The Aam Admi (Common Man) Party’s victory is yet again a crying reminder that the people’s power and poll verdict remain the final and unequivocal arbiter of the actions and performance of the political class
The landslide victory of the relatively new Aam Admi (Common Man) Party (AAP) formed in 2012 against the might of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress Party at the Delhi Legislative Assembly elections last week is yet again an example of the vibrant democracy that is India.
AAP led by Arvind Kerjival, an Indian Institute of Technology engineer who took the mantle of an anti-corruption campaigner and a crusader of the city’s lowest social strata, whose party’s symbol is a broom (Jharoo) swept 67 of the 70 seats of the Delhi Assembly. It significantly improved its performance at the 2013 elections, which produced a hung Assembly. BJP won the remaining 3 seats with its Chief Ministerial candidate being among those suffering a heavy defeat. The Congress Party, which ruled Delhi for 15 years until 2013, did not win a single seat with most of its candidates losing their deposits.
For the BJP juggernaut which seemed on an unstoppable roll after winning, in the wake of the large victory at the April-May 2014 general elections, the state elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and becoming the second largest elected party in the Jammu & Kashmir state elections, the debacle in Delhi is a sobering setback. Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Arvind Kerjival on the win and assured him of the central government’s complete support in the development of Delhi.
AAP’s 70-point Action Plan which focused on grassroots issues aimed at improving the lives of Delhi’s vast underclass through a crackdown on corruption and measures such as providing cheaper electricity, free water, safety of women or basic education struck the right cord among the multitude as AAP garnered 54% of the Delhi polls from voters from all walks of life. Although, state elections are driven by different voter considerations, the electorate has through the massive win given to AAP reminded the BJP that it cannot take the voter for granted in a context where the BJP’s government policies and actions are yet to improve the livelihoods of the people.
Lessons will be drawn from the defeat in Delhi by both the leadership of BJP and Congress. AAP’s victory is a reality check as it is yet another reminder to the political class that to avoid sanction by the people, an elected government has to deliver on the promises made to the people and in particular to the downtrodden as well as fulfil the pledge of reviving India’s economy to meet the aspirational needs of the people. The elections results in Delhi also show the maturity of the people to entrust the running of the affairs of the capital city of India to a new party with a clean image and which has vowed to reform Indian politics and society.
Occupying centre stage
There is a materially changed political landscape in India. The BJP has emerged as a powerful force with the clear ambition of extending its footprint over the whole of India from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Since taking power in May 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken a few game changing initiatives such as ‘Make in India’ to transform India into the manufacturing hub of the world by encouraging foreign companies to invest in India by setting up production plants in diverse sectors such as defence, railways, construction to gain access to the Indian market.
Other initiatives include Swachh Bharat to make India a cleaner and greener place, the opening of a bank account for every citizen, Girl child Education, Clean Ganga to clean and revive the River Ganges, Skilled India, Digital India or MyGov, a technology-driven web portal which enables citizens to contribute in a cogent way towards good governance by sharing their views, ideas and inputs on the above important initiatives taken by the Narendra Modi government. These inputs are monitored by the National Informatics Centre.
Since taking office, Prime Minister Modi has knitted through State visits and meetings with world leaders, stronger relations between India and inter alia the US, China, Japan, Russia or Australia aimed at boosting economic and trade ties as well as Foreign Direct Investments. There are rational expectations among economic actors that with appropriate reforms and well-honed policies, India will emerge to become a giant among world economies.
However, the multiple promises and high expectations created by the landslide BJP victory are yet to be met. The measures of the first Budget of the Modi government did not unlock the systemic bottlenecks crippling India. The government is yet to break logjams in Parliament and push major economic and institutional reforms or revive manufacturing and boost the economy. Substance will have to supersede slogans. Was the delay in delivering substance a causative factor in the AAP victory? Urgent actions are therefore needed to address grassroots issues and meet the people’s multiple expectations in terms of quality public services, employment, health, housing, improved standard of living, anti-corruption measures or to unleash India’s massive economic potential for the socio-economic benefit of the people.
AAP is the latest incarnation of grassroots movements led by social activists such as Anna Hazare who have since 2011 started a relentless crusade for more transparency and the elimination of corruption in public life. Their common cause has been to fight for the speedy enactment of the Jan Lokpal Bill, an anti-corruption bill drafted and drawn up by civil society activists in India. The basic aim of this Citizen’s Ombudsman Bill is to set up an independent body to investigate, punish and weed out corruption in public life, address grievances from citizens and protect whistle blowers.
AAP’s anti-graft stance and selfless sense of service to the people as well as its undertaking to take steps to satisfy the basic needs of the people of Delhi appealed to the voters who massively rallied to its cause. By wresting such a major victory, AAP has proved its credentials as a well organised, disciplined and credible party with tremendous micro-management acumen, capable of marshalling the broad support of the voters.
At his swearing in ceremony last Saturday, Kerjival pledged to make Delhi become the first corruption free city of India. In a country where every certificate or permit is an opportunity for graft, this would be major achievement. Time will tell. Learning the lessons from the large defeat suffered at the general elections last April-May when AAP could only elect 4 candidates out of 432 seats contested, Kerjival has announced that AAP will for the next five years focus on running Delhi and on improving the livelihoods of its citizens. He pledged a style of governance devoid of arrogance, high handedness and the trappings of a ‘VIP culture’, factors which have so often alienated the people from those voted to power.
AAP’s massive victory also reflects the fundamental changes in Indian society and the people who now demand and expect higher standards of good governance, probity and efficiency in running the affairs of the country from elected governments. It opens a new chapter in Indian politics and establishes new norms in political ethics in India.
Congress and other parties including the regional ones must adapt and be tuned to this new reality. The people’s power is asserting itself to shepherd this process. With Congress still struggling to find its way, the opposition space has shrunk. However, in spite of repeated defeats, its apparatchiks are bent on maintaining the status quo. Unless Congress reinvents itself into a new avatar with a national foothold around a new young and dynamic leadership unfettered by the crippling weight of dynastic politics and unwieldy political alliances, it runs the risk of being further sidelined in the new political landscape of India.
Democratic India needs a Congress Party which is once again inspired by the values and ideals of its great founding fathers as well as being able to imaginatively respond to the new aspirations of the people of India through an innovative programme capable of eliminating corruption, significantly improving the livelihoods of the people and unleashing the full potential of India as a modern, smart technology driven, inclusive and robust economy for the benefit of all its people.
In an uncanny way, the government and the political class in Mauritius would be wise to learn from the many lessons which can also be drawn from the above. The government remains under the vigilant scrutiny of the people to ensure that promises made on inter alia good governance, transparency, meritocracy, equal opportunities, employment, equality, inclusiveness or a second economic miracle, etc., are on track. Is that rigorously the case on all these key benchmarks and yardsticks of government performance and governance?
The AAP victory is yet again a crying reminder that the people’s power and poll verdict remain the final and unequivocal arbiter of the actions and performance of the political class.
* Published in print edition on 20 February 2015