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India's new anti-graft party losing its shine

Publication Date : 30-01-2014

 

The thrill is gone for the Aam Aadmi Party after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal hit a rocky patch just a month after he rode in on a wave of popularity.

His two-day street protest against the city police last week did not go down well with his middle-class supporters, while Delhi law minister Somnath Bharti got the party into more hot water by allegedly leading a mob that illegally detained African women suspected of being in a prostitution and drugs racket.

Even as political rivals were pressing the party to sack Bharti, 39, it was forced to expel another lawmaker, Vinod Kumar Binny, 40, after he fell out with Kejriwal over being denied a ministerial berth.

In some quarters, praise for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has turned to scepticism as supporters insist it needs time to implement its agenda.

Author Chetan Bhagat, who was full of compliments earlier, called AAP a "reality show" that was out for television ratings rather than doing serious work.

Janata Dal (U) lawmaker Shoaib Iqbal, who is supporting the AAP government from the outside without joining the administration, said: "When you come into government you do get into controversies but not this much... They came into power on an anti-Congress wave but they have not been able to capitalise yet."

When he launched the AAP in November 2012, Kejriwal, 45, a social activist turned politician, managed to turn the people's anger against corruption in the ruling Congress party to his benefit.

A year later, he defied all predictions when the AAP won 28 of the 70 seats in last month's elections and went on to form the government with help from the Congress, which had been in power for 15 years, and its seven seats.

The AAP and its leaders also won high praise for their unconventional style of politics - from bringing transparency to funding by listing all records on its website to saying "No" to perks such as a large security detail and big ministerial houses.

While political analysts said the honeymoon appeared to have ended rather abruptly, they also think Kejriwal could still surprise.

"The party has been born in the crucible of protest. So it raises a question - when a group used to being a protest group becomes a ruling party, how is it able to responsibly manage power?" asked Professor Sandeep Shastri, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Jain University in Bangalore. "But you can't rule them out just as yet."

The AAP has defended its record saying it has done good work and claimed that 10 million people had joined the party during its 15-day-long membership drive this month.

Over the last month, it has set up helplines for reporting corruption in public office and irregularities in nursery admissions, provided up to 700 litres of free water to every household each day and has promised to slash electricity bills by half.

But that is still not seen to be enough by the people who voted the party to power with high expectations.

"There are a couple of challenges and one of them is the very high expectation of people," said AAP spokesman Dilip Pandey, while Kejriwal told reporters on Monday: "No other government has managed to get as much work done as ours."

Still, some of its policies have attracted criticism, including its decision to not allow multi-brand retail in Delhi.

Captain G.R. Gopinath, a member of the AAP, spoke out against the decision, saying the party needed to put measures in place for job creation.

"Our idea is to see how the poor become middle class. For that, you need jobs which will be created by the private sector.. Kejriwal has to create policies supporting that," said Capt Gopinath, known in India as the pioneer of low-cost aviation.

Still others said the AAP has to come out with an economic agenda.

"They are an upstart. They have to come down to articulating the economic agenda... on the national stage. If they don't focus on the economic side, they might not be able to generate support. There are the problems of joblessness and inflation which you can't wish away," said Arvind Singal, chairman of Technopak, a consultancy firm.

But even those who criticise the party say they hope it will overcome the challenges it is facing.

"I believe in Kejriwal. I'm still supporting him and his party," said Capt Gopinath. AAP's mistakes, compared to those made by bigger traditional parties, "are still forgivable," he says.

 

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