Posted by: John Elliott | March 24, 2014

Kejriwal’s AAP offers India much-needed political disruption

Indian voters have three basic choices in the coming general election. The bravest would be to vote for the Aam Aadmi (common man) Party, led by Arvind Kejriwal (below), in order to create the disruption that the operations of India’s political system and government machine desperately needs.

13kejri1 - March 14 '14-001Most voters of course will not do that. It looks as if they will instead vote overwhelmingly for the Bharatiya Janata Party and Narendra Modi, its prime ministerial candidate, in order to get what they hope will be instant change in terms of economic growth and business confidence, while leaving unchanged most of the existing corrupt basic system of political power, graft and patronage.

Others will vote despairingly for Congress led by Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia because they fear Modi’s controversial reputation as Gujarat chief minister and the BJP’s creeping Hindu nationalism that will insinuate its way divisively into people’s daily lives.

This means that the key unknowns in the election are not whether the BJP will win – it will – but whether the AAP will surprise critics and win support, and maybe even seats, across the country, not just in and around its power centre of Delhi. The other unknown is whether Congress will do so badly that it falls below 100 seats in the 543 seat elected legislature.

Critics like to call Kejriwal, the 45-year old former tax official who founded the AAP, an anarchist. Arun Jaitley, a top BJP politician, has dubbed him an  “Urban Maoists”, a phrase that has been gleefully repeated by BJP supporters – notably on a chat show on CNN-IBN, a tv channel financially controlled by Mukesh Ambani of the Reliance (RIL) group who is a keen Modi supporter (seen together below).

Narendra Modi in Arunachal Pradesh  wearing a the traditional dumluk headgear of the local Adi tribe

Narendra Modi in Arunachal Pradesh wearing a the traditional dumluk headgear of the local Adi tribe

Kejriwal and his people do show some aspects of anarchy because, expanding from their original anti-corruption base, they want to overthrow the current political order that they regard as immoral. Kejriwal says the AAP is “not in this for electoral politics but to change the system”.

And they do behave as agitators rather than conventional politicians.

They are however neither anarchists nor Maoists because they want to reform the parliamentary system from within, not overthrow it (which is the aim of India’s more rural Maoists, usually known as Naxalites).

Ahmed Rashid, a leading Pakistani journalist and regional analyst, who heard Kejriwal speak at the India Today Conclave earlier this month, told me that the AAP leader was what Imran Khan, the former cricketer and leader of a Pakistan political party, should have been. Imran wasn’t what was needed “because he doesn’t know the country”, whereas there was “no other politician like Kejriwal in South Asia because of his mastery of facts and figures on poverty and deprivation”. (Rashid could have added that Imran is widely regarded as intellectually “dim”, which Kejriwal is not).

The system certainly needs reforming if India is to avoid the gradual implosion of institutions that I describe in my recently published best-selling book ( click here and see below). Crony capitalism involving corrupt extortionist politicians and bureaucrats in league with business at all levels, together with corrupt judges and cruel and often corrupt police, are gradually whittling away at institutions and are crippling India’s economic and social base.

Modi can change some of that – dramatically compared with the way that the government has been run by prime minister Manmohan Singh and his political bosses Sonia and (recently) Rahul Gandhi. He can gradually introduce growth-oriented policies and, if he appoints competent ministers and strong top bureaucrats, can transform India’s short-term image. More on that nearer the elections

modi_ambani- AFPHe is reputed to run a basically clean government in Gujarat where he has been chief minister since 2002, but there are nevertheless widespread hints of crony capitalism.

Kejriwal has done the country a service by mentioning two groups in particular – Reliance, whose Ambani family originated in Gujarat, and the Gujarat-based Adani group that has grown exponentially in infrastructure and allied industries during the past ten or so years.

Politicians – and most other opinion formers – rarely dare to attack Reliance. Kejriwal’s allegations of Ambani holding hidden bank accounts abroad and  receiving business favours in Modi’s Gujarat were sensitive enough for Reliance to issue denials on social media with U-Tube videos.

Such disruptive allegations are not welcomed by India’s establishment, and indeed the AAP’s message of wider disruption is not welcomed by many Indian voters who habitually resist change and tolerate their lot. People grumble about corruption and bad governance and took to the streets three years ago in mass country-wide protests that led to the creation of the AAP. Now, however, most want Modi to produce growth and stop the more outrageous top-level corruption practised by the current government.

