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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 9, February 21, 2015

AAP and the New Language of Politics

Monday 23 February 2015, by Arup Kumar Sen

The landslide victory of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi Assembly elections, winning 67 out of 70 seats, signifies a unique event in the political history of India. The most significant implication of this victory is the challenge it poses to the Modi-Amit Shah brand of politics. In a sense, the AAP victory symbolizes rebirth of the “Congress System” in India (conceptualised by late Rajni Kothari), with the party as a grand umbrella coalition of multiple interests. In fact, the AAP represents “an unlikely coalition of Dalits, the urban poor, minorities, youth, small traders and also some parts of the middle and wealthy classes.”

A post-poll Lokniti-CSDS Survey shows that the AAP had a massive 44 percentage point lead over the BJP among poor voters. The BJP’s vote-share among the poor was just 22 per cent, while 66 per cent of them voted for the AAP. It is found that the AAP enjoys strong support in the lower-income settlements in Delhi. Moreover, the AAP secured nearly seven of 10 Dalit votes in the present elections. But, the fact that voters from middle and upper classes also voted for the AAP means that it would be difficult for it to engage solely in politics of the poor.1 It is quite likely that the AAP will try to balance the diverse interests of the multiple classes and communities. In an interview given a few hours before the election results, Arvind Kejriwal, the chief architect of the party, stated the priorities of his new government: “We can immediately restart the anti-corruption helpline to curb bribery. Power and water prices, (and) women’s security will also be my priority.”2

The AAP victory poses serious questions to our notion of politics. The eminent historian, Harbans Mukhia, has rightly noted that “what the AAP is experimenting with is not a grand theory of overthrow or revolution but one of enlarging the public space within the existing structures”.3 The fact that the AAP is looking for a new language of politics is evident in the following pronounce-ments of Yogendra Yadav, the leading theoretician of the party:

“Our party is the overwhelming preference of the poor and very poor in Delhi without using any of the 20th century ideologies of pro-poor politics, namely, the ideology of the Left. AAP is the first preference of most Dalits without using any ideology of the Ambedkarite Dalit movementorthat of a BAMCEF-like organisation. We are the predominant preference of the Muslims in Delhi without using any of the classicMuslim agenda.4

In fact, thousands of people saw in the AAP a new phenomenon which renewed their faith in citizenship. In the light of this new phenomenon, the noted social scientist, Shiv Visvanathan, reminded us: “... the story of AAP is not just AAP’s story, it is the story of these people reinventing politics and themselves.”5

The AAP has successfully incorporated in its election campaign many of the issues connected with the survival of the people in everyday life. But, the possibility of the AAP emerging as a forum of popular mobilisations against neo-liberalism and aggressive Hindutva politics will depend on how it connects itself with the grassroots politics of “non-party political formations”.


1. See The Indian Express, February 12, 2015.

2. The EconomicTimes, February 11, 2015.

3. Harbans Mukhia, “Left, right, AAP”, The Indian Express, February 14, 2015.

4. Hardnews, February, 2015.

5. Shiv Visvanathan, “The future and AAP”, The Hindu, April 16, 2014.