AAP faces litmus test

Testing times

AAP faces litmus test

The barely one year old AAP’s performance in Delhihas shaken up the national parties, who thought elections could be reduced to kaunbanegapradhanmantri.

Since December 08 not a day has passed without the fledgling party occupying the front pages of newspapers. The unprecedented coverage cannot be explained away as a natural corollary of the AAP’slocation in Delhi or as a consequence of the party’s success infulfilling its bijli-pani promises.

There are a number of reasons whythe party has evoked more interest than any other regional party and political experiment in the recent past. First, it has demolished the myth that elections are a prohibitively expensive affair. Second, it has shown that at least in pockets a new party can quickly capture political space. Third, it seems to have succeeded in mobilizing a diverse group of urban voters around their everyday concerns without directly engaging with their caste, religious, and class contradictions. Fourth, established parties are bending over their backs to eliminate issues that could favour the AAP. A few examples are in order. After the Delhi elections, the two national parties came togetherandhastily enactedan anti-corruption legislation. The largest party in Delhi’s newly elected assembly violated its standard operating procedure and refused to engineer a majority. Rajasthan’s new chief minister is adapting to a simpler lifestyle, while her Haryana and Maharashtra counterparts have been forced to review the prices of municipal supplies. Maharashtra’s government has also been forced to reconsider its earlier decision on the AdarshScam report. Fifth, the AAP fielded a number of minority, lower caste, and women candidates.Despite the middle class tag it managed to win nine out 12 reserved seats at the expense of the Congress and the BSP, an authentic party of the lower castes. The AAP, in fact, went a step further and gave cabinet portfolios to two of its SClegislators. Sixth, the AAPseems to be preparing to contest as many as half the seats in the coming parliamentary elections. In recent times, no other new political party has tried toexpand so fast.

While everyone justifiably looks forwardto change, the AAP’s ability to replicate its electoral success elsewhere requires careful scrutiny.To understand its potential we have togo beyond headlines. Consider an example of how headlines could possibly mislead. Senior professionals from the IT, banking, and aviation industries made a beeline for the AAP, whenretired bureaucrats with experience in public service were joining another party. One of these bureaucratsis known for his significant contribution to fostering local self-government in an insurgency-hit state. The first note of caution is in order here: the broadly positivebias in media coverage could make us overestimate the AAP’s potential.

Now let us revisit the Delhi elections. Delhi’s high population density, geographical compactness, Hinglish-speaking population, numerous institutions of higher education and non-governmentalorganisations that can be tapped for volunteers, 24x7 coverage by national media as well asgood public transport and telecommunication networks facilitated direct campaigning at a low cost. Also, the party couldavoid divisive issues because Delhi has been free of large-scale communal violence in the recent past and does not have an entrenched sons-of-the-soil movement. Finally, the AAP faced a relatively easy target, a chief minister seeking office for the fourth consecutive timeamid unprecedented criticism of her party’s governments at the state and centre.(Only JyotiBasu, Manik Sarkar, and PawanChamlinghave defied anti-incumbency sentiments on three or more occasions.) This combination of factors is not necessarily available inother parts of the country, especially, in the rural areas;the AAP’s limited success in Delhi’s periphery supports this contention. This is the second note of caution.

Even in cities, the AAP’s appeal would vary with local conditions. For instance, while the party has outlived Anna’s Jan Lokpal movement, it is worth recalling that Anna did not find much support in Mumbai. This brings us to the point that in Delhi the party could rely on prior grassroots work of its founders. But in most other parts of the countryit needs to begin from the first scratch, as evident from newsreports which suggest that it has hired private bodies to carry out background checks of candidates. Expanding the party would require absorbing individuals/organizations and/or aligning with likeminded organizations. In both cases the party will face organizational problems.There are three reasons for this. First, in Delhi the AAP’s team had a prior experience of successfully working together in the same environment. Similar levels of comfort may be difficult to achieve with new comers in alien terrains. Second, absorbing other outfits will pose difficulties asorganizational culture and loyalties do not change overnight. Third, allies will simultaneously try to benefit from association with the AAP and also protect their turf from encroachment. Our third note of caution relates to the difficulty in rapidly expanding an organization. It alsoturns our attention to the party’s internal organization.

At present at the national level, the AAP has a Political Affairs Committee (PAC), a National Executive (NE, includes all PAC members), and a National Council (about whose composition its website is silent). The thumbnail biographies on its website suggest that there is a significant difference between the public experience and educational background of the leaders of first two groups and assembly election candidates (excluding fourcontestants from the PAC/NE). Unsurprisingly, an overwhelming majority of AAP candidates irrespective of their success in elections and inclusion in the cabinet stand in the shadow of a handful of elected and unelected leaders. Will the aamAAP Aadmi’s vote on complex legislations be guided by decisions made outside the Vidhan/MohallaSabhas? The fourth note of caution follows: a growing AAP seems to lack systems to protect inner party democracy threatened by enormous inter-personal disparities.

