As India faces a period of unprecedented change Pranjal Sharma predicts more turbulence ahead
India is in turmoil. Its politics, business and governance are witnessing changes not seen in many decades. Fortunately, lot of the turmoil is leading to positive change. Most importantly, much of the change is being driven by an increasingly assertive civil society that is demanding more and more from its leaders.
As India readies for national elections, it is now absolutely certain the India will see a new Prime Minister. Current PM Manmohan Singh has declared that he will step down and will not be available if his party wins the elections. A generational change in political leadership at the national level is almost assured. Most national ministers and political leaders are over 70. The new leaders in waiting are at least a decade younger.
INC’s declining fortunes
The ruling coalition led by Indian National Congress (INC) has seen it fortunes decline during the last two terms it has been in power. The economic growth has halved to 5% with few signs of improvement. The government is mired in multiple and multi-billion graft charges.
INC’s main challenger Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) picked up a lot of momentum in the last few months led by charismatic and controversial leader Narendra Modi. A BJP led coalition had boosted economic development, but had lost elections as it was not seen as inclusive growth. Ironically, Modi is running for Prime Minister by focusing on his economic growth and improved governance platform. Some of it is working. BJP won three of the five regional state elections held in late 2013. But here is where the turmoil comes in.
The winner of the most important state, at least symbolically, was the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) or the common person party. AAP won the maximum number of seats in Delhi state which is also the national capital of India. AAP almost wiped out INC that had been running the state for last 15 years. The other key challenger BJP did splendidly too did not form the government since it was short of a majority.
The APP challenge
The turmoil in Indian polity has been created by AAP since it is a rare political entity to be run by people who are not career politicians. Almost all the members including its chief Arvind Kejriwal are people with professional background. Kejriwal is a former revenue service official who left the government for voluntary work many years ago.
AAP was borne from an anti-corruption movement two years ago that targeted INC for multi-billion dollar scams. Civil society in urban areas who usually apathetic to political issues protested on the streets for days. The fact that urban employment, consumer confidence and business growth fell under INC regime helped funnel the anger.
AAP is now recruiting membership for national elections. Millions of citizens are joining the party. Its cadre of volunteers is growing by the day. Compared to the falling and stagnating membership of other parties, this is a considerable achievement. While INC members are seen to be driven by a political career, BJP members are driven by a nationalist and chauvinist ideology.
Few parties in India today can boast of an exciting surge in membership. Prominent personalities from sectors like business, media, and culture are joining AAP. Former CEOs, performers, lawyers, news presenters are now AAP members. Almost none of them have prior political experience. And this is perhaps the biggest attraction of AAP that has created an exciting turmoil in politics. AAP represents an aspiration where meritocracy and transparent governance are encouraged. Traditional parties in India continue to be led by issues of identity, regionalism and faith.
economic agenda unclear
The idea of a modern India that rises above all such issues is preached a lot but never practiced by these parties. What AAP is not clear about is its economic agenda. It seems to be left of centre and has introduced some welfare measures in Delhi. It is also stoking civil society activism by steps like launching help lines to report corruption. Business and industry is keen to know about its focus on economic growth.
AAP will have to move from an anti-establishment activism to a constructive growth agenda. Millions of young unemployed could easily turn against AAP if they do not see their aspirations being met by a party that raised them even further. AAP plans to challenge BJP and INC in national elections that are expected by May. Hopefully, the turmoil and chaos that has been set in motion will result in clarity on the direction of India’s future.
Pranjal Sharma is a New Delhi-based business writer and a PublicAffairsAsia columnist