Indian democracy took a turn toward ancient Athens this week after the Aam Aadmi Party (“Common Man’s Party”) went to the people a second time in an attempt to resolve a political dilemma. The fledgling political outfit that earlier this month won 30 percent of the vote and 40 percent of the seats in elections in the city-state of Delhi brought up the notion of “direct democracy” in defense of its decision to hold a referendum in Delhi on the question of whether it should make a bid to form a minority government in the capital.
In its manifesto, the AAP has borrowed from Brazil’s Porto Alegre model of local government by popular consent. This makes it appear all of a sudden that the world’s emerging markets are also emerging as the sites of new developments in democratic thought and practice -- as indeed in the practice of authoritarianism and capitalism. New energies in India and Brazil are reworking forms of representative government that have settled into stasis in the developed world. (It has always been a conceit of the West that its own experience of democracy is somehow foundational and normative, when the reality might be instead that democracy moves in historically and culturally specific directions wherever it takes root.)
The referendum itself was a double-pronged affair involving a range of traditional and 21st-century forms. It offered the citizens of Delhi the option of going to a set of public meetings that would return a single “yes” or “no” answer by popular vote, or of sending in their answers by text message or on by phone. Some skeptics questioned, in my view wisely, the wisdom of such a referendum and the claim of “the will of the people” established by its results. After all, those who had voted for the AAP might be logically expected to be more willing than others to participate in such an exercise and to favor a yes.
And so it turned out, with the party declaring a 75 percent yes vote from individual respondents and a 90 percent yes vote from 280 public meetings. After the referendum, the party’s high command decided Dec. 23 to form the new government of Delhi. Its leader, the 45-year-old former bureaucrat and anti-corruption activistArvind Kejriwal, will take the oath as Delhi’s seventh and youngest-ever chief minister on Saturday at the Ramlila Maidan, a site closely associated with the party’s concerted struggle over the last few years for an anti-corruption watchdog for India.
India’s general election within six months will be hugely important for the country’s development and also for subscribers who have investments in Indian shares.Back to top