Aam Aadmi Party impact: Age of a real third alternative is here

How many of you have heard of Loksatta, a political party in India founded by Jayaprakash Narayan, a former IAS officer and well-known activist from Andhra Pradesh?

AAP volunteers during a campaign in Delhi. Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

AAP volunteers during a campaign in Delhi. Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

Started in 1996, Loksatta has been a political party since 2006 and even before it became a political party it had amassed over 30,000 members in the Greater Hyderabad region and over 60,000 members in Andhra Pradesh.

In 2008, the Lok Satta Party ran in the Assembly by-elections for the first time, and was able to secure second place in two of the four seats where it contested, while Jayaprakash Narayan won. Loksatta spread its noble aims to other states and has active chapters in Tamil nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Delhi and UP. Closer home for me in Mumbai, as a movement, it catalysed the formation of a citizens platform that saw India's first citizen nominated candidate win a civic body seat in India's richest civic body, the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, way back in 2007.

Unfortunately that spirit of citizen nominated candidates that Loksatta worked so hard for fizzled away by the next civic elections thanks to infighting.

So clearly, it's not that independent political movements with noble objectives have not been tried before in India. Loksatta is a prime example of an organisation that has done great work for years.

But what's happening in Delhi is incredible. With the AAP coming in a clear number two and decimating the Congress, it is for the first time since N T Rama Rao led the TDP to an astounding election win in 1983 that a party formed a year ago has done so incredibly well.

And finally, it also means that if strategies are executed well, what the AAP has done in Delhi can be replicated. Movements like Loksatta that have been slogging for years with pretty much the same objectives as the AAP -- bringing in a citizen-led alternative to current political dispensations that are seen as nepotistic and corrupt and which will not change; be citizen-led and democratic in functioning as opposed to dynastic rule, clearly will see more than a bright ray of hope in AAP's showing.

AAP made it big this time primarily thanks to the genius of Arvind Kejriwal, but also because of other factors like cloud computing, which has removed the need for expensive technology equipment to leverage technology and the power of social media.

Take cloud computing for instance. AAP used a solution called VoiceTree which took away the need to set up a massive call centre to make calls to citizens. Remember, political parties have long used recorded messages through cold calls, but that is eerie and perhaps counter-productive. What VoiceTree did was provide the AAP with the power to make any person, anywhere in the world, a volunteer for the party at a very low cost. A volunteer called a toll-free central number and from there, he/she was connected to a random Delhi number. Once connected, the volunteer could make a personalised sales pitch for AAP, a far more powerful spiel than a canned message. And once made, the called number would be moved to a called database so that every volunteer had a fresh citizen to approach.

Then there's analytics. Political parties in India have used analytics for every seat, segment, etc, trying to figure out what works best at a hyper-local level. But analytics technologies didn't come cheap. Today however, thanks to cloud platforms where a user only pays for the service rather than install compute equipment, expensive software, etc, literally anyone can use analytics and transform raw data into information that is valuable.

The power of social media has also changed the game. The AAP no longer needed to go after mainstream media to ensure they carried AAP's viewpoints. The power of social media ensured that mainstream media had to go after AAP or risk losing relevance. As R Jagannathan argued in the Tarun Tejpal case, the power of mainstream media "...has been shattered by the advent of the social media, with its unfettered ability to set its own agenda on its own terms. No longer is it possible for mainstream media to decide what issues to discuss, and what to brush under the carpet..."

Clearly, much has changed over the past few years since organisations like Loksatta tried to make a difference. There are trends today that surely organisations like Loksatta are looking at closely in order to replicate AAP's success. However, this also means that while AAP became a big hit in Delhi, it may not succeed elsewhere where strong movements already exist, unless of course, the AAP wave is so powerful that all these organisations decide to stand under the Kejriwal umbrella.

And while that may happen in the interest of electoral gains, the lessons from Loksatta's experience cannot be forgotten too. As mentioned earlier, citizen-led movements in Mumbai lost the plot thanks to infighting and grand plans of moving from one victory in 2007 to many victories in 2012 came to naught.

Similarly, with AAP, while I just heard an AAP supporter screaming "Never, never, never!" into a TV camera when asked if they would align with the Congress or the BJP, it's early days yet. Staying the course and navigating the cycle of victory and defeat is something that the traditional political parties are used to, and only time will tell whether AAP's amazing showing in Delhi will result in a countrywide transformation.

But till the time comes when we can make a judgement on that, the beginning has been made and it has been proven that a citizen-led movement can jerk India's cynical urban populace awake. And whether it burns brighter or fizzles out, the age of a real third alternative is here.

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Updated Date: Dec 08, 2013 15:02:06 IST

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