This is not a verdict that lends itself to ambiguity, or multiple readings. Yet the Aam Aadmi Party’s stark sweep of Delhi stirs the political imagination. It says that a new party can open up the political contest and win against the odds and the Establishment. Then, it can make mistakes, be written off as a flash in the pan, say sorry and stage a comeback against a rival as formidable as the Narendra Modi-led BJP. It says that there is a future for a party in the city that looks the majority of voters in the eye, and talks directly to their concerns, instead of talking down to them, or invisibilising them in pre-rehearsed appeals that trade in self-serving abstractions. The AAP’s campaign — focusing relentlessly on everyday issues of bijli-sadak-paani-sewer and on the corruptions and abdications of the state in India’s capital city — has announced a new political style and model. Its 2013 campaign may have similarly shifted the ground of what is known as mainstream politics, but this time, the AAP succeeded in changing the very terms of the fight, forcing its opponents to borrow, if reluctantly and insincerely, from its vocabulary. That, and not just the staggering number of seats it finally won in the assembly, is the true measure of its achievement.
But in its unequivocal nature — Kejriwal has called it “scary” — this verdict will present special challenges. With no opposition to speak of, it will be the AAP’s responsibility to keep a check and maintain the balance. For a party of movement, with an overdeveloped sense of its own exceptionalism and righteousness, this will not be easy. In its 49 days in power, that appear to have left behind heartening stories of change for ordinary men and women across the city, it also showed a troubling tendency towards populist and attention-seeking behaviour, even vigilantism. The absence of firm structures and defined ideology, which helps it to broadbase its appeal among voters, also makes it look like a shifting entity of too many moving parts. If it is to prove itself to be a responsible party of governance, if it is to respect the whole-hearted mandate that the people of Delhi have given it, it will have to find a centre of gravity other than the personality cult around Arvind Kejriwal.
The overwhelming mandate also means there will be no excuses this time, no alibis. Now that it has all the space it needs, and more, it will have to hurry up and stitch together the frameworks that can undergird its campaign gestures and promises. Delhi’s new party of government must begin by working out an economic policy that can encompass and sustain its bijli-paani promises and an anti-corruption policy that can make an enduring systemic dent.