WHEN THE DELHI ASSEMBLY, amidst the expected uproar, voted 42 to 27 to block the introduction of the Jan Lokpal Bill on 14 February, it signalled the end of the Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal’s volatile seven weeks as chief minister. In a characteristic act of showmanship, Kejriwal tried to project the failure as the result of a united effort by the Congress and the BJP to scuttle the AAP’s cherished anti-corruption legislation, and not of his government’s attempt to sidestep constitutional procedure by bringing the bill to the floor without the approval of the central government. In a speech to the assembly, he declared, “From the scenes that I have witnessed today, it is clear that we have to be in parliament.” Two hours later, Kejriwal announced his resignation.
The episode came as little surprise. From the AAP’s inception, the party’s ambitions have been national, and the Delhi sojourn was only a halt on its way towards parliament. But even as the party aims for the kind of reach the Congress and the BJP enjoy, there is little agreement among observers about the impact the AAP will have in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Publicly, both the BJP and the Congress prefer to dismiss the possibility that the AAP could play a major role, but in private, senior leaders in both parties conceded that the AAP’s ability to impact the result in high-profile contests is a cause for concern. This anxiety was reinforced two days after Kejriwal’s resignation, when the AAP released its first list of parliamentary candidates. The AAP has deliberately chosen to pit prominent faces from the party against senior Congress and BJP leaders to ensure it gets across its message in the most effective way possible. In Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, the former television news anchor Ashutosh is challenging the Congress minister Kapil Sibal, and will no doubt make the most of issues such as the 2G scam. In Nagpur, activist Anjali Damania is taking on the senior BJP leader Nitin Gadkari (whom Kejriwal has claimed is among India’s most corrupt politicians), ensuring the BJP will not escape scrutiny on the issue of graft either.