India’s Common Man Party (AAP) Challenges a Corrupt Two-Party System


Out of the burning coal of India’s anti-corruption movement rose the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Aam Aadmi, literally meaning Ordinary Man or Common Man, was spearheaded by Anna Hazare, himself a poorly known man from the village of Ralegan Siddhi in Maharasthtra state and a former soldier, before he became an anti-corruption activist. The political entity AAP officially came into existence with 301 members, on November 26, 2012.


Two decades of crony capitalism in India have led to the rise of a middle class that is fast becoming the votary of liberal democracy. It is this class that now contends for power against a political system dominated largely by upper-class men. Arvind Kejriwal’s mercurial rise to the post of Chief Minister of Delhi, as a result of the Common Man Party’s first participation in legislative-assembly elections, is now likened to a Bollywood script and should be a proof of the party’s success with the state of its presence in the national capital of country. Within the short span of one year, the bureaucrat-turned-politician Kejriwal became the flavor of the dissatisfied middle class. What attracted the people to the Common Man Party are the innovations it has introduced. This, as I see it, will have far reaching consequences for Indian politics as whole.


The Common Man Party has, without any legal requirement, avoided acceptance of money flowing from the corporate world and declared all its sources of income. The entire list of donors is available on its official website. Further, in recently contested Delhi Assembly elections, each of the 70 candidates had a personalized manifesto, a practice hitherto unknown in India. The party further insists on and holds gram sabhas (village-level meetings). Just days ago, when the election results for Delhi assembly were announced, the Common Man Party won 28 out of 70 seats. Thirty-one votes went to the corporatist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but it could not form the government without a minimum of 36 legislators.


The disgraced Congress Party offered its support to the AAP. The Common Man Party held gram sabhas, asked about 2.5 million people to log in its website and vote for either of the option of taking part in forming a government or remaining in the opposition. It was only after more than 750,000 people responded, and a sizable section of these voters wanted the party to form the government that it did so. These experiments with truth, as Gandhi himself would have said, have for now impressed people and the corporate media. The entire political arena has taken a sudden turn with the entry of this new political party.


There remains a degree of doubt, however, with regard to this entire movement. The Common Man Party has categorically refused to tie itself to any ideology — as if the very word is a dirty trick. The party remains without doubt one of the beneficiaries of the existing discontent against a ruling class led by business tycoons, bankers and rich lawyers turned politicians. People around the country are angry with 10 years of Congress (I)-party led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government misrule, Narendra Modi’s candidacy for Prime Minister for the BJP, and the high inflation rate.


Now with the Common Man Party’s decision to file 300 candidates for the upcoming national polls, the whole country is watching this party with new found hope. Already in the Delhi elections, Common Man Party has, as we say here in India, “snatched ladoo from BJP’s mouth.” This being the case, both of the major outfits, BJP and its political sibling Congress (I), are already spending sleepless nights.


It is refreshing to see a new political entity rise out of a period of intense moral bankruptcy. How this will benefit the working class is something only time will tell. If the party is really serious then it must honestly ask the public at large to examine the very core of Indian society: a society where the lives of most citizens are interlaced with day-to-day violence, a society that has lost all sense of respect not just toward the dead but also toward the living, a society where exploitation of labor is a way of life. How does the Common Man Party, which again and again has stressed that it is not driven by ideology but by a need for practical solutions from left and right, propose to address the fundamental clash of labor against capital?


 Editor’s Note: Photographs one, three, four, five, six, seven and eight by Francois de Caillet.


One Response to India’s Common Man Party (AAP) Challenges a Corrupt Two-Party System

  1. Parveen Birohar January 12, 2014 at 10:21 am

    Since the start of last decade, Indian media have been trying hard to give the impression that the Indian system is a two-party system. This is not a fact. India is a multi-party and multi-ideology democracy. The two Stalwart parties do not even have their independent governments in one third of India. In many states they do not even have a stake in government. Still they are emphasizing that India has got two mainstream parties. From 1998 to 2004, one of these parties ran the government with the help of 24 various parties, and after this the other party ran government with the help of almost 13 other parties.

    The media have intentionally ignored the existence of these parties. There are more than 20 organizations at the extremes (i.e. left extremists and right extremists) that generally keep out of electoral politics but have wide influence on a large part of the nation. So India should be seen in the context of the above facts. Since the last two decades the “mainstream” parties have been pursuing neo-liberal policies. This gave rise to two things: one, crony capitalism and second, a large section of the middle class that is highly influenced by electronic media has an impression that there is two-party system in India. There is no news in national news channels from the states that is not governed by Congress or BJP. Similarly there isn’t any news about ongoing struggles against neo-liberal policies or crony capitalism.

    AAM AADMI PARTY has grown out of a movement against corruption which has fed on the neo-liberal regime. Although the movement was anti-corruption, it was expression of popular anger against existing state of affairs. AAP could rally the middle class, which normally is apolitical. This is the most positive aspect of AAP. Further they are trying to bring the governance to the people through Gram Sabha or Mohalla Sabha. AAP is emphasizing simplicity and the removal of a VIP culture. Along with corruption, there are other issues of public interest like improved Health services and better schooling infrastructure, which are being emphasized by AAP. This is the positive change in Indian political thought process, and the left has been struggling for these issues. The rise of AAP is welcome and it is expected that AAP will be able to deliver on these issues. AAP has raised the hope of the people. Now it is their turn to deliver. AAP has been largely silent on major policy issues of poverty eradication, implementation of the right to education, right to work, and Dalit issues and Tribal issues. They have not yet presented any framework on social issues of religion and castes, cultural issues. There have been news that every candidate of AAP had his own manifesto in such circumstances it is not clear that how they are going to resolve issues of conflict within themselves.

    Their economic policy is not known. Corruption has been the core issue of AAP. But AAP is silent on neoliberal policy framework, which is the major reason for mushrooming of corruption. Which type of foreign policy they are going to adopt is unclear (as they have shown interest in facing electorate for LokSabha elctions). Recently many executives of MNCs and financial organizations have joined the party; their impact on party working is also to be seen. There is a long way to go for AAP to become a viable alternative.

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