The way that the AAP behaved during the 49 days from last December that it ran the government of Delhi, with Kejriwal as chief minister, is widely criticised. Kejriwal and his ministers hit the headlines more for staging street-level demonstrations and other visible protests than for sitting in their offices taking conventional decisions. The law minister clashed with police when he tried to take over their job and ordered them around on the streets. But AAP spokesman, Rahul Mehra, lists the successes as tackling low-level corruption, especially in the police, and producing short-term solutions on electricity and water supplies.

Kejriwal resigned after the 49 days because the AAP’s anti-corruption (Lok Pal ombudsman) legalisation was blocked  by the central government, which now temporarily runs Delhi under what is know as president’s rule till new elections are held later in the year.

That failure to perform as a rational and conventional government has dismayed middle class supporters, though many of them are still prepared to give the AAP continued support. It also looks as if Kejriwal has expanded his base among the poorer groups, who recognise the value for them of what the AAP was trying to do in Delhi and have none of the middle-class aversion to the Kejriwal style of upheaval.

Kejriwal combines being an astute street-level performer with a serious side that he displays when he meets people in calmer situations.  I watched him impress the India Today Conclave audience when, apart from some probably valid but also over-egged criticisms of Modi’s Gujarat (where he had just made a high profile visit), he produced sound facts and reason to support his criticisms and claims. With smaller groups, he talks knowledgably about policies – for example on foreign investment in supermarkets, which the AAP blocked in Delhi but which Kejriwal is prepared to support if positive evidence is produced.

Neither he nor his party is however yet ready for government, not in Delhi and obviously not nationally. Their main value is that they are affecting the way parties think and speak – Rahul Gandhi in particular voices Kejriwal’s line about devolving power to the people and their local representatives.

The next few weeks will show how far the AAP can go. It has announced 350 candidates and there are more to come.

Kejriwal has sharpened the contest with Modi by announcing [March 25] that he is  standing against him in the key Uttar Pradesh constituency of Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges, which could generate violent clashes.

The candidates are an odd medley of activists, teachers, journalists, ex-bureaucrats and opportunistic politicians defecting from other parties. Inevitably, for such a new and rapidly growing party, there are multiple egos and little cohesion.

If the AAP only wins a few of Delhi’s seven parliamentary constituencies, it will be seen as locally significant but little more. It will be able to declare moderate success if it wins ten seats or more in other constituencies, maybe some adjacent to Delhi and others further away. Its success nationally will depend partly on whether it manages to draw voters away from regional parties, which logically it should be able to do in places like UP, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu where locally based parties are even more corrupt that the Congress and BJP.

Kejriwal claims – almost certainly unrealistically – that the AAP will win 100 seats, and that Congress will get below that number. That would make the party a leading opposition force, but the figure is regarded by almost all observers as unlikely. India, they say, is not yet ready for such a Tryst with Reality, or is it?

Photograph of Arvind Kejriwal courtesy: Uttam Ghosh/

Details of where my best-selling book IMPLOSION – India’s Tryst with Reality can be bought:


INDIA – in all major bookshops and at  

PAKISTAN – available on pre-order from Liberty Books

SRI LANKA – available soon

INTERNATIONALLY – despatch by Amazon UK and US within a few weeks


INDIA AND INTERNATIONALLY – available on-line later this week

 E-SINGLE of SCAM ANDHRA in HARPER21 pre-election series

Harper Collins has issued a chapter from the book on Andhra Pradesh’s crony capitalism titled SCAM ANDHRA in a pre-election series of ten politics and governance e-singles – available from Rs16 and $0.77

INDIA – on Flipkart for Rs16

            – on Google on-line store for Rs21   

INTERNATIONALLY – at $0.77 or equivalent


  1. pradeep bihani • 15 hours ago
    Well written covering all aspects of politics

    Sri Murthy • 19 hours ago
    While the analysis sounds reasonable on first reading, I am not convinced about the author’s opinion completely.
    Indian people’s attitude and behaviour is as diverse as the language and culture is. There has never been a precedence when the nation had a third alternative party willing to work for itself. The alternating political system was always held by INC and BJP. This time there is an alternative option. And people have been oppressed in ways which is invisible to an analysts eyes, lets alone someone from outside India.
    India has seen great ethical leaders like Lal Bahadur Sastri, Kamaraj, CN Annadurai and many more. There are generations within the present electorate who yearn for someone who can atleast partially emulate those ethics. And then there is this present young generation who are not afraid to ask questions. This young generation can see that they will need to work more harder than their parents to make ends meet. And they sure will want to hold on to the olive branch which gives them hope. Then there is this middle aged generation, who are sandwiched in between, who have seen the parents praise ethical politicians, but have to compromise the same to provide a decent living for their children. There is a major proportion of the electorate from these three generations who never came out to vote because they though it was pointless. But this time around they will come out in hoards like it happened for the Delhi elections where voting hours had to be extended.
    For the rest of this comment go to

    niel • 19 hours ago
    Speaks my mind! Great sum up of the current political situation in India.

