Lately, very few events have caught the attention of both the political class and citizens in New Delhi like Arvind Kejriwal’s political party.
In the run up to his political party’s launch, Kejriwal has tried to expose the ‘setting’ between political parties, taken on one of the biggest corporate houses in the country, introduced a new type of civil disobedience movement by asking Delhiites not to submit their electricity bills, and attacked Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit's government on inflation.
But will Kejriwal's transition from social work to politics be a success? Do the people who came to Jantar Mantar during Jan Lokpal movement go a step further and vote for his newly launched Aam Admi Party (AAP)? Should political parties consider AAP while charting out their poll strategy or they can afford to dismiss it?
The AAP’s first political test will be the Delhi assembly elections 2013. Compared to other states, it has an edge in the national capital as most of the action since the beginning of the Jan Lokpal movement has been in this city. Kejriwal’s work for the RTI Act and the anti- graft movement made him a familiar face among Delhiites. Also in his favour is the prevalent sense of disgruntlement among Delhi’s middle class (almost half the city’s population) over rising inflation.
Neerja Chowdhury, political analyst and senior journalist, emphasised that a political party is a 20-year project, but said that he could still have a chance.
“Delhi is Kejriwal’s karmbhoomi. He is trying to cash on the sentiments of the urban middle class here which is angry with high prices of fuel and LPG. A chunk of them might give him a chance as they are fed up with the Congress and do not see BJP as an alternative", she said.
Chowdhury would not assess the number of seats the new political party could win in Delhi polls. “It is a very fluid situation. It is difficult to put a number here.”
So far, Kejriwal & Co have put corruption on the centre-stage through various exposes which are expected to continue in the months to come. Ideas such as ‘right to reject’ and ‘right to recall’ professed by the group did not catch the imagination of its followers as corruption did.
So will graft do for AAP, what ‘hindutva’ and ‘dalit’ did for the BJP and BSP? Dipankar Gupta, sociologist, doubts it. “Elections cannot be fought just on the agenda of corruption. You need to have clear policies on a variety of issues. Mayawati and her mentor took decades to come to power in Uttar Pradesh despite them having an agenda of Dalit politics which covered education, health and social issues of that community", he said.
There is also that disturbing but defining factor in Indian politics that Kejriwal must contend with: Namely money and muscle power. AAP’s fight is with political parties that have a tradition of offering freebies and sops to woo the electorate. This, according to psephologist Jai Mrug, is the main challenge for the non-traditional party. “AAP should counter the economic interventions of vested interests in the lives of lower middle class and poor voters".
Established regional and national political parties also have a clear edge through the sheer number of workers or cadres scattered in their strongholds.
In most of states with a sizeable number of Kejriwal’s supporters, it is a wait and watch situation, notes a report in Outlook magazine. Though Rajeev Godara’s Haryana social activist group Sampoorna Kranti Manch, is inclined to extend support to Kejriwal’s party, he told the magazine, “The new party will be hobbled by the lack of an organisational structure and though it will get plenty of volunteers from all walks of life, they will have their own limitations and electoral politics is an entirely different game.” There is a unit with around 500 members covering Chandigarh- Panchkula and Mohali. Volunteers in Mumbai have a tough time as there is great curiosity but no great conviction.
In Hyderabad, adds the Outlook report, there is great curiosity mixed with a sense that what the IAC is doing is sensational stories, and are not mounting any serious political challenge to the established players.
Yet, Manisha Pariyam, political scientist, believes AAP should not face much difficulty in mobilising masses. “Regional satraps including Nitish Kumar, Mayawati, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Jayalalitha, all had strong ideas and agendas. If you have an idea as strong as corruption, you can mobilise people around it,” says Priyam.
The mindset of a majority of voters, especially those belonging to economically weaker sections, presents another hurdle before a fledgling political party like AAP.
For them, political leadership is equivalent to clout and influence which can help them in getting meager works done- booking community hall, school admission, multiple LPG cylinders and a bed in government hospital. This is why, despite the presence of clean, transparent and qualified candidates, they tend to select someone who has been tried and tested before. “AAP has to see to how much it can percolate the value system of the voter who has the apprehension that his vote should not go waste,” said Mrug.