The Aam Aadmi Party, which fights corruption, is threatening to overturn the establishment in India's sagging democracy.
The world’s largest democracy has just began its massive election this week. Over nine phases, which started on Monday and will end on May 12, a massive 814 million Indians are eligible to cast their vote. Outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is turning 82 and wants to step down. So there will be a new premier.
But what does it all mean? Over the course of three visits to my ancestral homeland, I have been struck by the overwhelming poverty and considerable corruption that sit side by side.
It doesn’t really seem to make a difference whether it is Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a regional outfit or even the Communists who are running the show.
The distant glow of independence-era history and brief phases of optimism tend to give way to the all-too familiar bottom line of mouths to feed under a bureaucracy oiled by under-the-counter money.
That’s why the anti-corruption movement has struck a chord with so many Indians. Born out of a series of fasts led by social activist Anna Hazare, it eventually bloomed into a political party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – against Hazare’s wishes, it must be said.
A stunning performance in the Delhi state elections led to a brief minority government which collapsed because neither Congress nor the BJP were keen to back anti-corruption measures.
Amanullah Aman is arguably just the sort of person India needs. A graduate of both India’s brilliant merit-based varsity the India Institute of Technology (Karaghpur) and Oxford University, he could be making millions elsewhere. Instead, he has returned to India to join the AAP revolution, standing as a candidate in Ranchi, Jharkand.
“India is desperately looking for a real alternative, away from the BJP and Congress, and the only Party which has created the passion among the young and dejected-frustrated is AAP,” said Aman last week.
“The fight of AAP is with the two equal evils: BJP and Congress … and there is a massive undercurrent in this election. AAP will significantly win in this election,” said Aman confidently.
He adds that the AAP will not contemplate entering coalition governments either at federal or state level with the parties it has been opposing.
“The 49 days of Delhi governance have been very productive. AAP reduced corruption in the tune of 20 to 25 per cent in just one-and-half months.
“However, it was the Congress and the BJP who didn’t want to pass the Lokpal Bill and forced the AAP Government of Delhi to fall.”
Aman himself was born into abject poverty and was the first in his large family to achieve higher education.
“I believe educated and capable people should participate in the development of the nation. I have passion and dream to be part of India’s growth and contribute, however small but tangible in the process.”
“The root cause of all evils, all problems in India is corruption. If we eliminate corruption, we will solve major issues of unemployment and infrastructure creation in terms of water, power and roads.
“I believe in clean and inclusive development engaging the bottom of the pyramid in the development and growth process.”
Still, the opinion polls favour a BJP victory. And that looks like more of the same to be honest. But Aman doesn’t see it that way.
“People all across India, and in Ranchi, have come to know and appreciate the ideology and movement that Aam Aadmi Party stands for, and the people are impressed with AAP credentials. Urban voters who generally in the past didn’t come out to vote are now excited to participate and vote for AAP,” he said.
It’s going to be weeks before we find out who wins what, but it sure is worth watching out for, wouldn’t you say?