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Delhi polls 2013: Why AAP's candidate selection process is flawed

In the summer of 2006, a group of college students led a number of anti- reservation protests in the national capital. Battling lathis and water cannons, Youth For Equality (YFE) conducted marches and hunger strikes in close vicinity to Delhi's power corridors. The movement then took a political plunge in the 2009 Parliamentary polls.

As an experiment, YFE fielded a candidate after a rigorous screening process which involved interviews, group discussions and open house debates. But Sangeeta Tomar, an ex- IAF officer came fourth in the election.

Danish Raza/Firstpost

Danish Raza/Firstpost

Carved out of the Jan Lokpal movement, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has followed a somewhat similar trajectory. But if YFE's selection process has thrown up any lessons,  AAP seems to have ignored them.

On Monday, AAP announced its candidate selection procedure for the Delhi assembly election which is scheduled for later this year. This is how it works:

* Any Delhi resident claiming to have the support of 100 people can fill a form and submit it to the party by 5 May.
* Among other details, the form will have details of the person's criminal history, political background, wealth, knowledge of swaraj (self-governance) and participation in social movements.
* A screening committee comprising AAP members will scan the applications and announce a short list of five candidates from each constituency. The list will be put on various public forums including the AAP website and public feedback will be sought. AAP's team of volunteers will also give its opinion on candidates in the short-list. Party's political affairs committee will have a final say in the process which will take two months.

Jiten Jain, general secretary, YFE whose group has experienced first hand the flaws in this selection process said, "I can get 1,000 emails written in favour or against a person. How will you check the authenticity of such emails? I think they should have given considerable weightage to factors such as the person's experience in public service or the perception in his locality."

AAP members have indicated that party founder and social activist turned politician Arvind Kejriwal might contest Delhi assembly polls. "There was a discussion on Arvind fighting election. We don't know which constituency that will be. But he will have to go through the procedure which will apply for other candidates," said Party member Manish Sisodia, while addressing the media on Monday.

Jai Mrug, Mumbai based psephologist said that in the absence of local leaders on the ground, AAP's strategy might not yield desired results. "It is good to set high standard and be transparent and participatory in selecting candidates. But this way, you only attract a section of voters who have a flair for mature democracy," said Mrug.

"A majority of us do not fill railway reservation forms without external help. How can we expect people to fill these forms with honesty? Therefore, its an exclusive process," he added.

With a top-heavy structure, AAP's challenge will be to see if the can create Kejriwal like leaders in all 70 constituencies. Unless that happens, it will be too ambitious for the party to expect victory on seats where Kejriwal and members his core group are not contesting.