AAP is a national party

The Aam Aadmi Party: A democratic uprising against the old political order

On December 28, the huge Ramlila Maidan assembly area in the middle of the Indian capital is teeming with people who must have found the sudden change in weather as a miracle as the performance of the Aam Aadmi party (translated as the "party of the common man") the regional elections in Delhi.

After an overcast sky for days, the bright sun suddenly broke through the cloud cover and reinforced the triumphant feeling of the estimated 60,000 supporters of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) at the swearing-in of their leader Arvind Kejriwal as head of government of the city-state and that of six other politicians as ministers.

It was undoubtedly their victory, because without their efforts the AAP would not have been able to prevent the majority of the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the two major political parties of India, in the directly elected parliament of Delhi. The AAP placed second and formed the government with the support of the defeated Congress party. This triggered a wave of enthusiasm across the country, not only because of the electoral success of the AAP after just under a year since the party was founded, but also because it gave rise to hope for a political alternative.

The AAP has raised hopes because during its election campaign in Delhi it broke with some shameless customs of Indian politics and uncovered serious political grievances. First, it financed the election campaign with only a fraction of the money that political parties otherwise spend. She has published the names of all her donors and has not hidden behind a law that such disclosure actually only requires payments of 20,000 rupees or more (approx. 230 euros). Large companies usually benefit from this legal regulation, which allows them to comprehensively support parties over a long chain of partial payments of less than 20,000 rupees and thus to disguise their political influence.

Second, the AAP has not hired troublemakers to intimidate voters in the slums; third, none of its candidates belong to families who have been electoral politics for two generations. In fact, only one of its 70 members had any previous campaign experience at regional or national level. Fourth, the candidates were not selected through intrigues within the party, but rather by the AAP members in their constituencies. And fifth, no candidates have been nominated to stand trial for nefarious crimes - something that non-Indian readers would arguably rightly consider an under-remarkable feat. But you should bear in mind that 14 percent of the members of the Lok Sabha (also known as the House of the People), the lower house in the Indian bicameral parliament, have such a criminal past.

Last but not least, the AAP addressed the voter as a citizen and not as a member of a caste, religious, regional or linguistic group. Rather, it has tried to unite voters on important issues - such as water and electricity supplies, health, education, work and security - rather than appealing to the fears and hopes of archaic group identities. With its policy of interests, the party secured the loyalty of discriminated fringe groups of the caste system in Delhi.

Perhaps the success of the AAP is a sign of the emergence of a new Indian citizen, not necessarily in all of India, but at least in the big cities. The new voter is ready to put class, caste and religious affiliation in the background and simply participate in politics as a citizen. He wants democratic ideals to be upheld and leaders to commit themselves to decency and legality.

This hope for a political alternative encouraged multitudes of people to join the AAP, adding millions in both membership and the party coffers. The party's aim is to activate these resources in order to successfully contest the elections for the House of Commons (Lok Sabha) in April / May. It is foreseeable that the AAP will probably not achieve a majority in the Lok Sabha, whose 543 MPs decide on the formation of a government in India. But the enthusiasm stems from the knowledge that no party has won an absolute majority since 1989, which has led to the formation of coalitions and, once, a minority government. AAP supporters hope that the party will win enough seats in the fragmented parliament to be able to influence the political system.

This hope would have been completely unrealistic if the AAP Prime Minister Arvind Kejriwal had not given such a poignant speech on December 28th. His address, which was repeatedly broadcast on television, was no less powerful than that of President Barack Obama's speech at the Chicago Democratic Party meeting in July 2004. Kejriwal, like Obama an outsider, shared his dream with citizens and fired her imagination. He proclaimed: “In the regional parliament elections in Delhi, the people proved that politics can also be conducted honestly and that one can lead and win the election campaign with honesty.” He went on to say: “We are not here to come to power to come, but to put the governance back in the hands of the people. Now 15 million people rule in Delhi. "

These rhetorically embellished statements by Kejriwal also determined the agenda of the AAP: clean and transparent governance and the introduction of participatory democracy. These ideas have their roots in a popular movement known as India AgainstCorruption (IAC), which was mainly active between 2011 and 2012, and gained momentum after accusations published in the media against some ministers of manipulating the economic liberalization program to serve corporate interests .

