Charting Delhi’s changing political skyline

A strained silence fills the hall as Delhi’s newly elected chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, rises from his seat to address the Delhi legislative assembly for the first time. He wears the same scarf and sweater that he wore throughout his campaign. His Gandhi cap, which has now become a symbol of his year old political party, has the words “I am a common man” written on it.

Almost a year ago, Kejriwal parted ways with his mentor Anna Hazare in their influential anti-corruption movement against the Indian government. While Anna wanted to stay away from the ‘dirt’ of Indian politics, Kejriwal believed that it was the only path through which a tangible change could be made. With vigorous idealism and an unwavering belief in his cause, Kejriwal formed the Aam Admi Party (AAP) or the “common man party”, whose members comprised politically inexperienced journalists, activists, college students, housewives and others mostly belonging to the middle class.

Not surprisingly, the AAP was mocked, dismissed and severely underestimated when it decided to run for the 2013 Delhi legislative assembly elections. After all, it was a year-old party. It had no solid financial backing and had only temporarily caught the imagination of people. The fight had and will always be between the Congress (the ruling party) and the BJP (the main opposition). The election results, however, shocked the assured: the AAP got 28 seats out of the 70, and agreed to form a minority government with the Congress, which had won a mere 8 seats. Kejriwal became chief minister.

This turn of political events is historical. One David has killed two Goliaths, as Gopalkrishna Gandhi put it. To the seasoned politicians out there: Can you look beyond the voting numbers? Do you grasp the anger of the voter? Of how furious she is with what you are doing with the system? How tired she is of the excuses, delays, laxity and the day-to-day unfairness that she is subjected to? That the vilification of the opponent is not what they want to hear when they ask you of your accomplishments and policies as an elected representative? And that the common man, as Kejriwal calls him, yearns for a transparent, honest system which does not require him to enter the labyrinth of bribing officials?

The AAP is a result of this anger. It is a faceless identity that represents the public’s frustration with the depravity of Indian politics. In a country where politicians buy votes and audaciously list their criminal records, the AAP stands out with its non-macho, grounded and educated members. It did not seek to slander any political party in particular but criticized the corruption that had become necessary in order to survive. Neither did it pontificate about how it would rule Delhi if elected, but instead offered to become a means for the people to rule their city.

Of course, there were moments when the AAP seemed slightly unnerved at the prospect of competing against strong-footed politicians. But its idealism and its aim to fundamentally change Indian politics into becoming honest and accountable remained unaffected.

Like many, I didn’t expect its members to get elected. Of course, I believed in their cause and admired their perseverance to catalyze change, but winning the Delhi elections seemed out of reach. They seemed too moral, young and pure to enter the arena of Indian politics, which abounded with betrayal, mudslinging and hypocrisy. They were banking on the anger of the people against the government. They were appealing to the moral conscience of their voters. They were expecting too much change in a short period of time. With their victory in the election, I am compelled to consider that a revolution has begun in the country.

In the few days following Kejriwal’s induction as chief minister, he has tried fulfilling many of his promises. Up to 20 kiloliters of water has been made free for all households that have a functional water meter, electricity rates have been subsidized by 50 percent for a section of Delhi’s population, 47 new courts have been established, night shelters have been created for the homeless and an anti-corruption helpline has been set up which has already led to the arrest of two constables. Perhaps most importantly, an atmosphere of transparency, honesty and responsibility is being created in Delhi.

However, the clean image that the AAP has heavily relied upon cannot be its only strength.  The AAP can be stubborn and impulsive. They have dabbled into partisan politics and then have been forced to apologize for it. They have made some hasty decisions only to withdraw them later. If it wants to stay in Indian politics, its spirit and core values must remain intact despite the new pedestal of power that Kejriwal and his team now stand upon.

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