For students of voting behaviour, corruption is what they’d call a ‘valence issue’

No one, in other words, sets out to make a case for more corruption.  Indeed, everyone (claims to) want to see less corruption.  The question is subsequently of how to go about achieving that, and not whether the aim itself is one worth achieving.

The ‘valence’ nature of corruption as an issue has not stopped the Aam Aadmi Party (literally, the ‘Party of the Common Man’) from causing quite a stir over the past few weeks in India.  Led by the articulate and approachable Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP caused a storm in a regional election in Delhi in December, gaining 28 seats and a plurality of the vote.  The party’s platform?  To tackle corruption.  Nothing more, nothing less.  After initially refusing to enter government (on account of needing another party to ensure a parliamentary majority), the AAP quickly had a change of heart and took on the challenge.  Delhi, and India, subsequently entered an interesting new chapter in its party political development.

It didn’t take long, however, before the AAP’s opponents were hurling abuse at the new upstart – Salman Khursid from the AAP’s main rival, the Congress Party, called Kejriwal an “anarchist with Jurassic ideas” whilst AAP party members were some of the “worst, stinking third grade people” in all of India.  Even AAP members have begun to join in with the criticisms, senior party figure Vinod Binny claiming that parts of the party manifesto “conned the people of Delhi”.  With friends like these …

The AAP’s recent success in the Indian capital certainly makes for interesting viewing.  Many of the AAP’s policies have a decidedly populist feel to them; giving each and every citizen of Delhi 700 litres of free water, for example, and promising to cut electricity bills by up to 50 per cent.  Much will depend on whether Kejriwal and his colleagues can quickly learn how to govern, and where and with whom they can and can’t make compromises.  History would tell us that the AAP will ultimately succumb to the long-standing dynasties in Congress and the BJP, but Kejriwal has already done much better than many single issue anti-corruption activists before him.  With a general election planned for the middle of 2014, Indian politics will certainly be worth keeping a close eye on.

Professor Dan Hough. Director of the Sussex Centre for the Study of Corruption.

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