Book Review – Capital Conquest: How the AAP’s Incredible Victory Has Redefined Indian Elections
The Aam Aadmi party’s mind boggling victory in the assembly elections in Delhi caught them unawares. What jolted them was that they not only ensured the rout of the Congress which failed to win even a single seat along with the BJP suffering its most humiliating defeat with only three seats in the 70-member assembly in the city state.
For Prime Minister Narendra Modi this was his first defeat in nearly a dozen years since he became chief minister of Gujarat and in 2014 single handedly scripted BJP regaining power on the majestic Raisina Hill in Lutyen’s Delhi. His invincibility at the hustings took a severe beating with the prestigious Delhi assembly remaining a far cry.
The Lotus party secured a majority in the Lok Sabha for the first time since it was formed 35 years back. The National Democratic Alliance with the saffron brigade in the vanguard crossed the rubicon of 300 and tallied 340 seats in the 543-member 16th Lok Sabha.
These were stellar achievements for the BJP and a huge wake up call for the grand old Congress party which finished with a measly 44 seats in the House of the People in the country’s highest legislature, the lowest since independence. It denied the 129-year-old party the right to be the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha as it did not meet the requirement of having at least one-tenth of the strength of the Lok Sabha. They were ten short and had to stomach the ignominy despite emerging as the second largest political entity after the saffron brigade in the House of the People.
The AAP and its supremo Arvind Kejriwal who is presently the chief minister of Delhi for the second time managed an incredible achievement with hardly any parallel in this country. Even though the activists and volunteers of the fledgling party deliberately moved away from the beaten path in politics seeking to replicate the Swiss system of direct democracy with direct interface with the people.
In a huge country like India this limited experiment succeeded overwhelmingly. Kejriwal and his AAP caught the imagination of the people of Delhi which is essentially a pot pourri of migrants from all over the country particularly North India including the Hill states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
Author and political editor of Outlook magazine Saba Naqvi, who has closely followed the AAP since its inception, painstakingly provides valuable insight into its ingenious election campaign bringing to the fore the crucial factors that compelled the electorate in Delhi to overwhelmingly vote for the fledgling party the second time around.
The first time in 2013 when the AAP took part in the democratic process it failed to get a majority in the Delhi assembly but emerged as the second largest with 28 seats. The BJP was in front with 32 seats and fell tantalisingly short of a simple majority by four seats. Backed by the Congress having eight seats, Kejriwal formed the government and quit abruptly 49 days after he was sworn in. The people were disappointed and angry that the AAP wasted a huge opportunity to govern Delhi and implement its pledges to the people.
In the 2014 general elections the AAP came a cropper in Delhi and believed it had a second chance. And they grabbed it with both hands. Saba’s emphasis in winning 67 of the 70 seats in the 2015 Delhi assembly elections, Kejriwal demonstrated how a party that has radically challenged the norms of Indian politics can bounce back trouncing all other contenders particularly the two national parties in the BJP and the Congress with the latter ruling Delhi for three terms or 15 years without a break.
The AAP campaign ticked all the right boxes with the promise of populism and a city wide network of activists blurring the lines between volunteerism and political activism. In deliberately muting its attacks on the opposition while concentrating instead on the issues that mattered to the people, the once written-off AAP rewrote the rules of the game.
Even as the BJP won a national mandate, the AAP has only won Delhi. There is a great asymmetry in numbers. But there are certain implications for Indian politics as a whole. Political chemistry does change when a new element is added to the mix.
The BJP is a fully finished political product while the AAP is still evolving.
The author has also touched upon the inner struggles of the party especially with regard to founder members Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav. It is widely believed by the core group of the AAP that Prashant has been manipulated by Yadav and his father Shanti Bhushan.
Kejriwal was blunt and direct in saying he has had enough of them. He chronicled how Prashant, Yadav and Shanti Bhushan betrayed them. “I am here to fight the forces of corruption and communalism. I am not here to fight Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav,” declared Kejriwal. Being witness to many inner party struggles after the 2014 general elections Kejriwal has learnt to shrug things off.
Interviewed by Saba, Kejriwal stressed “I had not come to set up just another party with a high command culture like the BSP. I had come to change the nature of politics. It is also important to remember that this was a movement that has become a successful political party.”
He acknowledged that emotions run high in the AAP. At the same time the author believes political parties centre around a charismatic leader. Kejriwal is a leader around whom everything has happened.
The question is can Arvind Kejriwal be replicated elsewhere? He inspired the young eager beaver volunteers who were at the heart of executing the campaign.
His experiment in alternative politics for traditional parties was successful. The million Dollar question is can the elections in Delhi change the fundamentals of how politics is pursued in this country.
After the 2015 Delhi verdict, Modi decided on a wardrobe shift of tailoring his kurtas in the style he prefers. This is a wake up call for both the BJP and the Sangh to move away from a personality and restart the dialogue within the party. As the BJP is currently the ascendant force in national politics, the AAP is clear that it will be positioning its politics as a counter to the ruling national party.
The key to becoming a real national alternative, Kejriwal believes is to create an entirely new model of governance in Delhi showcasing how the AAP does things differently. The AAP supremo is keen to evolve into an innovative administrator from his previous avatars as activist, campaigner and now politician. The AAP wants to work towards ensuring that each Vidhan Sabha constituency has its own budget. This is revolutionary and more than just thinking out of the box.
The participative budget has proved that transparent administration of resources is the only way to avoid corruption and mishandling of public funds. The AAP has given the country a blockbuster in electoral politics and issues of governance. Overall Saba’s second book captures efforts to change traditional politics by resorting to interactive and direct democracy which appears to have struck a chord at least with Delhi-ites. The experiment has just begun in this country.