The highlight of the current round of state elections is, without doubt, the extraordinary showing of the Aam Aadmi Party. Its main competition in Delhi, the Congress and the BJP, may regret with the advantage of hindsight not taking the new challenger seriously. The party, launched just around a year ago, has today become the main opposition party in the Delhi assembly. It has not only become the focal point of much discussion but has also taken away some of the sheen from the BJP.
Its beginning in November 2012 was rather shaky. The break with Anna Hazare, the face of the popular movement against corruption, must have been difficult. The need for a party arose from the belief that the existing system favoured the status quo and the entrenched participants did not want radical change. The AAP decided that it would be the change it wanted to see. It quickly went about doing things differently, right from designing its organisational structure to putting forward its programme of action. It also had an internal code of conduct, as well as a statement of how it was different from other political parties.
The AAP hit the ground running and began its campaign almost immediately. The Delhi gangrape case, it must be mentioned, helped it sustain its momentum and also move away from the shadow of Hazare. Arvind Kejriwal’s much-publicised fast against inflated electricity bills in March this year pushed it into campaign mode. In terms of organising for elections, the party distinguished itself from others in three ways: an open and transparent system of candidate selection, fund collection and manifesto preparation. The rest, as they say, is history.
However, the AAP’s success must be put in perspective. The odds that it would fail were much higher than the chances that it would succeed. We know that entry barriers for new parties in systems that use the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system are high. Studies of electoral rules have shown that there is a double negative at work, in terms of both low incentives and high costs. While it may be relatively easy to win a seat or two — and this might explain why we see a large number of independent candidates in the fray — coordinated wins by a new party over a large number of constituencies are extremely difficult. First, there is the psychological barrier. It is hard to create mass sentiment