule state which is almost entirely urban. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 17, 2013.

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