Barely a year after launching a political party to harness anger at widespread corruption, the Aam Admi Party (“Common Man” Party) has pushed the waning Congress Party from its 15-year long rule of New Delhi’s assembly. The new party’s resounding victory may portend big changes for the world’s largest democracy in the national elections expected by May 2014.
While the AAP is actually the second-place winner in the Delhi regional election and the victorious Bhartiya Janta Party (“BJP”) has yet to form a government, the AAP’s sound thrashing of a long-established political party is an important development in the fight against systemic corruption in India.
"This is a win for the people, for Indian democracy. This is not my victory. It is the victory of the people of New Delhi," AAP leader Arvind Kejriwa, pictured, told exultant supporters following the election results.
The strong showing offers immediate credibility to Kejriwal, a former income tax officer. His single-minded focus on mobilizing a populace disgusted by endemic corruption made many experienced politicians skeptical of his ability to actually win elections.
Kejriwal was part of the team that helped mobilize a mass movement against graft that brought tens of thousands of people to mass rallies in New Delhi and captured the hopes of many people across India tired of the daily grind of graft and corruption that is an inescapable part of Indian life. Kejriwal’s move to channel the anti-corruption movement into retail politics was controversial and inevitable.
The AAP victory gives tremendous credibility to the anti-graft movement and makes a BJP victory in the coming national elections more likely. All established parties are on notice that business as usual is not acceptable to large sections of a newly engaged population.
The Congress Party, which has ruled India for much of the country’s modern history has been dragged down in recent years by a series of scandals large and small.
The opposition BJP is led by controversial politician Narendra Modi, who touts his business-friendly policies in his state of Gujarat but who faces charges that he is responsible for ethnic riots that killed many. Foreign and domestic business interests are widely supportive of Modi. The Delhi elections were matched by BJP victories in several major states surrounding New Delhi and met with a surge in the stock market.
Russell Stamets is a Contributing Editor of the FCPA Blog. He was the first non-Indian general counsel of a publicly traded Indian company and was general counsel for a satellite broadcasting joint venture of a large Indian business house. He can be contacted here.