An Anticorruption Success Story: India’s Aam Aadmi Party Has Made Delhi Politics Much Cleaner

In 2011, India witnessed the largest anticorruption uprising in its history, as hundreds of thousands of people mobilized to protest against entrenched corruption and to push for the passage of national anticorruption legislation that had been stuck in parliament for decades. The movement failed to achieve that objective, but out of its ashes was born a new political party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The AAP, founded in 2013, made anticorruption its main focus, choosing as its symbol a broom to represent its goal of cleaning up Indian government. The AAP achieved its first major victory in 2015, when it won a landslide victory in the state elections in Delhi, India’s capital city. Many inside and outside of India naturally wondered: Would the AAP achieve its goals? Could it effectively govern a city of 19 million people, and succeed in curtailing entrenched corruption? After all, the challenges are enormous, and the international track record of anticorruption parties is rather mixed.

The AAP’s journey wasn’t smooth, and its first few months in office were marked by significant infighting and a general perception of dysfunction. But the AAP managed to turn things around, and in the February 2020 elections, the AAP won handily, gaining a decisive majority for the next five years. The AAP’s success is partly due to its popular policies on things like increasing spending on education and reducing the cost of electricity and water. But the AAP also succeeded in the polls because it followed through on its anticorruption agenda. Although it’s always hard to gauge the success of anticorruption efforts, there are two major pieces of evidence that indicate that the AAP really has taken major steps to clean up politics: 

  • First, since the AAP’s entry into Delhi’s politics, the ability of politicians to line their pockets has fallen drastically. We know this from the asset reports that candidates have to file at each election—filings that must include wealth held by immediate family members, and that, despite other problems in the Indian system, are generally thought to be accurate. Because the same candidates often stand for multiple consecutive elections, one can compare their assets before and after their terms in office to see how much richer politicians got during their tenure. Back in the 2013 Delhi elections (the last time Delhi had elections after a full five-year term), there were 66 candidates who had also run in 2008, The asset reports reveal that these candidates’ wealth, over their five years in office, grew by a mind-blowing 259% (Rs 7.53 crores, or $1.05 million) on average. By contrast, in the 2020 Delhi elections, asset filings reveal that the average five-year growth in legislators’ assets is a mere 13%, (Rs 92.12 lakh, or $129K). And although the rate of asset growth for elected legislators has dropped a bit across the country, the decline is much more precipitous in Delhi. (In the national parliamentary elections of 2014, candidates for reelection had enjoyed an average five-year asset growth of about Rs 8.47 crores ($1.2M), while in 2019 the average growth over the previous five years was Rs 6.86 crores ($960K).) The evidence suggests that, under AAP rule, elected officials are much less likely to like their pockets with public funds or otherwise use their political power to get rich.
  • Second, reports of corruption have fallen drastically in Delhi under the AAP. A study by India’s Central Vigilance Commission found that corruption related complaints declined by 81% in Delhi between 2015 and 2016, the AAP’s first year in full control of the Delhi government. Furthermore, the number of corruption cases brought against defendants from Delhi dropped from 31 in 2015 to 9 in 2017. Transparency International has also documented notable improvements, with TI’s 2019 survey finding that Delhi had among the lowest rates of corruption in the country. And these changes are not simply reflections of national trends—quite the opposite. Corruption is thriving in Modi’s India, and the Central Vigilance Commission report referenced above found a 67% increase in corruption complaints against the central government over the same period that saw an 81% decline in such complaints in Delhi.

So, while the AAP has not eliminated corruption in Delhi, the available evidence indicates it has made a real difference. The AAP now gives citizens fed up with corruption a genuine alternative at the voting booth. And this has had a positive effect on other parties as well: In Delhi, the AAP’s only real competitor is the BJP, and allegations of corruption have become a routine back and forth between the BJP and AAP. Moreover, the pressure created by the AAP appears to have had an effect on BJP politicians as well: The five BJP members of the Delhi legislative assembly who stood for reelection in 2020 reported asset growth over the previous five years of 14%, on average; back in 2013, the average asset growth for BJP legislators standing for reelection in Delhi was 313%. It seems clear that the BJP has recognized that remaining competitive with the AAP requires addressing corruption.

The AAP, then, has succeeded in generating a dramatic change in Indian politics, reducing public tolerance for corruption, and making possible genuine electoral accountability for corruption related activities. The AAP’s win in the February elections marks a new, cleaner era in Delhi politics. For now, this promise may be limited to Delhi, but it should serve as an inspiration for anticorruption reformers not only in India, but across the world.

