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The Politics Of The Common Man In India

25/02/2015 8:01 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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An Indian woman waits for bus as she sits near an election advertisement with a photograph of Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal at a bus stop in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. A slew of exit polls Saturday predicted an outright victory for Aam Aadmi Party, an upstart anti-corruption party in elections to install a state government in India's capital, a potentially huge blow for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party. Hindi reads, "five years Kejriwal".(AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

Co-authored with Dipanwita Das, the Accountability Lab's Ambassador in India and Founder and Director of Das Social Strategies.

On the 26th of January 2015, we lost the Common Man. R K Laxman, who, for decades, had provided us with a satirical take on the Indian democratic process. He took with him the ubiquitous 'common man', the witness to the growth of democracy in India and often one of the few mediums through which we, the citizens, felt like part of the political process. Within weeks of this devastating loss, the party of the common man or 'Aam Aadmi Party' (AAP) came to power in Delhi. Suddenly, the aam aadmi was no longer a picture on paper but a real, active participant in Indian politics. The aam aadmi showed s/he could now shape democracy. As evidenced by Roy R Thomas's tribute to Laxman, "the change" had begun.

After the gigantic AAP broom had swept Delhi clean, most people were left thinking; but, how? A year ago, almost to the day, the AAP had been given the mandate to govern our capital city. Riding a nationwide anti-corruption campaign, there seemed for the first time in decades, to be hope for sustainable change. But they failed us horribly. After just 49 days Arvind Kejriwal, the vehement 'muffler man' resigned. We shook our heads and swore they would never be able to rise again. And yet, they did.

This is important for two reasons. First, humility is an attractive quality for Indians and it is something that the AAP has demonstrated very clearly. When displayed by a person of power and influence, it has the power to sway the hearts and minds of every thinking and feeling Indian who wants a clean and accountable government. When is the last time we remember an Indian politician apologising to the people s/he had betrayed? Apologies are rare; excuses are a daily occurrence. Mr Kejriwal, however, deviated entirely from established practice by apologising to the electorate. He promised to try his best and do justice to the faith and trust given to him if re-elected. So when the voters were confronted with the all-powerful BJP and the obviously corrupt Congress, they flocked towards the only party that seemed human. Humility makes for a great leader and the basis for truly responsive governance.

Second, the process of voting is not merely a numbers game. It is not influenced only by facts, statistics or even policies. It is driven by emotion. The same emotions that have been used to drive caste-based politics can also be used to drive an inclusive politics that inspires and galvanises the hopeful, the non-corrupt, and the formerly fearful. When we cast our vote for a 'leader' we want that leader to have our best interests at heart. This is the core of accountability. The AAP is a party that started as a social movement against corruption - the single most damaging problem in India. Here is a party that holds no grudges against women, which does not claim to have a say in personal preferences around religion, and seems to care about the "roti, kapra and makaan" that occupy our minds every day. That is a party we can vote for.

Over half of India's population is under the age of 25 and this generation is ready to be inspired and galvanised behind a collective vision for a better future. They are yet to be jaded, appreciate humility and recognise the role of learning from failure on the path to true success. The AAP symbolises just that growth pattern and break from a bygone era of uglier, less constructive politics.

Politics has been a dirty word for a very long time. People who consider themselves 'common' have stayed away from the political process because they are perceived to have no power, no resources and no voice. Mr. Kejriwal, in his victory speech, spoke of his wife's avoidance of frontline politics for fear of politically motivated backlash. This is a universal fear. But the AAP is a crowd-funded social movement. For a change, the leader does not have to be wealthy or related to a minister. For a change, it feels like he is one of us. Let's hope this is the beginning of a larger change in India that can make this new politics the norm, not the exception. Long live the Common Man.

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