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I recently returned to the US after four weeks in India. Two things were manifestly clear. The first was, unsurprisingly, the sentiment against the UPA. Anti-incumbency is all too common in democratic polities. Continuation of incumbents beyond two terms is normally unhealthy for a democracy. In many polities, there is a two-term limit for incumbents, for an unbroken hold over power often leads to arrogance and corruption. The enormity of anti-UPA anger is all too obvious.
The second trend was also unmistakable. The AAP was experiencing a wave in urban India. India’s political conversation had changed. When a polity experiences a wave, conventional political analysis cannot be undertaken. Will the APP get only 8-10 seats, or 50-60? We simply can’t be sure. All we can say is that waves can be exponential, engulfing much that comes in the way. But waves can also crash. Especially after the Rail Bhavan dharna, we not only need to ask how far the AAP will go, we also need to inquire whether the
AAP wave will abate in the next three months. Let us first understand why the AAP rose so rapidly. The AAP managed to combine the support of the urban elite and the urban masses. Normally, mass politics and elite politics dance to very different tunes. The AAP has brought them together. Playing only the middle class game has inherent limits in a country where the underprivileged are still the vast majority. But attending only to the poor, while politically attractive, often leads to reckless fiscal behaviour, which in turn engenders economic and political problems. If one can put the two together and begin to extend it to rural India, a solid foundation of new politics can be created. That is the great promise of the AAP.
After over two decades, the urban middle class appears to be enthused about politics. It has lined up to acquire AAP membership. When you learn that membership lines have formed even in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, places where the AAP was least expected to attract attention, you know a wave is emerging. Funds have also poured in. Equally important, the AAP is going for clean and accountable financing in a polity where campaign finance is murky to the core. Businessmen are writing cheques. Some have joined the party.
Who would be hurt most, if the wave continued? The Congress will in any case go into an eclipse in May. The BJP was to be the biggest beneficiary of the anti-incumbency anger, but the AAP is threatening to split that vote in urban India. In UP, Rajasthan and Haryana, the semi-urban vote, continued…