India’s Post-Ideological Politician


Thomas Crowley in Jacobin:

[T]he website (clearly run by a fan of Kejriwal, not the man himself) proudly proclaims that Kejriwal is a “popular socialist.” And while the Delhi manifesto of Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi (“Common Man”) Party is far from revolutionary, it is filled with proposals that tilt leftward: fighting the privatization of water in Delhi, building more government schools and imposing an upper limit for private school fees, breaking the stranglehold of monopoly capital in the electricity sector, replacing contract labor with permanent labor as much as possible, and empowering workers in the unorganized sector.

This manifesto was prepared for the Delhi Assembly elections, the first big test for the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (commonly known as the AAP). The election results, announced on December 8, stunned the political class, though they came as no surprise to the party’s supporters. In an impressive showing for such a young party, the AAP won 28 of 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly (the equivalent of a state legislature, except that as the national capital, Delhi, much like Washington, DC, is not quite a full state).

Delhi’s ruling party — the dynastic, dithering Congress — got walloped, winning a measly 8 seats, as voters expressed their discontent with rising food prices and a series of embarrassing political scandals. Congress’s perennial opponent, the business-friendly, upper caste-dominated, Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), gained the most from the anti-incumbency mood, taking 31 seats.

But Kejriwal himself scored the most telling victory, soundly defeating Congress’s Sheila Dikshit, who has served as Delhi’s Chief Minister (the state-level equivalent of Prime Minister) for the past fifteen years. Dikshit and Kejriwal were fighting to represent New Delhi, home to the nation’s top politicians. The lopsided nature of the contest was stunning: Kejriwal won by more than 30 percent. Post-election analysis revealed that much of Kejriwal’s support came from slums in the area; the working class residents of these slums, many of whom work in the service sector that supports the lavish lifestyles of politicians, had come to recognize the hollowness of Congress’s promises.

With this kind of support base, why does Kejriwal eschew the leftist label? After all, in India, unlike the United States, the words “communist” and “socialist” are not merely epithets used to tar political opponents. But perhaps “left” is becoming a dirty word among India’s political class.

More here.