Born out of an anti-corruption movement a year ago, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chose Delhi to make its electoral debut. The critics welcomed the party by dubbing it a media 'creation' and a 'spoiler' at best. But with 28 seats in its electoral debut in the Delhi assembly election, the AAP has not only silenced the critics who doubted its ability to create a niche for itself by dislodging the mainstream political parties but has also altered the political discourse in the capital.
The final seat tally may have slightly disappointed many of AAP's supporters for they might have seen in the emergence of the party a rare moment of firmly dislodging the parties that are known for their 'corruptibility' towards the common people. But if one takes into account political debuts in the recent past, the AAP can be said to have made the most impressive one.
Although the AAP fell short of emerging as the single largest party, its success offers many lesson to the established parties. With its imaginative campaign, the AAP has shown new ways to get to the voters. Rather than one-sided communication channels, public meetings now have to be interactive sessions between leaders and voters in which the latter can interrogate the former. The AAP has also demonstrated that a balanced mix of idealism, pragmatism and radicalism can be used not just to enthuse and energise the masses but also to translate them into votes.
The scintillating performance of the AAP is significant for many reasons. One, it is likely to turn the current political discourse of secularism versus communalism into the one that privileges hard and basic issues that affect the everyday life of ordinary citizens. Second, it instils hope and confidence among those who are tired of electoral bipolarity and looking for an alternative full of dynamism and fresh ideas of social and economic transformation.
While the phenomenal rise of the AAP may contribute to restructuring the national political discourse, it is more likely to change the politics of the metros - the sites of massive corruption, loot and bad governance. However, more fertile ground for shoring up its electoral chances would be the cities that have sizeable migrant populations who suffer most from the current politico-administrative structures. As regards rural areas, it may take the AAP much more time because the issue of corruption is unlikely to get a similar response as it has in the cities because people in rural areas have much less contact with the state and its apparatus in their everyday life.
Nonetheless, the AAP is faced with a couple of formidable challenges at the moment. One, although the party falls short of the required number of seats to form the government, it can form the government with the support of the Congress and demonstrate what it can deliver. But if it does so, it runs the risk of being seen as an addition to the whole lot of parties that discover justifications to deviate from their ideology in order to capture power. Two, it may also turn out to be disastrous if it chooses not to form the next government and allows fresh elections to be held. The political trajectory the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) in Bihar can be cited as a case in point. In the Bihar assembly election of 2005 (February), the LJP had emerged as a formidable political force. However, the LJP decided not to seek support from other parties to form the government; nor did it extend support to even a like-minded party. Fresh elections were held six months later and as a result and the LJP was decimated.
The AAP has to tread more cautiously and carefully now than ever before to get out of this double bind.
Sanjeer Alam is associate fellow at CSDS, Delhi
The views expressed by the author are personal