In a short period of time the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has shaken up India's political landscape by offering an honest alternative to the mainstream national parties, specifically the Congress and the BJP. This article is an attempt to understand AAP's credibility on certain crucial dimensions; namely, the integrity of senior leadership, their policy agenda for the underprivileged sections of society, and for the economy and business sector. While doing so, a brief comparison of AAP with BJP and Congress is also attempted by Citizen News Service (CNS). High personal integrity of senior leaders is a fundamental pre-requisite for good governance. It is a starting condition for a party to collectively try to envision an India without vested self interests.
Once this is assured, it is worth looking at a party's agenda for governance and policy while keeping in mind the interests of various sections of the society and the country at large.
Integrity of senior leaders
This is the major basis of AAP's positioning. Most of its senior leaders including those whose candidature has been announced or is likely to be announced are persons with track record of integrity and honest intentions. Coming from diverse professional and socio-economic backgrounds, they have joined AAP as they view it as a platform for positive change. Almost all of them wish to root out corruption and make the governance clean and transparent. Some of them also strongly believe in decentralized governance structure which lends priority to the concerns of the ordinary people and communities.
In stark contrast, both the BJP and the Congress fall way short on this aspect. Modi's cabinet and close associates in Gujarat include several senior persons with serious corruption or criminal charges. This small group has been running the administration without regard to transparency. Even in other states and nationally, the BJP and the Congress have several senior leaders with dubious records and non-transparent ways of working.
Policy agenda for the socio-economically vulnerable sections
This is another dimension on which AAP's agenda is probably the best of the three parties. It professes to follow a combination of 'decentralized governance structure' and 'centrally guaranteed social security on essential livelihood services'.
The decentralized and democratic governance approach that AAP is advocating has elements of Gandhi's idea of 'Swaraj'. In this approach, citizens at every local granular level will participate and have a strong say in the decision-making process about the issues that concern them.
In addition, AAP promises to provide every citizen a 'lifeline' support of services like water, healthcare, schools, electricity, and housing, which are essential inputs to livelihood and to accessing basic socio-economic opportunities in a society. The genuineness of AAP's commitment towards the vulnerable sections like the poor, minorities, workers, dalit, and tribal people is also displayed in its choice of several senior social activists in its leadership and Lok Sabha candidates.
This decentralized, people-centric approach of AAP stands in contrast to the centralized, top-down, and unilateral imposition-based approach of the Congress and the BJP. While the Congress talks about some of the similar issues of the people, like food security, land acquisition, and employment, its utter corruption, inefficiency in implementing promises, and dynastic governance have damaged its credibility. The BJP has probably been worse, with its inherently communal outlook in addition to Congress-like corruption and centralized governance approach, not to speak of the overtly autocratic governing style of its PM candidate.
Policy agenda for the economy and the business sector
An important contribution made by AAP in the recent debate on economic policy is to point out the distinction between 'honest capitalism' and 'crony or dishonest capitalism'. Kejriwal has clarified that AAP supports business activities and views the business sector as performing an important role, but is against crony capitalism. Let us understand this difference by way of examples.
Wikipedia defines 'crony capitalism' as an economy in which success in business depends on close relationships between business people and government officials, or on collusion between market players. Such practices are motivated by objectives of greed rather than interest of consumers or society. It may be exhibited by favouritism in the distribution of legal permits, government grants, special tax breaks, or other forms of state patronage. Indian economy clearly needs to move away from such a regressive model towards a transparent and progressive one.
Practices followed by certain influential business groups in India -- with active support of the central or state governments -- could be straight away categorized as crony capitalism. Both the Congress and the BJP governments have been consistently guilty on this count. For instance, the latest K G Basin gas-price revision by the UPA government and the earlier 2G scam, which were against the interest of industrial and end consumers, are examples of crony capitalist practice. Another glaring example is the series of favours granted by the BJP to a particular business group in Gujarat that is known for its proximity to Modi, as a result of which it grabbed mega contracts despite its high prices. The business group grew by fourteen times, to over INR 50,000 crore, in the past twelve years of the Gujarat BJP government. Economic and industry policies followed by the Modi government in Gujarat, and the UPA and the erstwhile NDA at the national level, are littered with such blatant manifestations of crony capitalism.
In contrast, the short-lived AAP government in Delhi had two levels of positive impact on the business world. At the macro level, AAP's FIR against Mukesh Ambani and two central cabinet ministers in connection with the rent-seeking decision of K G Basin sent out a clear message to the corporate world that unfair and manipulative business practices are not acceptable. At the ground level, AAP's actions and postures led to some drop in the corruption faced by businesses in routine transactional activities for which they interface with government departments. For example, many transporters and logistics service providers of north India have come out in support of AAP as they experienced reduced harassment by the transport department and police personnel at entry/exit toll nakas in Delhi. Likewise, several small and medium manufacturing and trading firms in Delhi reported reduced corruption.