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Opinion

AAP and its powerful broom

Irrespective of number of seats it wins in 2014 vote, party has ability to give voters more voice and dignity.

Last updated: 26 Feb 2014 07:28
Antara Dev Sen

Antara Dev Sen is founding editor of The Little Magazine, an independent journal of ideas and letters based in Delhi. She is a commentator on media, politics, culture and development, and has earlier been Senior Editor of The Hindustan Times and of The Indian Express in Delhi.
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Kejriwal's biggest strength is his nonconformist, uncompromising determination [File:Reuters]

Their slogan is, 'Jhaadu chalaao, beimaan bhagaao' (Wield the broom, get rid of cheats). Their aim, rather lofty, is to save Indian politics from Indian politicians.

Theirs is the good fight, the fight to bring back honesty in public life. Winning in electoral politics is only an aim by default.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) or the common man's party could turn the forthcoming Indian parliamentary elections into a fight between good and evil, a fight to reclaim India's democracy.

"We have not come to play politics," the chief minister of Delhi had declared last month. "We have come to remove corruption."

Much has changed since AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal made that comment. He is no longer the chief minister. He now has several defamation cases against him. He may not believe anymore that the anti-corruption bill is close to becoming law. And his electoral ambition has moved beyond the state of Delhi and gone national. 

But one thing has not changed. Kejriwal and company still claim that they are not in the business of politics, but in the business of eliminating corruption.

And having released a list of India's most corrupt - which reads like a who's who of Indian politics - AAP has promised to field honest and honourable candidates against them and give the voter a chance to clean up Indian democracy.

Trust factor

But will the voter trust them?

After all, AAP did get a chance to prove themselves. They formed the Delhi government with support from the Congress.

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And it immediately went after the Congress with single-minded determination, from filing police complaints against top Congress leaders for corruption, to seeking a Special Investigation Team probe into the 1984 Delhi Sikh massacres widely believed to be the handiwork of the Congress.

They were so petulant and stubborn that when they could not table the anti-graft Jan Lokpal bill, they threw a fit and
quit.

It is their way or the highway. How safe is democracy in the hands of such impractical, uncompromising, haughty idealists?

Would the electorate give these political novices another chance?

It is tempting to predict an early death for these dreamers. The AAP government lasted for just 49 days. It failed to table their much-touted bills that would fight corruption and usher in decentralisation, strengthening participatory democracy.

The conduct of AAP ministers - from Law Minister Somnath Bharti's racist vigilantism to chief minister Kejriwal's tendency to arm-twist the Central government by taking to the streets - has been shocking. 

Besides, the din of belligerent dissidents from the moment the new party took office was embarrassing.

Offering hope and justice

Yet opinion polls show that most people in Delhi would vote for AAP if the state and parliamentary elections were held right away. AAP has a good chance of thundering back to power in Delhi with an undisputed majority, and of cornering a good number of seats in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

AAP still offers hope to the tired, cheated, neglected, exploited, enraged and exasperated voter. The grand old Congress and most regional parties are so deeply sunk in corruption that no one knows where they stand

Because AAP still offers hope to the tired, cheated, neglected, exploited, enraged and exasperated voter. The grand old Congress and most regional parties are so deeply sunk in corruption that no one knows where they stand.

And the BJP is both dishonest and shamelessly sectarian in this secular state of many faiths. There is a vacuum that AAP can fill, as it promises power to the helpless, justice to the wronged and a functional democracy to the cynical.

And happily for AAP, idealists from all walks of life are flocking to it - including celebrities. AAP's potential candidates range from distinguished citizens like Rajmohan Gandhi, academic and grandson of the Mahatma, Narmada activist Medha Patkar, dancer Mallika Sarabhai, industrialist Rajiv Bajaj, singer Rabbi Shergil, H S Phoolka, counsel for the victims of the 1984 Sikh massacre, Adarsh Shastri, grandson of late prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, and Meera Sanyal, former India CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland, to name just a few.

The focus would be on clean candidates, people from real life, nominated by locals.

True to its name, AAP treats the common man as its high command. And through telephones, emails, social media and every other means of communication, people make their voice heard.

Thanks to this, AAP's 49-day government in Delhi had addressed issues of water, energy, public hospitals, government schools, shelters for the homeless, employment, education and women's safety, among others, making improvements, setting up helplines, starting audits and establishing accountability.

It had also got rid of the VIP culture that Delhi thrives on, tossing out the red beacon from official cars and making ministers and officials accessible to the people.

Unparalled determination

But AAP's biggest strength is perhaps what is looked upon as its weakness: its nonconformist, uncompromising, audacious, in-your-face determination.

From stepping down from power on a matter of principle to doggedly targeting the corrupt, AAP's commitment to making India corruption-free resonates with the people. For far too long, every political party has been complicit in this all-pervading game of corruption.

So who else but outsiders like Kejriwal and company would have the gall to file a police complaint against Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani - the man who wields astonishing influence over every Indian government and political party, and even the media?

AAP has filed an FIR against Ambani and Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily, among others, for allegedly conspiring to raise natural gas prices unfairly and making citizens pay unreasonably more.

Having put himself squarely in the line of fire of the mighty Reliance, Kejriwal has thereafter flamboyantly challenged the two most high profile leaders of the 2014 general elections - Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi.

He sent off open letters to both, seeking explanations regarding campaign funds and lavish public spending, and demanding to know their position on certain issues, including on Reliance Industries.

This ability to march right in where angels fear to tread gives AAP an incredible edge.

As does its ability to call a spade a spade without fear of alienating allies.

Well, it has no ally except the masses.

At the moment, AAP is focusing on proving why the two main political parties, the Congress and the BJP, are just two sides of the same coin.

The only difference is that one leans heavily on dynasty and the other on religion.

This argument can be a serious spoke in the wheel of Modi’s chariot since the BJP projects itself as an alternative to the Congress.

The Congress is clearly a spent force for now, but will AAP’s spirited if somewhat naïve determination in cleaning up politics arrest the spectacular rise of the BJP?

Possible paradigm shift

It is too early to figure out what the 2014 Indian elections will bring. But it may offer a paradigm shift.

AAP may or may not win a significant chunk of seats in Parliament. If they play it right, they may do brilliantly in the next elections. But whatever its personal achievements, it is clear that the very presence of AAP will make the 2014 parliamentary elections a little less corrupt, a little more honourable and bring it a little closer to what participatory democracy is supposed to be.

"Change politics, change India!" is AAP's motto.

AAP's success should be assessed not by the number of seats it may win, but by its attempt to reclaim the dignity of citizens in a revamped, refreshed democracy.

Antara Dev Sen is Editor of The Little Magazine. She lives in Delhi. 

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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