- Posted September 17, 2013 by
Freehold, New Jersey
Why India's Aam Aadmi Party could be a political game changer
As I walked Main Street in Franklin township NJ with a small group of volunteers from Aam Aadmi Party (The Common Man’s Party) , India’s political woes didn’t seem that remote. Boarded homes, falling plaster, blocked sidewalks, unemployed youth with shiny gadgets, were a troubling reminder of things not quite right in our own backyard . We were part of a walk demanding Swaraj or Self governance in India. As we concluded our walk for the day in front of Rutgers University Building, a faculty member approached us with a puzzled expression. “India is a sovereign nation, then why this demand for self governance?” India has been a sovereign nation for over half a century but in truth our people have had no say in the governance of the country beyond casting a vote every five years, explained my co-volunteer.
If people participation in a democracy is limited to electing representatives once every five years, the model has failed miserably for India’s billion strong population. Today India stands paralyzed by corruption and crime. Huge sums of money are spent on getting elected and once elected the public exchequer is systematically robbed by elected officials. In the last few years, several mega corruption scams have come to light involving plundering of public funds: 2G Spectrum allocation (US $28 billion ), Common Wealth Games (US $11 billion), Coal Mines Allocation (US $28 billion). The actual losses to the public exchequer are probably higher as these figures are provided by Comptroller General of India which routinely has to deal with government interference. Politicians regularly collude with corporations & industrial houses to allocate licenses, land, raw material at artificially low prices in return for kickbacks to stay in power and fund the next election cycle. Corruption is so entrenched in India’s political culture that political parties across the spectrum seldom take a position when a scandal is exposed.
Big money is a huge enticement for criminals to join politics. Both national & regional political parties routinely field candidates convicted of serious crimes and not surprisingly many of them win. The nexus of crime & politics is becoming so alarming that last month the honorable Supreme Court of India gave a landmark judgment disqualifying legislators receiving a sentence of two years or more upon conviction. In response, the ruling party and most opposition groups closed ranks and spewed venom against the ruling citing all sorts of arguments to protect the immunity criminal legislators enjoy today. It is noteworthy that nearly a third of India’s legislators have criminal cases pending against them, including kidnapping, robbery, murder and rape.
Against this backdrop, the Aaam Adami Party (AAP) has entered the political fray seeking voter confidence in Delhi State elections in November 2013. AAP is a break-away group from Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption that galvanized the country and lead to mass peaceful protests in 2012. AAP is demanding an independent Office of the Ombudsman (Jan Lopkpal) that can investigate government corruption without government interference. The current chief investigating agency, Central Bureau of Investigation, works directly under government control and has a woeful record of conviction against government corruption. In Delhi, AAP has taken a bold step against corruption & crime in politics by fielding candidates without any criminal charges for the seventy constituencies that will go to polls in November this year. This is really significant as electability for leading political parties has had close historical ties to money & muscle power.
AAP is asking fundamental questions about the democratic model that best suits the country’s needs. Representative democracy alone has not worked well for India. AAP wants elements of direct democracy that would give power back to the people. Through ballot options and referendum the people will have the power to recall non-performing legislators. Programs, like subsidized food distribution, primary health centers, rural minimum employment would be run locally without state and federal government control. Local control will enable city wards and village councils to spend funds on programs that address local needs. Direct access to funds & direct accountability will also hopefully reduce layers of corruption. AAP’s vision is truly a new kind of political message that India’s voters may not have heard before. Therefore, it still remains to be seen if the voter will respond to AAP’s call. However, if AAP does well in Delhi elections, the party may turn out to be a game changer in India’s national elections in 2014.