An insider’s account from Vikramaditya Sangwan…..
Exactly two years ago, the entire political class of India was under siege from a riveting anti-corruption movement emanating from the Ramlila grounds of New Delhi. The movement was initiated by the famous social activist Anna Hazare. He had the support of the former bureaucrats Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi. Frustrated by unemployment, diminishing opportunities and the ever-increasing prices of everyday commodities, men, women and youth have joined the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement. Popular dissatisfaction was also fueled by the government’s tilt towards the private sector and MNCs in it’s rush to increase the national economic growth rate. Added to this, was a total disconnection with the electorate and, above all, corruption in high places and briber. The IAC continued to garner considerable support and credibility.
With the anti-corruption agitation proliferating in the country through walkouts, social media and candle-marches, the central government conceded the demand for a law against corruption. Some say the government yielded ground, keeping in mind the public protests at Tehrir Square in Cairo (Egypt) in January 2011. This may present a false comparison; however, it elucidates the profound and cross-regional effects of popular uprisings in the Arab world. Ultimately, talks between the government and the lead agitators of the IAC broke down. The government rejected the major demands of the agitators proposed in the draft Bill against corruption.
After the betrayal by the government, the leader of IAC Anna Hazare re-invigorated the movement ; Hazare declared a hunger strike, playing the Pied Piper. As a result, a parliamentary session was called by the government, making several assurances in an attempt to convince Hazare to end his hunger strike; but the Bill against corruption was nowhere in sight. This latest setback led to the dissipation of IAC momentum and the collapse of the IAC leadership. However, Arvind Kejriwal, a former leader of the IAC, announced the launch of a new political party “AAP” (Aam Aadmi Party or Common Man’s Party) on October 2, 2012. Hazare, a former confidant of Kejriwal, completely shunned the decision of his former co-leader to enter electoral politics. The cracks were apparent, but as time would tell, they were in no way catastrophic.
Leading from the front, Kejriwal created history within a year by winning a pariamentary seat against the three-time Chief Minister of Delhi, Smt. Sheila Dikshit. A stunning debut in the recent elections, the formation of a government in the country’s capital, a swearing-in ceremony amid scores of ardent supporters; things could not have got any better for Kejriwal’s party. Buoyed by the overwhelming performance and public response, the newly elected C.M. of the National Capital Delhi soon declared that the AAP would contest the parliamentary elections in the country due this year.Though AAP did get a decisive mandate in its favour, the AAP’s victory shows there is also a chance for the young and seemingly disenfranchised. The willingness of the Delhiites to encourage the arrival of an innovative yet peripheral party is refreshing. Since entering the Delhi election foray with its promise of systemic overhaul and transformative politics, the AAP has moved at a frenetic pace. Beginning to act on its various pledges and capturing the imagination of a wider audience across the country, the AAP looks like a force to be reckoned with. There is a rush of eminent people signing up to join the new party; this unique appeal is closely monitored by mainstream and increasingly disillusioned parties.
The AAP’s arrival has set the tone for Congress and the main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). However, it seems increasingly clear that the AAP’s main target is the BJP; indeed, the AAP aims to capture and re-define existing anti-incumbency sentiment.AAP’s greatest achievement lies in it’s record of clean electoral victories. As of yet, the AAP has not had to resort to so-called ‘money politics’. Perhaps more importantly, it has not relied on potentially poisonous and inflammatory rhetoric concerning caste, creed or religious affiliation.
On the other hand, mainstream parties, having declared ‘winnability’ to be their ‘mantra’, have strengthened illicit ties with businessmen. Such a path has proved to be a slippery slope, with mainstream parties unable to find a way out of this impasse. Taking a leaf out of AAP’s book, some major political parties in India are now trying to re-engage with both local and regional electorates. After witnessing the swift progress of the AAP, these parties are now reverting to a rhetoric which espouses democratic accountability. This is in spite of the fact that they continue to deny corruption and have been loathe to act on it unless forced by the courts. Surely this is where the success of the AAP becomes both a exceptional case study and an important bench mark towards cleaner elections in India.
Vikramaditya Sangwan completed his Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering at Kurukshetra University (India) in July 2013. Whilst studying for his degree, Vikramaditya was engaged in student campaigns and frequently wrote for the student newspaper.
Edited by Michael Tavares