One of India’s major anti-corruption figures has staged a spectacular return to power in New Delhi local elections, just eight months after abandoning office following his first electoral victory.
Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Admi Party (“AAP,” the “Common Man’s Party” in Hindi) won an astonishing 67 out of 70 seats in the Delhi legislative elections, banishing the iconic Congress Party and trouncing the Bhartiya Janta Party (“BJP”) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The AAP’s election has many implications for Indian politics. But one thing is clear: voters supported AAP’s continued promise to attack official corruption and end a “VIP culture” that misallocates resources to the powerful. The challenge now for Kejriwal and the AAP is to govern this sprawling megacity, with a population greater than the Scandinavian countries combined.
The AAP victory in 2013 proved that populist outrage over official misconduct was a potent political theme. However, Kejriwal and the AAP face increased expectations and a transformed political scene. In India, “anti-corruption” is now a common political plank.
The BJP also claimed anti-corruption credentials during the 2014 national elections, but their emphasis in their first year of power has been on jump-starting the Indian economy. With Indian growth rates nearing China’s, and a very successful visit by President Obama, the BJP looked nearly invulnerable.
However, AAP’s grass-roots campaigning and promise to address the routine corruption that the average population faces proved more appealing than macro-economics in this highly local election.
Kejriwal apologized repeatedly for bolting from office in 2014 after only 49 days in power. He also avoided the confrontational circuses that helped him win attention earlier but proved unhelpful in running the capital of India.
What can we expect from the new AAP government? Kejriwal has been called an anarchist, and one of his most popular decisions in his first term was to lower water and power tariffs. His cartoon avatar “Mufflerman” skewers his somewhat ostentatious humility (he campaigned swaddled in the same type of scarf worn by many Delhi residents during the brief period of quasi-cold in this notoriously polluted city).
However, the broad coalition of average citizens, professionals and social activists that coalesced to create this unlikely victory have elected a more muted, focused and sophisticated AAP. Kejriwal and his party will undoubtedly work to make the most of their second chance. Rooting out corruption in daily Delhi life will be radical enough.
Russell Stamets is a Contributing Editor of the FCPA Blog. He was the first non-Indian general counsel of a publicly traded Indian company and was general counsel for a satellite broadcasting joint venture of a large Indian business house. Russ can be contacted here.