The most pessimistic of India watchers would grant that things are no longer the same in this benighted country. Given to despairing over a spluttering economic growth, policy paralysis, rampant corruption, rising social tensions and a polarized polity, they are pleasantly surprised to find that the long suffering Indian people have served notice that they would not allow political parties to treat them as mere vote banks to be visited at election time and ignored until the next election. They want continuous engagement and attention to their problems and are wont to punish indifference and non performance.
What is even more astonishing, civil society, which claims to speak on their behalf, demands, and has managed to secure, a say in the making of laws crucial to their protection and welfare. All too often, civil society, independent accountability institutions and the judiciary seem to act in concert to enforce the accountability of the executive. The cozy nexus of the political establishment with big business, organized crime and sections of the bureaucracy and the media is being subjected to the glare of public exposure.
The stunning performance of the Aam Aadmi Party in the recent Delhi elections has disproved the long held belief that there is no escape from the hegemony of established political parties. The voters of this country will no longer be constrained to choose between tired, old political parties, which have been accustomed to conducting their politics in the manner of a cynical, self-serving business enterprise. It has now been demonstrated that a band of dedicated and idealistic activists can create a broad-based forum for channelizing the popular disenchantment with traditional politics and gain sufficient traction with the electorate to be able to present themselves as a refreshing alternative to the entrenched political formations. The overworked TINA factor acronym for the lament that there is no alternative can now be retired.
It is no less than a miracle that a fledgling political party, which did not have the advantage of money bags, muscle power, or dynasty, and which had refused to play by the rules of an all pervasive identity politics, managed to break the stranglehold of mainstream political parties in a surprisingly short span of time. The appeal of the Aam Aadmi Party lay in the credibility of its leadership and its empathy with the predicament of the common man. Its leadership also had the savvy to leverage the skills of mass mobilization honed during the anti-corruption movement of 2011-12 and the anti-rape protests that rocked Delhi in the wake of the Nirbhaya outrage. The Party also showed that it had the courage to live by its credo by observing complete transparency and accountability in its processes, practising participatory decision-making, subjecting its selected candidates to public scrutiny and crowd funding its electoral campaign.