The IAC's solution was to revive the forgotten proposal to set up a national ombudsman, which had been suspended in parliament for over four decades. The IAC called for a fully independent government ombudsman who should also have full control over the investigative authorities that investigate corruption allegations against officials, from case officers to ministers.

But the political class rejected the IAC's demands for an ombudsman to be shielded from government influence and insisted on the right of parliament to draft the law. Part of the IAC leadership saw their only hope of introducing a systematic change in power generation through elections. This IAC group founded the AAP.

The debate on the Ombudsman Act gave rise to the idea of ​​redefining the concept of citizenship and introducing participatory democracy. The AAP believes that the role of the citizen is not just to vote every five years, but should be permanent. To this end, they must have a mechanism at their disposal that enables them to demand the enactment of legislation, to help shape it, to express their opinion on government policy and to request the removal of MPs whose performance they consider to be inadequate. They also call for power to be decentralized and the people on the ground to be empowered to decide on development projects to be carried out and to have oversight over their implementation.

It is concise that the AAP gives priority to the local level over the national level, because it is at this level that life in India takes place and state services such as water, electricity, health and education are used. And this is exactly where the long chain of corruption hits the common citizen, who has no influence over the system and cannot claim back what is rightfully theirs. The AAP agenda of participatory democracy, too swaraj or called self-government, distinguishes this movement from the Congress Party or the BJP, whose campaigns are aimed at economic growth.

However, the AAP has yet to explain its great economic vision in detail. However, some references to their ideas can be found in the interview I conducted with the party ideologist Yogendra Yadav in November: “In the economic debate of the 1960s and 1970s there was a great deal of confusion about the means and goals. The goal was and must continue to be the common man. But whether the common man should be supplied with certain goods and services by the government or whether it is better to entrust these tasks to someone else, we must leave this decision to reason on the basis of facts and experience. "

Yadav's answer suggests that the AAP is social democratic and ready to work in the socialist economy that is rapidly developing into capitalism. However, this has so far failed to allay fears from the corporate sector and conservative economists who distrust many of the AAP leaders who have made a name for themselves by defending land rights, human rights, the right to information, environmental protection, and so on.

The fear of “substitute socialism” partly explains the heated debate surrounding the AAP government's decision to subsidize electricity and water supplies, which Kejriwal announced only a few days after taking office. Electricity costs for households that use up to 400 units per month have been cut in half, but the old tariffs continue to apply if consumption is only one unit higher. This tariff applies for three months in which the energy supply companies (Discoms) are checked.

There is a backstory to be aware of: In early 2013, Kejriwal went on hunger strike calling for a review of the discoms, which he accused of driving up costs in questionable ways in order to collect more money from consumers.

The previous government was helpless, arguing that the discoms would not be willing to have their accounts audited, and then their licenses should be canceled, said Kejriwal, whose request for a review was rejected by the court following a petition by the discoms. The government is of the opinion that the audit would automatically reduce the subsidies, which will amount to 610 million rupees (approx. 7 million euros) and 2.4 billion rupees (approx. 28 million euros) for three months ) per year.

The water supply for households that use up to 20 kiloliters per month should be free of charge, but will be charged as soon as this limit is exceeded. This will cost the government 1.65 billion rupees a year. 800,000 out of 1.9 million households that have a water connection with a meter should benefit from this measure. It is argued that a free water supply would encourage people to install water meters and that utility company employees in particular would prevent people from consuming water without paying for it for fear of being prosecuted for corruption.

The striving of the Indian elite for superpower status seems like a mockery when you see that five million people in Delhi, most of whom live in slums, have no running water and are dependent on supplies from water tankers. A water mafia has taken control of the supply chain and is making a profit with a service that was supposed to be free. The AAP's electoral program promises to install water pipes in these slums, but it would take months to build the infrastructure. Until then, the plan is to optimize ongoing care, but it is too early to say how effective this can be.

The debate about subsidized water and electricity supply is mainly about the economic burden of Delhi. It ignored the fact that the subsidy was on consumption rather than income, which is unlikely to benefit the notoriously wasteful middle class of Delhi as it would have to drastically reduce their consumption. Perhaps the intended incentive to save water and electricity could induce lower levels of society to curb their consumption and save money in the process. However, environmentally friendly consumption was not really the focus of the debate, which fizzled out as soon as it became clear that the annual subsidies totaled 4.05 billion rupees (approx. 47 million euros) of the 400 billion rupees (approx. 6 billion euros) of Delhi's government budget. It is a testament to the hypocrisy of those opposed to subsidies that they kept silent about the billions in debt of the corporate sector with the state banks and also disregarded environmental protection in the debate. These topics might have been more popular with the population.

