A snapshot of the Aam Aadmi Party

Preeti Singh

The past few days bore witness to a city under the siege of its own government, led by the state’s chief minister. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader and Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal – first-time politician who rode to power on the back of an unprecedented level of success for a debutante political party in the Delhi elections – took to the streets to protest against the apparent apathy of the Delhi Police in punishing the inaction of their members. 

Genesis of the party
Although the Aam Aadmi Party – literally the ‘Common Man Party’ – is a little over a year old, the genesis of the party lies in an anti-corruption agitation that dates back nearly three years. Led by the septuagenarian Gandhian activist Anna Hazare, the agitation revolved around the demand for a public ombudsman bill (Jan Lok Pal Bill), to address complaints of corruption against public functionaries, especially high-ranking bureaucrats, and politicians. Following in the wake of a series of high-profile scams and corruption allegations against equally high-ranking politicians and bureaucrats, a group of citizen activists caught the imagination of Indians across the country and catapulted Arvind Kejriwal into the limelight.

A former Indian Revenue Service officer, Kejriwal knows his way around the corridors of power. Albeit having stepped into the limelight as a vehement anti-establishment agitator, he soon broke with the Hazare camp over differences regarding the direction the movement was taking and whether or not to politicize its success. Opting to challenge the establishment on its terra firma, he formed the AAP (the abbreviation itself stands for “you” in Hindi) in November 2012 and decided to contest the state elections in Delhi exactly a year after the party’s formation. 

With a broom as its party symbol, the party’s message has centred on the cleanup of corruption in the country with its stated goal of ushering in a ‘political revolution’. With 438,319 followers on Twitter and 1,485,688 Facebook likes, a January 22, 2014 dated official press release of the AAP now boasts of a membership that has reportedly reached five million (50 lakhs). It claims to have stringently screened its candidates’ backgrounds for any past criminal behaviour and has been riding high on the financial and moral support of ordinary citizens, many of whom see it as their only hope in a political landscape riddled with corruption and high-handedness.

In one of the biggest political surprises – and upsets – in recent history, AAP won 28 out of a total of 70 seats in the Delhi Legislative Assembly and, after changing their minds about sitting it out on the opposition benches, the AAP team formed a minority government with the outside (and ostensibly ‘conditional’) legislative support of its arch nemesis – the Congress Party, whose mandate was reduced to a mere eight seats after ruling Delhi for over a decade under its CM Sheila Dikshit. 

The Party, of course, has already had its share of controversies, beginning with a sting operation conducted by a little-known media house in which two of its candidates were ‘caught’ agreeing to extend their support in recovering money connected to some land deals in return for campaign donations. The latest centers on the CM’s outraged sit-in protest that brought the capital city to a halt. 

Agitation is what the AAP knows—and does—best. Many are worried that the Party might resort to agitation rather than actual administration in the days and weeks ahead, with an eye towards posturing for the general elections later this year. Added to this, in recent days, was the much-publicised rebellion of an AAP legislator who was ostensibly denied a cabinet berth; and the Delhi home minister and AAP party member’s comments against Nigerian nationals that have cast the party in a negative light.

The recent developments have also had an adverse effect on the party’s donation drive, representing the flip side of its popularity and based on what may be construed as political naiveté in the high-stakes game of an impending national election. 

National ambitions
The Party declared its intention to fight the general elections for the “maximum number” of seats in the Lok Sabha (Lower House), for which polls will be held in the summer, even as Kejriwal has—for now—not expressed an intention to fight the Lok Sabha elections himself. 

A voter poll earlier this week showed Kejriwal as the most popular non-Congress, non-BJP prime ministerial candidate. He was also voted the most honest politician in India, followed by the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate and Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. According to the India Today Group/Voter Mood of the Nation Poll, the AAP is currently set to win 8 percent of the national vote share, roughly translating to about ten Lok Sabha seats. This will make them the third-largest party in terms of vote share.

One of the most significant contributions of the AAP to the Indian political discourse has been that it exemplifies the existence – and possible efficacy – of an alternative to the two main political parties, especially in the regional context and in future state elections, though the national stage might be a different matter altogether. Also, with the Delhi Chief Minister’s moves now being watched by the entire nation via round the clock news media, it remains to be seen how he will translate electoral promises into the political will to govern with the same transparency, administrative efficiency and public ethics that the AAP has been demanding of others.