The recently-concluded state-level elections in India’s capital city-state, Delhi, yielded a remarkable outcome. The country’s newest political party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), literally “Common Man” Party, formed only a year ago by civil society activists affiliated to the landmark 2010 anti-corruption movement, routed the country’s oldest political party, the Congress, which has governed the country through most of its post-Independence years. The fledgling party’s performance and subsequent formation of the state government (ironically with the backing in the state legislature of the same party it had demolished), is being hailed as the beginning of something like a peaceful democratic revolution. It has galvanized political participation in a fairly unprecedented way as hundreds of thousands of “common people” across the country have rushed to join the ranks of a political force they hope will deliver better governance. And it had sowed the seeds of fresh optimism in the possibility of an ethical and accountable governance system.
This euphoria might be somewhat premature in the absence of any track record of AAP’s performance in government. But the party’s ascent undoubtedly represents a distinct break from traditional politics and suggests a new paradigm in at least two ways. First, AAP transcends the politics of identity and sectarian interests and practices instead what has been called the “politics of citizenship.” While other political parties have emerged from the grassroots in post-independence India and gone on to become potent regional forces, they have typically had their moorings in identity politics of one sort or another – caste, religion, ethnicity – that gave them dedicated support bases. In contrast, the AAP’s primary plank is good governance. Although it has been criticized for espousing untenable populist economic policies – such as subsidized water and electricity, its economic ideology and policies are very much at a formative stage. Its largest selling point has been its promise to fight corruption and bring probity to governance. Its success has catapulted the problem of corruption center-stage as the defining issue in the upcoming national elections.