High hopes for party to be viable alternative to BJP

High hopes for party to be viable alternative to BJP
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) meets with Delhi Chief Minister-elect Arvind Kejriwal (L) at The Prime Minister's Residence in New Delhi on February 12, 2015.

The fledgling Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) decimation of its two established rivals in the Delhi state election has raised expectations that it could become a credible alternative force in Indian politics.

But analysts note that AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal and his two-year-old party are labouring under what one of them calls "a massive mandate and high expectations" and must prove itself to Delhi voters first.

AAP leaders are also keen to play down such a role for now.

The party clinched 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi assembly, leaving the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with only three.

The Congress Party, seen as a counterbalancing force to the BJP which won a landslide in last May's general election, lost all its previous Delhi seats.

Mr Kejriwal, 46, who will be sworn in as chief minister on Saturday, yesterday held meetings with federal ministers to ask for cooperation in running Delhi.

"There is ample scope for the AAP to become a national alternative to the BJP because the Congress has already vacated the position in eight to 10 states. But if it (AAP) tries to do that too quickly, it can pose a challenge to its survival," said Professor Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

AAP leaders say their focus now is Delhi.

"We will work for Delhi's development," said Mr Manish Sisodia, also a Delhi assemblyman.

Another leader, Mr Yogendra Yadav, said the AAP has a "national purpose" but cautioned that it cannot happen overnight.

"In the long run, we see the AAP as a party which has a national purpose. It is not a regional party," he told The Hindu newspaper. "It is an experiment in alternative politics which aims to become... a principled force in national politics. At the same time, we cannot do it overnight."

Analysts said the AAP has to prove itself in Delhi and also drop its earlier confrontational style.

"With Mr Modi holding federal power, they won't get anything in terms of help. But I think they will avoid confrontational politics with the federal government and they will concentrate on Delhi," said Uttar Pradesh-based analyst Sudhir Panwar.

"The AAP is in the same place that the BJP was nine months ago. A massive mandate and high expectations," he added.

Said Prof Kumar: "The challenge is such a big mandate comes with high expectations. The people would want to see the AAP deliver on its promises on cheap water and electricity within three to five months. If not, they will raise a hue and cry."

Administrative challenges facing the AAP include juggling finances to fulfil populist promises, curbing corruption in government, and running a state where a lot of powers, such as security, rest with the federal government.

"At one level, Kejriwal has limited power... There is also the challenge of building up the state economy. There is going to be a lot of confusion in Delhi," said sociologist Shiv Visvanathan.

The AAP's success has as much to do with its "common man" image as with the changing image of Mr Modi, a one-time tea seller.

He drew flak for wearing a suit printed with his name while hosting United States President Barack Obama.

"Modi has projected himself as a representative of the poor, but in the past eight months, he is becoming disconnected from the masses. From a tea wallah, he has become a suit wallah," said Mr Panwar.


This article was first published on February 12, 2015.
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