Indian voters signaled their distaste for corruption last year with the historic defeat of the Congress Party, but never have Indian voters spoken so overwhelmingly against corruption as in last week’s landslide victory for India’s first anticorruption party, the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party in the Delhi elections. The AAP won 67 of the 70 seats, leaving just three for the BJP (Prime Minister Modi’s party), and shutting out the Congress Party altogether. Dubbed a “political earthquake,” this win for the AAP, led by Arvind Kejriwal, is monumental for several reasons.
- First, the AAP’s victory signals the unexpected and massive return of India’s anticorruption movement, which was looking largely defeated at the beginning of 2014. The movement had started in 2011 with great vigor, powerful figures, and mass support.Throughout 2011 “Anna” Hazare, along with Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and other activists, used Gandhi-like hunger strikes, led protests, and organized other grassroots efforts to pressure Parliament to enact a more stringent anticorruption law known as the Jan Lokpal Bill. Over the following years, however, the movement weakened steadily as Anna and Kejriwal splintered and Kejriwal formed the AAP. Furthermore, the eventual passage of a weak, watered down anticorruption bill was a letdown for many of the movement’s fervent supporters. There were glimmers of hope in December 2013 when the AAP won a plurality in its first Delhi election and Kejriwal became the Chief Minister. But Kejriwal resigned after just 49 days because of his minority government’s inability to pass anticorruption legislation without support from other parties. It looked like the end for the AAP and Kejriwal, but Kejriwal’s efforts over the past year—from publicly apologizing to the nation for quitting and reviving the AAP’s grassroots engagement—have clearly paid off.
- Second, some have proclaimed this most recent Delhi election as the beginning of a new age of Indian politics, driven by youth and the masses, rather than powerful elites. Some even speculate that perhaps this is the first time certain groups of people, such as rickshaw drivers, slum dwellers, and other low-income citizens, have actually voted en masse. The reason could be twofold: first, some speculate that the introduction of a biometrics-based voting system gives scores of urban poor citizenship and voting rights; and second, the AAP went back to its roots to represent the “common man”, and actively targeted a constituent base among rickshaw drivers, street vendors, and slum dwellers, focusing on the issues most important to these groups: day-to-day corruption, lack of access to resources, education, and the like. The AAP’s volunteers also campaigned aggressively on social media, using Twitter, Facebook, and Google Hangouts to reach young voters. According to one student, “Democracy is winning today…because an honest man is standing for us.”
- Third, even before the AAP has taken office, the election result appears to be having an unprecedented and positive effect. Even before being officially sworn in, Kejriwal re-opened the anticorruption hotline, which was shut down last year, that lets callers anonymously report bribes and other corruption. Many media sources are reporting that rickshaw drivers, street vendors, and others are publicly refusing to pay daily bribes they’ve been paying to officials for years, with some traders claiming that policemen stopped asking for bribes the day after the election results were announced. This happened briefly when Kejriwal and the AAP first won seats in December 2013 and ceased once he quit, but with the overwhelming support and expectations riding on Kejriwal, hopefully this abstention from daily corruption will last.
While expectations are high, Kejriwal is managing to keep the momentum going with significant promises for the immediate future. He has already claimed he will introduce the Jan Lokpal anticorruption bill in the Delhi Parliament’s second sitting. With the AAP’s sweeping victory, it will surely pass the Delhi legislature. It will still need to be approved by the central government, because many laws affecting long-term development of the capital require approval from the central government. But with such strong popular support, the odds are in Kejriwal’s favor. Kejriwal should not feel complacent, however. As previously discussed on this blog, Indian voters are loud and clear when they are dissatisfied. First, they nearly obliterated the Congress party, which ruled the country for over 60 years, because of rampant corruption. Last week, Delhi voters rejected the BJP, despite its recent victory in India’s national elections. Next election, they cando the same to the AAP and Kejriwal–and they probably will, if the party fails to deliver.
Indians often say the mood of the capital is the mood of the nation. People across the country have not stopped talking about Kejriwal and the Delhi election; the excitement is palpable.The time is ripe for a national anticorruption revolution. Other Indian cities await the results of this grand experiment in Delhi, in the hopes that successes there can be replicated elsewhere. Especially if the central government supports Kejriwal in Delhi as Modi has promised, then other regions can demand the same support. If Kejriwal succeeds in his second run as CM, he could propel Delhi as a change agent for the nation.