“Seldom, if ever, has a rookie political party's success in assembly become such a talking point and a cause for nationwide euphoria… But that's exactly what activist Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party's stunning show felt across India’s impressive showing -- winning 28 out of 70 seats in the Delhi polls — seems to have done.”

Times of India

A year ago the Aam Admi Party (AAP) of India was nowhere in existence. Today, it is the second largest party in the Delhi Legislative Assembly having sizably cut into the vote bank of Congress and BJP. The popularity of the party is spreading like wildfire to Mumbai, Bangalore, Haryana, Kolkata, Kerala and Karnataka. While there remain some (electable) who see it as a bubble and will adopt the ‘wait and see’ before they ride the band wagon, the AAP has captivated the hearts of the youth, overseas Indians  and young educated classes swelling in ranks like a deluge that spares no boundaries. This is India’s Tsunami with its epicentre in Delhi and social reform as its wave front.

Quoting from the Times of India, the intensity of feeling evoked by AAP is evident in the response of Lakshmi Pillai Ratnaparkhe, a 42-year-old Bangalore-based entrepreneur, "I wouldn't just vote for them; I wish I become one of them."Sandhya Krishnamurthy explains, "The major difference is the way they approached people for votes. Their agenda is to root out corruption whereas other parties are involved in corruption allegations. It's a party of youngsters and they assure good governance." SubhasDatta, a 64-year-old environmental activist from Kolkata feels that, "The Aam Aadmi Party is not a traditional political party. I don't see why AAP can't do well in West Bengal. At least, I will support them if they stick to their cause." Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

AAP grew out of contrasting approaches between associates, Arvind Kejriwal the founder of the party and Anna Hazare, the leader of the anti-corruption movement for Jan Lokpal Bill. Unlike Hazarewho preferred political neutrality, Kejriwal favoured direct involvement in politics to act as a pressure group within the system to implement anti-corruption laws social equality at its heart. With support from well-known comrades like Prashant Bhushan and Shanti Bhushan, Kejriwal announced in October 2012 that he would be forming a political party. The party adopted its constitution on 24 November and emerged on the Delhi elections scenein 2013. Hugging and endearing the lives and aspirations of commoners, the party adopted a unique, cost effective and imaginative canvassing strategy that bore fruit. It remains to be seen whether the party will continue to reflect the grassroots’ sentiments or will it in due course move into a glass house, endemic to South Asian politics. To its advantage, the party has a parallel to reflect and need not falter to learn.

A look at the AAP constitution indicates that the party with the bulwark of its support coming from abroad has learned a lot from the PTI experience. Some clauses of the constitutions bear remarkable similarity.

Pakistan’s case study of such an experience started in 1996 and culminated in the proverbial tsunami in October 2011. Built around similar sentiments, the party remained in wilderness for over 15 years reflecting the aloofness of people from national issues. The awakening created by the media against politically franchised corruption convinced people to flock to this party in 2011.

Like AAP, PTI too is built around an idealist and communitarian agenda. Founding fathers in the party ensured that the party constitution and manifesto cling to the aspirations of the downtrodden and spirit of Pakistan. The party was all about social justice, egalitarianism, empowerment of commoners, inequality and inclusiveness. It attracted idealists and men who abhorred traditional politics. Like AAP, overseas Pakistanis formed the major ideological and financial backbone of the party. PTI overseas workers were yearning to put their vast contribution towards the West to telling effect in national development. Many abandoned lucrative appointments and business abroad to move into lesser positions in Pakistan. There were educationists, attorneys, health specialists, social reformists and soldiers who sacrificed their prospects in Pakistan to cling closer to the spirit of PTI and its dream. By 2011, PTI could boast the best quality of social capital under a single roof. The party was positioning itself into reckoning all over Pakistan.

In contrast, AAP chose Delhi and attracted votes through street hopping youth who showed empathy even towards detractors. They proudly chose and displayed a taboo election symbol of a broomstick used to clear filth. In the social media, its members held out olive branches. They were building bridges and not walls. It made a small, calculated, and bold but an effective beginning.

As the days of reckoning drew closer, PTI idealism gave way to realism resulting in expediency rather than pragmatism. To forge democratic unity, Imran Khan chose intra party elections as the best way to build synergy. Delays in elections and a contentious electoral system ensured that the fissures widened. Within the politics of electable, the party lost an unquantifiable spirit of its die hard cadres. Critics observe that the best of diehard members are fading like buds that never blossomed. In the many internal and external debates within PTI, Imran Khan had remarked, ‘Only PTI can defeat PTI’. With the sweeping defeat in Balochistan local body elections, this dramatic irony is real.

The social reform agenda of PTI and AAP is similar. PTI failed to woo these progressives of a rich heritage. PTI’s social reform is being eclipsed by its singular stance on WoT. Had the party carefully nurtured and accommodated its socialist ideologues, it would have drawn support from the leftist who now tend to bracket more with the neo liberals for want of a choice. Strangely, PTI has support of social democrats world over but is deprived of the same on home turf. AAP in contrast has learned its lessons and is attracting the left in Bihar, East Bengal and Assam. 

AAP is the party of the futures of India and much will depend how it translates its centrality into a political thrust.

Failure in local body elections in Balochistan reminds PTI to realign to its vision. It is time to get back to the drawing board and evaluate what went wrong. If it does not, it stands to lose more. PTI may claim to have wooed stalwarts; this is not where it connects with its constituency. Its turf like the AAP is the common man on the street and not the glass house of Animal Farm.

n    The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist.