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Arvind Kejriwal's stunning success has lessons for India's political establishment.
The standout story of these assembly elections is the Aam Aadmi Party, that came out of nowhere to wind up a hair's breadth behind the BJP in Delhi, reducing the three-time incumbent Congress to a pitiful third, while its leader Arvind Kejriwal comprehensively defeated former chief minister Sheila Dikshit. The AAP has been an object lesson in how politics can indeed be taken and reshaped by a new idea. In a country where it is often assumed that money, power and influential connections are necessary to even consider a calling in politics, the AAP has demonstrated that entry barriers are far from insurmountable for newcomers. Its dramatic appearance on the scene has been compared to the TDP, the AGP and the TMC. Unlike them, the AAP is not a breakaway from an established party, even if, like them, it appears to be coasting on the charisma of a single individual. It did not take years of patient mobilising to breach the barricades, as the TMC did (apart from Kejriwal's own NGO work). All the AAP had was the impatience of its voters, the innovation of its messaging and the support of the media.
In keeping with its missionary manifesto, it has refused to consider supporting, or taking the support of, any other party in a perilously divided House. As and when it transitions to legislative responsibility, its actions will be tested. The AAP manifesto focused strongly on anti-corruption mechanisms and political decentralisation, and it has made large promises on power tariffs, water and sanitation. In the more immediate term, however, the new party will be tested by the period of political uncertainty that could follow an irredeemably hung House.
Making this dramatic debut in Delhi means that the AAP has already gathered critical national resonance. It has established a secure base for venturing outwards into other regions of India. But as the Lokpal agitation was forced to learn, mass support in Delhi is no guarantee that the message will be taken in equal measure in other parts of the country. Delhi is a compact region, and relatively easy ground for canvassing support and organising voters around issues of service delivery. Elsewhere, it will have to navigate complex issues of caste, community and other webs of identity, as well as specific local issues. The challenge for the AAP, to keep its core values alive as it extends itself into new areas and roles, will be formidable.
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