The passionate engagement of the AAP for an anti-corruption policy led to the establishment of an advisory hotline, which citizens can use to defend themselves against officials demanding bribes. As a result, ten officers have been convicted so far. The high usage of the hotline led the government to set up several numbers, which reflects both the popularity of the population and the extent of corruption.

Such interventions, however, also shake the power structure at the grassroots level and can provoke a backlash. A threatening culture of vigilante justice could also emerge. These related issues - backlash and vigilante justice - fuel an ongoing controversy and threaten to alienate some of the AAP's middle class supporters.

The controversy began when AAP Justice Minister Somnath Bharti complied with a request from residents of a settlement in his constituency to carry out a night police raid on a house in the neighborhood, allegedly a place for prostitution and drug deals. Bharti asked the responsible police station to send an officer over, but he did not show up in time. Bharti and the residents therefore called a mobile police patrol. A decoy pretending to be a suitor made a sex deal, but the officer of the responsible police station who was later added refused to raid the house because he had no court order. During the argument that followed, a car with four Ugandan women arrived and was surrounded by residents. The police then had the women tested for drug abuse in a hospital. The result was negative.

The nightly raid, portrayed as an act of vigilante justice, made headlines in the media, intertwined with racist discrimination and alleged sexist remarks by Bharti. But residents objected and, despite ongoing complaints, accused the police of doing nothing and covering up criminal activity in the settlement. This in turn called women's rights groups on the scene, which condemned the patriarchal behavior of the settlement residents and their intolerance of other lifestyles. The women's rights activists said that the local residents thought the unconventional Ugandans were simply sex workers and called on the self-appointed experts in alternative politics to dismiss Bharti from office.

But Kejriwal did exactly the opposite: he not only defended Bharti, but led a sit-in to effect the dismissal of five police officers. These were present at the scene of the incident, but did not conduct any investigations and simply referred the responsibilities of the city police to the state level. But the national government refused to give in to the liberal intellectual, and the media also railed against the AAP, which was defending something that deserved no defense. So in the end Kejriwal had to back down. He accepted the offer of the state government to give the police officers a leave of absence and broke off the operation. But the debate rages on. The AAP counters demands after Bharti's resignation that the footage from the night of the raid proves that there were no racist or sexist remarks, and that the law was not taken into its own hands.

Five important trends can be identified from the controversy. First, Kejriwal has likely gained more support from the protest among the lower classes, who have an exploitative and brutal image of the police. Second, there is a split in the middle class: the conservatives, arguably the vast majority, who support the AAP, and the liberals, whose views are disparagingly labeled as westernized and who believe that the political newcomer has disappointed hopes for a political alternative . Third, this controversy will lead to further disputes as the AAP's policies will lead to backlash among officials whose unlawful influence is to be restricted.Fourthly, the strengthening of citizens at the local level must go hand in hand with imparting a democratic awareness, otherwise majority views could be imposed in a certain area.

Despite all this, the controversies and political decisions of the AAP have helped the AAP to draw a lot of attention not just in Delhi but across the country. This is of great importance in the national elections in two months' time, but the special nature of the AAP continues to pose major challenges for the party. For one thing, the urban electorate differs from the predominantly rural population of India, who are more oriented towards a politics of identities than the AAP politics of interests. In order to achieve 300 seats in the national election, it would also need a multiple of the budget of 200 million rupees (approx. 2.3 million euros) that was raised for the election campaign in Delhi. Will the party look to other ways of funding its goals at the risk of tarnishing the party's image? Can she check the references of over 300 candidates, many of whom may be unknown to the party leadership?

Apart from these unforeseeable factors, the AAP can certainly be expected in the metropolises and cities, which send a total of almost 100 MPs to the Lok Sabha. Only if the AAP succeeds in having 30 to 40 members does it have a chance to help shape national politics. In order to overcome this hurdle, the AAP would have to be carried by a wave of approval that is strong enough to shake old loyalties of the voters and win them as supporters. But so far nothing more than a ripple can be felt from the wave.