The Aam Aadmi Party’s journey from mass movement to political office in just one year is without a parallel in Indian electoral history, reflecting as it does a popular yearning for change from the models of governance on offer today. A disenchanted electorate is clearly behind the resounding mandate to the Arvind Kejriwal-led party which made an ambitious leap from the anti-corruption movement of Anna Hazare. Yet, history has been made and the AAP is now poised to form a government in Delhi with Mr. Kejriwal as Chief Minister. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which was ahead of the AAP by three seats, wisely decided not to form a government through horse-trading and the Congress did not have the numbers. Given the high moral ground on which the AAP had placed the game of government formation, the BJP could not afford to be seen as any less righteous than the AAP. Yet, the AAP itself was caught in a quandary having declared in the electoral run-up that it would not seek or offer support to the Congress and the BJP. But going back to the voters for a fresh mandate was not an option because that would have been a betrayal of the faith the voters had reposed in the AAP — a first-time party that had come within a whisker of power because of the hope it offered for political renewal and transformation.
The situation actually offered Mr. Kejriwal the opportunity to put in practice a major manifesto promise: to get the people’s feedback on issues of importance. With the message from the Jan Sabhas a resounding ‘yes’ for government formation, the next step was for Mr. Kejriwal to offer to form a government with outside support from the Congress. The idea of a referendum itself was refreshing as a method of seeking the people’s endorsement of the way forward in this complex situation. It is also a vital instrument of verifying public opinion that is missing from today’s democratic political practice in India. Mainstream parties seem to be increasingly out of sync with the dramatic changes on the ground that indicates the soaring aspirations of new social groups. The AAP has correctly gauged the potential and power of this transformative energy and indeed, sees itself as giving political expression to it. Mr. Kejriwal is admittedly hamstrung by having to take support from the Congress, which the AAP had denounced as irredeemably corrupt. However, even with this constraint, he can bring about substantive changes in governance, starting with putting an end to the much-detested VIP culture. While the first breakthrough is definitely the passing of the Lokpal law, there are still several promises that the AAP must keep. The real test of the AAP’s commitment to clean politics and transparent governance begins now.