India Elections: Anti-Corruption Party Faces First Test

By Sourajit Aiyer

The battle to prove one’s worth is always challenging for the “new kid on the block”, and it is not different for India’s Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party).

India’s youngest political party was a result of the anti-corruption movement initiated by civil society activists in 2011 for a citizen’s ombudsman bill against corruption. That movement was essentially “apolitical” and saw popular support from common Indians.

A couple of members of that team branched out in 2012 to form their own political venture with the aim to clean the governance system by jumping into it themselves, instead of just activism from the outside. This venture, the Aam Aadmi Party led by Arvind Kejriwal, has set an honorable mandate for itself – corrupt-free governance while empowering the common man.

Nevertheless, a political outfit is always a topic of debate, more so in developing countries, where the perception of politics and political leaders takes on various hues. This political venture has also raised its share of skepticism from the voting public, whether Kejriwal and the leadership team can really live up to its mandate, while being politicians themselves.

The AAP might succeed, and many Indians who are disgruntled with the existing mainstream parties do hope it will win significantly in India elections.

The fledgling outfit faces its first test in the Delhi state elections on December 4. Winning the polls is only half the battle, the other half consists of five years of actually delivering while in government. The road ahead is tough for its leadership team and they face some challenges which could well prove decisive for the fortunes of the party and also, of the common man.

Scrutiny is always high on the challenger, especially where funds are concerned. Allegations regarding the foreign origin of some contributions were answered by saying they came as per the law – from overseas Indian nationals.

The former software pro leading its treasury has admirably set the systems and processes in place for monitoring. But running a party will cost more money and there is a critical need to ensure its legality is not compromised, even in future.

POLITICAL NOVICES

Let us come to human resources – candidates, volunteers, dissent and delegation. Having the right people at the right places is always advisable. But most of the candidates whom the leadership has chosen in the various constituencies of Delhi state are actually political novices.

Are novices capable of fighting dirty political battles and effecting its mandate? They might, since experience does not seem to have made some existent politicians the right ones either. However, voters might hesitate if they see only inexperienced novices. Activism was one thing, running a government is another and experience might add weight.

The leadership’s retort is that the freshness of its candidates is, in fact, its unique selling point to capture voter belief. The underdog can triumph, but the inexperience factor is making a lot of voters think. Kejriwal is balancing the candidate strength effectively, by inducting some formerly with existing mainstream parties.

There might be sense in fielding the inexperienced novices in constituencies whose population is disgruntled with existing politicians, to capture the anti-incumbency.

Involvement and interactions by its leadership brass in as many constituencies as possible during campaigning might add weight and tilt voter belief in its favour. Where the candidate’s persona cannot pull voters, the party’s persona might do so. Its leaders are already doing so in some.

The other aspect of human resource is its volunteers. Many are middle-class people working out of sheer motivation for what it stands for. That is what makes this special, since it has been rarely seen in developing countries where the common citizens jumped into active politics themselves.

However, these are also family people who need to earn their daily bread. Though nobody has asked the party leadership to provide for them, the call of the domestic duties will be inevitable. There is a severe need to induct a full-time workforce. If it wins, it probably will.

But if it loses, then how will it manage its manpower strength? Moreover, a slow volunteer leakage, largely disillusioned that its mandate did not woo voters, might add to woes. This might be a thought bothering its leaders right now.

Manpower retention and motivation might be enabled by adding more responsibility and recognition. Even in companies, money and designation are not the sole motivators. Additional responsibilities due to meritorious performance and recognition for that responsibility through an Internal Recognition/Appreciation system might often work wonders.