AAP's success in Delhi has shown the way for other cities

Aam Aadmi Party supporters hold brooms, the party symbol, in the air as they celebrate outside the AAP office in New Delhi. (AFP)

The city has roared in unison. From slum colony to gated enclave, from street vendors to former bureaucrats, from cycle rickshaw drivers to professors, the city of money and conscience, of power and activism, of grime and shine, of brutal feudal patriarchy but also of blithe womanly courage, one voice has captured the city.

Arvind Kejriwal — the Johnny come lately, the rookie, the seemingly-anarchist jholawallah, laughed at by the power elite, scorned by the inner circles — the gate crasher has stormed the citadel. Blitzed by daily corruption and mega scams, torched by VIP culture, self-esteem broken every day by the lal batti cars and the Don't-You-Know-Who-I-Am attitude of those who never wait in queue, the city has raised up a force for its own transformation.

But as the city begins a new tryst with destiny, it must also wish god-speed to the elegant grand dame who first gave the city the spring in its step.

For 15 years Sheila Dikshit ruled Delhi with élan, insisting it become a city with style.

She was lucky: the national Capital is a privileged city that benefits from its proximity to the Centre. There were also failures: most notably, the BRT corridor and the lack of safety for women.

But few can deny that Dikshit brought a modernist vision to an old town. Under her watch, Delhi grew at a spanking pace, attracting the highest number of migrants each year and creating the highest per capita income in India. 

Delhi stopped being the 'glorified village' that visitors from Mumbai sniggered at, and became cosmopolitan, energetic and business-friendly, attracting a new aspirational India. As incomes grew, awareness sharpened.

Sheila Dikshit's Delhi gave birth to Arvind Kejriwal's Delhi.  It was Delhi which saw the largest turnout at Anna Hazare's rallies, it was Delhi which protested in huge numbers in the bitter cold after the brutal gang rape of December 16, it was Delhi which faced water cannons and tear gas, fists clenched for justice for women.

Today the national Capital belongs to everyone and to no one. There are no primordial loyalties in Delhi, no dominant caste, regional community or linguistic identity. 

Delhi's lingua franca is the colloquial Aaj Tak Hindustani that Arvind Kejriwal speaks. 

The highest per capita income in India, a city of upwardly mobile migrants who have no vote-bank ties and care solely about urban governance and securing a better life for themselves, an educated politically aware voter generally impervious to liquor, money and muscle power, at the same time a nouveau riche city reeling under a brutal class system where money and power determine quality of life, these are the factors that make Delhi uniquely suited to the rise of a party like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

In an earlier article I wrote how the AAP was playing a vocational 24X7 grassroots politics that the mainstream parties had increasingly forgotten or scorned.

That kind of politics, plus a massive social media and media outreach, has today delivered a stunning political debut. Just a year old, yet the AAP has got 28 seats, 31% of votes and lost 11-12 seats by just 5,000 votes. Out of 12 reserved seats it has won nine, showing a capture of SC and poor voters, traditionally a Congress bastion.  The AAP has won in super-rich areas like Greater Kailash and New Delhi and also won in poor areas like Seemapuri and Ambedkar Nagar.

A cross-class coalition of rich and poor has opted for the jharoo, to sweep the city clean of corruption, to sweep away apathy and cynicism and draw out the spirit of citizens' action.

Is the AAP success scale-able? Can it be replicated in Mumbai where the Shiv Sena controls the city with an iron grip? Can it be born in Bangalore where a Kannadiga identity would surely be central to anyone aspiring to be the city's voice? Can a non-caste, non-class, urban anti- corruption force take root in Chennai where the DMK and the AIADMK monopolise politics or in Kolkata where Trinamool or Left cadres would hardly allow any other political force to raise its head? Is there any other city in India where citizens can force their way into the political system just on the strength of the anti-corruption sentiment and disgust with mainstream parties?

 The Lok Satta Party has struggled for decades to bring clean politics to Andhra Pradesh, and so far succeeded in only securing a single assembly seat for its valiant founder Jayaprakash Narayan. Delhi's lack of vote-banks and its voter profile is precisely why the AAP works so well in Delhi, while a similar force like the Lok Satta faces impossible hurdles in Andhra Pradesh. 

Yet, creating a government that delivers is very different from a political rebellion against The System. Crowdsourcing administration by putting every decision to a referendum by 'mohalla committees' may be a tad too utopian, tearing up power bills a bit loony Left. 

Excessive self-righteousness in the belief that all those who disagree with an 'Aam Aadmi' vision are corrupt creates a dangerous 'them' versus 'us' mindset.  If the AAP plays the politics of untouchability in the belief that it is so "pure" that it cannot have dialogue or partnerships with any other "dirty" party then it might only polarise voters.

Yet a seed has been planted, a spark of idealism has been ignited, the national Capital has shown the way for other cities, that clean urban politics is possible, that a dream can actually win. It may be difficult, but there is no reason why citizens groups like Bpac in Bangalore should not also try to create their own parties.

Citizens of urban India, your time may just have come.

Sagarika Ghose is Deputy Editor, CNN-IBN

The views expressed by the author are personal


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