Arvind Kejriwal Amps Up his Bold Political Experiment

(Siddharth Varadarajan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, Shiv Nadar University, New Delhi)

By declaring their willingness to form the government in Delhi even if with the outside support of the Congress party, Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party have taken their bold new political experiment to a higher plane. (Arvind Kejriwal to be Delhi Chief Minister)

Predictably, the BJP has accused the AAP of "compromising with corruption." The charge rings hollow for three reasons. (74 per cent people wanted us to form the government: AAP's full statement)

First, the BJP's leaders have spent the better part of the past two weeks denouncing the Aam Aadmi Party for not having the courage to form the government. Now that they have found a way to do that, it is a bit odd to denounce them for this. (Gross betrayal, says BJP)

Second, unlike conventional political arrangements of the kind the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance or the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance make, where smaller parties extract concessions as a condition for extending support, it is the Aam Aadmi that has dictated the terms on which it would accept support from either the Congress or BJP.  It's an 18-point agenda that was unveiled a week back and both parties were invited to back it. ('Mango Man' Arvind Kejriwal, the new political star)

Third, the AAP managed to square the difficult circle of accepting support from a party whose rule it had bitterly opposed by going back to its supporters and seeking their opinion. Within the space of a week, the party held 280 jan sabhas, or neighbourhood meetings, and generated nearly 700,000 responses via the telephone or internet. AAP supporters overwhelmingly backed the idea of the party forming the government with a focused agenda. Sure, this is barely a fraction of those who voted in the elections but it provided a useful glimpse into the 'mohalla committee' consultative process that the AAP wants to introduce as a part of government decision-making. (The government can collapse on day one, says AAP)

While survey data suggests it is Congress voters who deserted en masse and voted for AAP in the recent assembly elections in Delhi, it is the BJP which most fears the emergence of the 'aam aadmi' as a factor in national politics. (Fulfill promises, Sheila Dikshit tells AAP)

This is because the BJP knows it has the most to lose from the fracturing of what might otherwise be a bipolar contest between its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, and the Congress' 'shehzada', Rahul Gandhi. The emergence of the 'Kejriwal factor' may not negate the 'Modi wave' but it does weaken its supposedly seismic qualities. (Poll: Has AAP done the right thing by deciding to form the government in Delhi?)

Ordinarily, the BJP would have tried to split both the Congress and AAP contingents in the Delhi assembly and moved heaven and earth to form the government with its 32 seats. But it knew that given the mood of the electorate and its revulsion for corruption in politics, such a course would have been suicidal. Instead, the BJP's national leadership calculated that a re-election in Delhi, if held alongside the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, would deal a double blow to the Aam Aadmi Party. It would lead to 'national' issues overwhelming the AAP's 'local' appeal. And it would force Kejriwal and other the Aam Aadmi leaders to defend their gains in Delhi rather than pose a threat to the BJP in other urban areas.

The fact that several pre-election surveys suggested a 'split ticket' in which Aam Aadmi voters expressed a preference for Modi at the national level also encouraged the BJP to try and hold out for a re-election. What they - and other analysts - have not factored is that the December 8 results have dramatically altered the public perception of AAP not just in Delhi but all across India. Before December 8, many people had doubts about the Aam Aadmi Party's electability in Delhi, not to speak of its chances across India. Now that the AAP is going to form the Delhi state government, voters across India are likely to spend the next few months re-evaluating their preferences. (Daunting task ahead: AAP)

The BJP and the Congress are both hoping that the Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi will fail to implement its promises and that the electorate's flirtation with a third alternative proves to be short-lived. Clearly, implementing its 18-point agenda will prove to be a big challenge and it can count on many political and administrative obstacles being put in its way given that the Congress controls the Central government (and Delhi does not have full statehood) and the BJP controls the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. (Arvind Kejriwal's top five promises)

However, what Delhi has lacked till now is an approach to major urban issues - transportation, public utilities, education and health - centered around the needs of the aam aadmi. If the AAP can come up with innovative ideas and solutions for problems that can be resolved quickly -- and demonstrate good faith for those that require a longer lead time for resolution -- it will succeed in sending a signal to voters across India that a third alternative is not only electorally feasible but an urgent necessity as well.

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