The last note of caution relates to the party’s ability to navigate through contested terrains. Three examples are in order. First, whena party leader promised to work for more reservation, the new entrants from industries went silent. Second, another party leader’s suggestion that people should be able to vote on AFSPA enraged the “nationalists”and the “separatists” alike.Third, so far the party has shown interest only in reducing prices. It is not clear if it can hold its flock together when circumstances compel contrary policies.Together these examples suggest that we do not know if the party can engage a diverse population thatrefuses to behave like Homo economicus, who dutifullyrespond to changes in inflation and prices of municipal services.

To conclude, the AAP has a long distance to cover before it can be counted as a reliable national alternative. Perhaps people are expecting too much, too early. However, the AAP’s decision to contest only abouthalf the Lok Sabha seats and less than a half of the seven state assembly elections due this year shows that the hype notwithstanding the party is not unaware of its limits.

Hum AAP ki

* Medha Patkar, social activist

*  Meera Sanyal, former Royal Bank of Scotland CEO 

*  Remo Fernandes, singer

*  Mallika Sarabhai, dancer

*  Pawan Munjal, MD and CEO, Hero Motors

* Ajit Pal Singh, former India hockey captain

*  V Balakrishnan, formerly of Infosys 

* Alka Lamba, former NSUI (Congress’ students wing) president

* Former bureaucrat Vijay Pandhare in Maharashtra

*  AAP woos S P Udayakumar, leader of movement against Kudankulam nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu

*  Planning AAP entry: Atul Kumar Anjaan, general secretary, CPI

* Former IAS officer Arun Bhatia wants to join and contest LS polls from Pune

*  Refused entry: Samajwadi Party’s Kamal Farooqui

*  Uninterested in AAP: Haryana IAS officer Ashok Khemka

*  AAP plans to use dabbawals in Mumbai like the autorickshaws in Delhi

*  AAP seriously contemplating fielding 

actor Anupam Kher against Congress leader Priya Dutt in Mumbai North West

*  AAP wants former IPS officer and lawyer Y P Singh and his wife Abha Singh (also a lawyer) to contest in Maharashtra 

The AAP effect


*  CM Vasundhara Raje cuts her security by half; convoy to stop at traffic signals

*  Over 300 policemen taken off VIP security



*  On Jan 1, the BS Hooda-led Congress government announces a rebate of Rs 200 on power bills every two months;

*  Promises not to hike power tariffs in the current fiscal. 


 Andhra Pradesh

*  Congress leaders in Greater Hyderabad want drinking water free. They want wastage (40% per day) of water and free supply to VIP areas curtailed;

*  Labour Minister and Greater Hyderabad Congress head D Nagender pitches for the Delhi model. 



*  After Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam demands  implementation of AAP Delhi power tariff model in Mumbai, Shiv Sena jumps on the bandwagon making similar demand;

*  Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray: “For the past 6 years, I have been making demands similar to the one’s being made now by AAP…give me the reins of the state and I will usher in corruption-free governance.”


Unruffled by AAP

*  Bihar CM Nitish Kumar not unduly worried over AAP overtures. “I don’t get carried away by this kind of media wave on AAP.”

*  Bihar energy minister Bijendra Yadav on reducing power tariff: “electricity rate for consumer is already low, there is no need to copy the AAP government on the issue. We are providing power to the people at a rate less than our purchase price.” 

*  War against corruption: one of the first to implement anti-corruption measures, Nitish Kumar government seized houses of corrupt bureaucrats and their other assets, acquired through illegal means, seized;

*  All the ministers, including CM and officers have to submit detailed account of their assets at the end of every calendar year 


*  Plans to contest 300 seats; first list to be out by Jan-end

*  UP, Haryana, Maharashtra, Punjab to be key states for AAP

*  Targets to raise Rs 100 cr to fight LS polls; has raised Rs 5 cr so far; collected Rs 20 cr for Delhi elections

*  Highest party fund collections in a day: Rs 38 lakh on Jan 1

*  Jan 5: Kicks off membership drive; waives Rs 10 membership fee; first day drive sees induction of 60,000 new members

*  Total members: 10 lakh so far; aims to take it to 1 cr by Jan-end; 5 lakh new members since Delhi election victory on Dec 8; 

*  322 offices across India

* Presence in 309 districts 

(The writer is an assistant professor at Azim Premji University, Bangalore) 

Related Stories

AAP obsessed with graft and sending people to jail

Cleverly formulated populist schemes

Comments (+)