    Rajeev Agarwal • 21 hours ago
    Kejriwal is wrong about AAP winning 100 Lok Sabha seats. AAP will win 300 Lok Sabha seats on May 16, 2014.
    Isn’t it unthinkable? Well, consider that one year old Aam Aadmi Party has already done the unthinkable. AAP has already mobilized national imagination to be seen as the distant second alternative to BJP. Yes, with Aam Admi Party (AAP) expecting to declare 350 candidates, Aam Admi Party will win nearly every seat they contest.
    Why do I think AAP will win 300 Lok Sabha seats? As Adam Smith observed two centuries ago, humans are always working to advance their self-interest. Even today, the poorest of the poor vote rationally to advance their self-interest. That self-interest partially explains common man electing a regional party for a state assembly and a national party for Lok Sabha.
    For the rest of this comment go to

    Vipul Jain Rajeev Agarwal • 9 hours ago
    Really well written rhetoric with sound premises. At the beginning it looked hyped but you backed it up effectively. Please post it somewhere to reach more people. I am anyway posting it on my facebook page.

    swapan • 3 days ago
    One of the most sensible analysis I have come across…from veteran columnists John Elliot. It is unfortunate that Indian journos and media are too enmeshed with special interests to be balanced about this coverage.

    Brijesh Kumar • 3 days ago
    Nice article,thoroughly researched, very articulative 🙂 Indian media should stop running after money,sensationalism or learn from author.

    Aam Aadmi Party • 4 days ago
    We can’t guarantee that the one particular party can change every thing. If AAP don’t know politics then why so many people are following A.K and want him as a leader?? We should change our mind over this old political fashion.

  2. The true test of development is Independent Police and Judiciary.With Modi dead against installing a proper Lokayukta and turning Gujarat into a secret police state, his Ambani-Adani patronage and his long silence on the riots says everything about Modi.Darkly Cunning with an excellence on detail.

    The author while mostly being Sympathetic has been unfair on the 49-day rule.He is parrotting the ‘Highly Inventive’ Indian Media.

    Regarding winning seats I think AAP will spring little surprises here and there all over the country becuase AAP is an ‘Idea whose time has come’.Thanks to the Mobile and Internet Revolution.

    But AAP is and has always been weak on Organization.This is where Modi scores excellently.His strongest point is he is a very good Organizer with excellence on details.

  3. Comment from The Independent blogs where my posts also appear:
    Sai • an hour ago

    The so called “common man” party, is providing a common roof to the ant-national forces like Naxalites(dreaded Maoists like Sabayaschi Panda wanted for killing countless civilians and security forces) and his maoist buddies like Ranjan yadav, Pro-terrorist leaders like Muzaffar Bhat(who resigned from his party to protest the hanging of Afzal Guru- The man who masterminded the attack on Indian parliament by terrorists), Kamal Mitra Chenoy(who keeps egging on the kashmiri separatist forces to attack our security forces). If you still think it is really the common man’s party, then its time to wake up and smell the coffee. Its unfortunate that journos write anything these days without ascertaining the facts!

  4. Well analysed and balanced article…

  5. this comment appears on Facebook:
    Niranjan – it looks as though you’ve commented on my facebook para and not read the blog itself where I deal with the urban Maoists allegation and acknowledge that they do show some aspects of anarchy because they want to overthrow the current political order that they regard as immoral, and they do behave like agitators rather than conventional politicians.They are however neither anarchists nor Maoists because they want to reform the parliamentary system from within, not overthrow it.

  6. this comment appears on Facebook:
    It is very naive to believe that ALLWIND and his cohorts like Somnath Bharati, Sissodia who are alleged to have indulge in corrupt practices can bring about changes of the kind John thinks! These are basically urban Maoists who think in terms of only disruption but have no plans of regeneration. Young aspirational India needs jobs, improved prospects and a share in prosperity not some fuddy duddy ideas of village councils and mohalla sabhas. Modern day economy is too sophisticated for half baked ideas!

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