Will the AAP mania spread?
Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury
Sometimes, in the hopeless political landscape of the developing world dominated by the entrenched political entities and age-old norms, comes some ray of hope, a breath of fresh air.
Aravind Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party (AAP) and Imran Khan’s PTI are two such new political forces in the horizon. AAP has won its third consecutive election very recently in the state of Delhi and with a resounding three fourths majority like the last time.
Both AAP in India and PTI in Pakistan became major political parties about seven years ago. PTI did quite well in Pakistan’s 2013 general election and that success turned it to a major political force. Around the same time, India’s AAP became a major political entity in the Indian capital of New Delhi with a similar anti-corruption agenda.
Although his domain is way bigger than Kejriwal’s, Imran Khan is finding it difficult to deliver due to the entrenched structural, cultural, and power equation problems of Pakistan. Kejriwal, however, was able to deliver despite a lot of hostility from the Modi government. Kejriwal also dealt with the rift within his party and emerged the ultimate winner.
In India, power is distributed between the centre and states through a centre list, state list, and concurrent list of subjects of governance and development. For Delhi, the law and order is in the hands of the centre unlike other states. Moreover, Delhi is divided into three municipalities which look after certain matters as local government authorities.
With the Modi wave, the BJP won all the three Delhi municipalities’ elections a few years ago. Also, boosted by the 2019 national election win, the Saffron was eyeing the coveted and prestigious Delhi state more than anything else. They also considered AAP as a thorn in the side of their nationwide electoral success stories.
Kejriwal and his party steeled their nerves and focused on their achievements (eg, reform of Delhi schools, establishment of effective Moholla Clinics, reduction of utility bill, etc). AAP operates in a transparent IT/app-based crowd-funding environment, rather than receiving open or hidden funding from tycoons and big interest groups. Hence, it is totally pro-people and free from vested interests. Also, unlike the liberal intellectuals and politicians, AAP maintained an intelligent distance from the Shaheen Bagh protest against CAA and NRC which the Sangh Parivar and pro-BJP media have labeled as anti-national and anti-Hindu.
Despite its various publicity stunts, most Indians realize that BJP, like other established parties, is a corrupt party by and large. Its incompetence in governance and development is also getting crystallized day by day.
The anti-Pakistan and Hindu appeal worked in the context of the Pulwama-Balakot drama, but it will eventually wane as economy has started doing poorly. Despite past success, BJP has recently lost the state election in Jharkhand. However, the Saffron propaganda machine has actually been able to increase BJP’s vote percentage from 31 to 40. But the AAP percentage went as high as 52 and thus that was effectively nullified and, despite some BJP gains, the AAP was able to maintain the overwhelming three-fourth majority it had held in the Delhi assembly.
The AAP model of politics has proven that real change in and through democratic politics -- even in the developing world -- is possible. The party has renewed hope for many, which was in perpetual decline followed by the global rise of populism, xenophobia, and identity politics which has also been mired in corruption in the least developed parts of the world.
Regardless of operating in smaller and comparatively more educated domains of Delhi and one or two more states, eg, Punjab, the AAP mania has the potential to expand to other conventional territories of Indian politics.
If that actually happens, it will be a game changer for electoral politics in India and it might even be emulated as an extraordinary example in the other regions of the developing world.