Aam Aadmi Party Victory in Delhi: the comeback of Indian anti-corruption politics?

By Lucía Ixtacuy

The Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP) first gained international attention when it managed to achieve the second-largest majority in the Delhi Assembly after the 2013 elections. Grabbing 28 out of the 70 seats was considered an unprecedented and even “historic” political debut in India.

However, only 49 days after being sworn in as chief minister, the party leader, Arvind Kejriwal, resigned. Claiming that opposition parties in the national parliament were stalling an important bill (Jan Lokpal Bill (drafted by prominent civil society activists including Kejriwal himself) which would, among other things, appoint an independent body to investigate and prosecute corruption cases.

Kejriwal’s decision to step down was severely criticized by both analysts and AAP supporters alike. Perhaps partially as a consequence of his departure, the Party did not win any seats during the parliamentary elections of 2014. Such defeat brought deep concerns about the longevity of the AAP as a political organization.

Last week however, the AAP got 67 out of the 70 seats in the Delhi State Assembly elections. Not only are the results historic; the election also registered a record polling, with 67.08% turnout.

delhi_election_results
Source: Elections Data NDTV

Such a striking result makes it particularly interesting to have a closer look at the AAP, especially with regard to two facts. First, that the party blossomed as a result of the consolidation of the citizen anti-corruption movement, strong enough to influence the design and scope of a draft anti-corruption bill through a nationwide mobilization in 2011. Second, that once a part of the movement decided to constitute a political party, it was formed around anti-corruption as the main agenda.

The emergence and success of an anti-corruption movement, the impressive levels of voter turnout and the regained support for the APP, say much about Indian people being fed up with high levels of corruption.

Corruption in India

High-levels of corruption affect every citizen in India, from bribes that must be paid in order to access public services (i.e., identity cards, passports, and building permits) to an undermined rule of law and cases of fraudulent election processes. Corruption is present even in rural areas, as villagers are forced to pay bribes for accessing social programs. According to the Center for Media Studies, there is not much difference in the extent of corruption that households below the poverty line experience in urban and rural areas.

India has had broad anti-corruption legislation in place since colonial times, but corruption still prevails (i.e. Prevention of Corruption Act (1947), the Benami Transactions Prevention Act (1988), and Prevention of Money Laundering Act (2002). In addition, a set of anti-corruption institutions have been in operation since the early ninety-sixties (i.e. the Anticorruption Bureau (1961), the Central Bureau of Investigation (1963), the Central Vigilance Commission (1964) and the Directorate of Enforcement and the Financial Intelligence Unit (2004).

Unfortunately, legislation and institutions cannot control corruption per se. Engaged citizens demanding (and using) such instruments are also needed in order to have some results. Fortunately in India, parallel to the creation of an institutional and legal framework, social movements explicitly demanding transparency appeared already around 1975, leading to the declaration of the right to information as a fundamental constitutional right (1982), the adoption of the Right to Information Act (2005) and its operationalization (2010).

Supply and demand sides of accountability

The combination of supply and demand sides of accountability may be behind the success story of the India against Corruption Movement and the subsequent, electoral victories of the AAP; where the supply side consists of the mechanisms needed to hold government officials to account, and the demand side entails a dynamic civil society that is socially and politically active (World Bank 2009; Malena & McNeil 2010).

Last year, I was part of a team of master’s degree candidates that explored the role of both sides of accountability on control of corruption. As a case study, we analyzed the specific context in which the India Against Corruption Movement emerged, and the elements contributing its intensification and the subsequent formation of the AAP.

Changing the incentive structure of corruption

One of the main observations to emerge from our fieldwork, and which is relevant given the recent victory of the AAP, is that the anti-corruption movement and the Party rhetoric might have brought about changes in the incentive structure of corruption. This given that the logic behind corrupt behaviors follows a cost-benefit analysis, and individuals assess their opportunities, their cost, and the risks of getting caught.

First of all, the AAP has been highly successful in making corruption one of the most salient political issues. This has shifted the incentives for corrupt behaviors, since being corrupt has become increasingly more costly in electoral terms. An anti-corruption stance has become the prerogative in Indian politics. No politician can expect to get strong support from their electorate base if they do not address the issue of corruption. Hence, a society that is actively condemning the existence of corruption is also willing to give harsher punishments.

In addition, citizens were actively engaging in the collection of evidence for corrupt behavior. Arvind Kejriwal has asked followers and supporters of the movement on repeated occasions to be alert and record any situation they might find compromising. Social media has been the main platform to share these experiences and evidence. Organizations supporting the movement, such as, I Paid a Bribe, encourage citizens to share their experiences with corruption through Twitter and to accuse public servants involved in such acts. Consequently, there are new pressures on bureaucratic officials, who now have to think twice before they engage in corrupt acts. The risk of being caught has exponentially increased, and so have the costs.

Finally, the introduction of the Right to Information Act (RTI) has forced public officials into carrying out more transparent procedures of implementation of policies. Given that anybody can ask for information on the process at any time, RTI has changed the structure of incentives in terms of how public information is dealt with.

Whether the AAP is to last is yet to be seen. However, many of the individuals we interviewed for our field work agreed that even if the anti-corruption movement or the AAP are short-lived, they will remain relevant as long as they bring about certain changes, ideals or better yet, the development of a new governance structure.

As a final remark, it is interesting to note that, in terms of control of corruption, India’s rank in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) moved up to 85 (score: 3.8) in 2014 compared to that of 95 (score: 3.1) in 2011- when the anti-corruption movement emerged. Transparency International India 2014 CPI Report notes that such score possibly captured the anti-corruption mandate on which the government was elected and reflects the possibility of some new reforms in this area, including the passing of pending anti-corruption bills.

Lucia Ixtacuy recently graduated from the MPP programme at the Hertie School of Governance. She, Julián Prieto and Mónica Wills authored the ERCAS working paper: Anti-Corruption Revolutions: When Civil Society Steps In based on their master’s thesis. A summary of their research and findings is available here.

References:

McNeil, M., & Malena, C. (2010). : Demanding Good Governance: Lessons from Social Accountability Initiatives in Africa. . Washington DC: World Bank Publications, Ch 1.