9 thoughts on “An Anticorruption Success Story: India’s Aam Aadmi Party Has Made Delhi Politics Much Cleaner

  1. This article is not based on facts. Aam Admi Party (AAP) is not bereft of corruption as its ministers and legislatures are frequently accused of corruption. In the recent election money spent by AAP is comparable to the money spent by other parties like BJP etc. So mere drop in corruption complaints is not an indicator for clean politics by AAP. Many of its subordinate offices have been accused of corrupt activities. In the recent riot in Delhi councilors, MLAs etc are found to be involved. Hence, the writer has not based her conclusion logically.

    • I am not well versed in the local Delhi political scene – but I think a relevant question to consider, and that Disha may be able to answer, is whether levels of corruption (or alleged corruption) in the AAP are significantly lower than those in the BJP/Congress Party? I would be interested to know the answer to this question.

  2. Asset Reports are an amazing advent, and I think many countries in both global north and south would benefit from adopting them – are they in use elsewhere?

  3. Thank you for a fascinating post Disha. By the metrics you present, it certainly seems the AAP is having a major impact, even if it’s not a panacea. I wonder how the AAP deals with allegations of corruptions when they do arise. Are corrupt actors punished effectively in the party? My only concern with a party such as this is that an effective allegation of corruption against them might be more damaging than it would be against, say the BJP. How, if at all, does AAP take steps to protect a reputation for being clean in the face of allegations of corruption?

  4. Thank you for this very interesting post, Disha! I would like to know more about the role of AAD in combating corruption, since this is not very common regarding political parties. So far, are there suspicions of corruption involving any AAD member? What is the position of AAD in relation to anticorruption agencies? Does AAD support the independent performance of the role of anticorruption agencies? Does AAD advocate any project of structural reform and enhancement of the anticorruption law enforcement system in India?

  5. Dear Disha and the TI is reporting the message to the economic and anti-corruption international population is much interesting, but not caring the real truth of the Indian politics that the major corruption den in all sorts of TI-measures. At the same time, it is also observed that corruption elimination is likely a matter of discredit to the global decent population that is mostly dependent on the prevailing economic flow of corruption in anti-corruption research even.
    In Indian periphery, and in anti-corruption point of view, there are a few state Governments who are really remarkable to be highlighted for some examples of minimum corruption exist in this total and frustrated corrupt situation in India. The reelected AAP-government is the special polarized and competitive vote of the Delhi people in the severe Hindu-communalism created by the most corrupt ruling party, BJP and Modi-government. Yes, Delhi-people take better shelter to AAP party which has provided some special relief in electricity, water and in public education development in the same structure of Congress and BJP. The anti-corruption movement of Anna Hazare was an anti-Congress agitation that was later vote-cashed by the present Hindu-politics of BJP. AAP has exploited the Gandhi-tupi theme only, without any basic Gandhi’s ideology of plurality. It also used the soft-Hindutava that was sensed at the time anti-CAA non-political movement. And this became prominent at after election friendship with Modi-police and administration, even with Amit Shah and BJP in recent major Delhi riot.
    Now, it is enough that racism and communalism are the part of major civil-corruption with the conventional economic corruption.

  6. Thank you for this thoughtful and informative post, Disha! It is interesting, but not surprising, that people’s frustration with corrupt actors within government has pushed them to seek out alternatives in the form of new parties. This really shows the power of the people to influence their leaders! Aside from Rodrigo’s questions about the AAP’s anti-corruption agenda, has the AAP adopted any of the typical agenda items or positions that we would expect a political party to have (i.e. education, health, foreign policy)?

    Also, it seems from your post that you think one of the big drivers behind this drop in corruption in Delhi is perhaps the electoral competition that the AAP brings to the ballot. Has the AAP implemented any anti-corruption reforms that may also account for this drop in corruption? If not, what lessons, if any, do you think we should take from their success as anticorruption advocates?

  7. Disha, thank you for the thoughtful post! The asset report figures are so stark in Delhi compared to the rest of the country, it’s quite compelling evidence in favor of the AAP’s anticorruption efforts. Do think at least this aspect of the AAP’s governance could be replicated elsewhere in the country, even if the AAP isn’t in power in other places? Are there any indications (press coverage, etc.) that other municipal/state governments are paying attention to the asset report figures in Delhi and are maybe feeling pressure to produce similar results? Or does this success seem likely to be contained to Delhi in the immediate future?

  8. Disha, thank you – I found your post very interesting and thought provoking! I agree with Rachael and Maura that the metrics you present are quite convincing.

    I am also interested in whether the AAP has promoted a broader platform of anti-corruption policies. Put another way, is the party’s campaign against corruption limited to its ethos and the behavior of its members, or has it put forward broader policy reforms? I wonder how much the positive impact of the AAP is limited to the party itself and what, if any, lasting impact it will have.

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