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POLITICS OPEN TO MERIT

The very name of India’s latest political formation — the Aam Aadmi Party — signals that politics is no longer the enclave of a select few. Politics, as the name of the party indicates, is a wide field where the common men and women work for their own benefit and upliftment. The phenomenon by itself is not new in India. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi transformed the Indian National Congress by bringing it in direct contact with the people of India and by mobilizing the latter against British rule. Historians belonging to an influential school of history writing have argued that the common people of India had their own forms of protest and political articulation, and these only at certain conjunctures converged with the protests that Gandhi organized. It could be argued that Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP have successfully mobilized popular anger against government arrogance, inefficiency and corruption. The result is a potent force that has shaken the existing structures of Indian politics. The outcome of this is uncertain but certain features of this seismic shift are becoming obvious.

With the emergence of the AAP, politics has ceased to belong only to politicians. It has now become open to anyone who is interested in representing the interests of the people. What is noteworthy is that at the very core of the AAP is a group of people who are all established professionals. Fed up with the way politicians abuse their authority and privileges, they have chosen to make a difference. This could be interpreted as the entry of the idea of meritocracy into the domain of politics. Persons of merit have come together in a forum to challenge the way established political parties, when they are in power, take decisions, and implement, or fail to implement, those decisions. Politics is no longer about staying in power but about doing good to society. The aim and the emphasis have shifted, and this is the challenge to the existing system. Old and entrenched political parties are recognizing that what the AAP represents cannot be ignored because it is symbolic of a change taking place within Indian democracy.

One result of this development is evident in the eagerness of Nandan Nilekani to enter democratic politics. Mr Nilekani is one of India’s most successful entrepreneurs who was brought into the government by the prime minister and given the responsibility of a project that fell within his domain of expertise. Having seen the functioning of the government from the inside, Mr Nilekani wants to enter the political system through the democratic process. He is eager to do what men like Mr Kejriwal have already made possible. Mr Nilekani represents meritocracy. The dissatisfaction with existing forms of governance is forcing persons of merit to change the face of democracy in India.