'Common man' makes political waves in Delhi
By Nirmala Ganapathy, The Straits Times/Asia News Network
January 2, 2014, 12:14 am TWN
Delhi's newly sworn-in chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, has still to prove himself and will kick off his tenure by seeking a vote of confidence for his minority government today.
Nevertheless, the leader of the fledgling, anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has already changed the dynamics of India's general election this year, which, until now, had been seen as a personality contest between the Congress party's Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The two parties were left calculating the fallout of their loss in last month's Delhi state election to the AAP, which has announced its intention to contest the general election due by May.
“They (AAP) won the second-largest number of votes in a state election. It would be foolish if that wasn't taken into account (by parties),” said BJP spokesman Nirmala Sitaraman. “At the same time, we have to see how the new Delhi government performs.”
Kerjriwal had launched his party - “aam aadmi” means common man in Hindi — in November 2012 amid growing anger, especially among middle-class Indians, at a slew of corruption cases.
In the Delhi election, the AAP won 28 of the 70 assembly seats, trouncing the Congress, which had eight, and stopping an outright win by the BJP, whose 31-seat tally is five short of a majority.
Political analysts believe the AAP, which has already begun looking for “honest” candidates to field in many of India's 530 parliamentary constituencies, can do some real damage to the older parties even if it were to end up contesting in only a limited number of seats.
“The threat the AAP poses is more in the urban rather than the rural areas. So the Congress can be a little less worried than the BJP,” said Professor Sanjay Kumar of the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
The BJP's core voters are in the urban areas, while the Congress' main backers are the rural poor.
With opinion polls having given Modi the edge over Gandhi in the coming election, the BJP reckoned that it would defeat the Congress to become the single largest party in Parliament, allowing it to form a ruling coalition with other parties.
“Earlier, the BJP was only concerned about the Congress,” said Kumar.
Since last month's state elections, the media limelight has been on Kejriwal, a social activist turned politician.
His “common man” ways — he took the subway to his own swearing-in — attracted a following, and some have joined his party. One of them is Remo Fernandes, a popular singer in Goa state, who wrote on Facebook: “For the first time in my life, I believe in a political party.”