Launched in November 2012, just about a year before the general election, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) caught the attention of the nation in a very short time. Its promise of alternative politics to clean up the government and administration of rampant corruption, end special privileges for the elected representatives, and ensure governance had delighted many of those who were disenchanted with the political class. Thousands of supporters came forward to work for the party full time on voluntary basis, which is quite unusual in our times.
Indeed, there were such attempts before at the State and local level, such as the Lok Satta Party in Andhra Pradesh or the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS), in Rajasthan. But the AAP gave a new turn to social activism and it represented the first attempt to bring about radical political change at the national level. Although several new parties have sprouted and flourished in the party sphere since Independence, we have not seen for several decades such idealism and energy to transform the character of Indian politics. AAP’s spectacular performance in the Delhi Assembly elections in December 2013, within a year of its formation, came as a pleasant surprise for many of its supporters and sympathizers and startled many opponents.
As the Lok Sabha polls were round the corner, the party had to choose between two courses. One was to consolidate its position in Delhi and demonstrate that it can deliver on its promise, take small steps towards expansion by fielding candidates in national elections in select states and constituencies, especially in a few urban areas where its presence and influence was felt. The other was adopt a big bang approach, go full throttle by fielding candidates wherever they are forthcoming and fly high and far in the vast stormy skies of the Indian electorate. The leadership chose the latter and fielded candidates in more than 430 constituencies.
Although the party lost the war, it won a few battles, in Delhi and Punjab. In Delhi, the party has improved its vote share from 29 per cent in 2013 Assembly election to 33 per cent in Lok Sabha election, but could not win a seat. In Punjab, the party secured a whopping 24 per cent of vote share and won four seats. It could rally the support of voters who were dissatisfied with the Akali government in Punjab and the Congress government at the Centre. The results in other States such as Haryana, Maharashtra, and Karnataka where the party was expected to perform reasonably well in a few constituencies were disappointing. The party’s star candidates polled less than a lakh votes: 25,527 for Kumar Vishwas in Amethi; 41,429 for Javed Jaffrey in Lucknow; and 89,147 for Shazia Ilmi in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh; 76,451 for Medha Patkar in NE Mumbai and 40,388 for Meera Sanyal in South Mumbai; and 79,000 votes for Yogendra Yadav in Gurgaon, Haryana.
Overall, the party polled two per cent of the total vote at the all-India level. Securing support of more than a crore voters by a party that made a debut in the electoral arena is not a mean achievement. We should keep in mind that the performance of the AAP is on a par or much better than some of the established parties such as the Communist Party of India which has polled a mere 0.8 per cent vote, or that of the NCP or the JD(U), which polled 1.6 and 1.1 per cent votes respectively.
More importantly it received substantial support from diverse social sections. The barriers of class, caste, religious and regional identities seem to have been breached, as voters from middle and poorer classes, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs as well as upper castes, backward castes and dalits equally endorsed the AAP. Voters in urban areas and who are more educated came forward in support of the AAP in greater numbers than in the rural areas.
More than the percentage of vote the AAP secured, what is important is the impact it made. The main contenders had to respond to the challenge that the AAP posed to them. The promise by the BJP and the Congress party to respond to the AAP’s pro-people agenda of governance, anti-corruption, and to meet the aspirations of the urban classes was in no small measure influenced by the threatening presence of the AAP.
(K. C. Suri teaches political science at University of Hyderabad)