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Battle for India
The Upstart Takes Aim at the King

Before voting began in Delhi’s state-assembly election earlier this month, one of the leaders of the Aam Aadmi (“Common Man”) Party, an upstart anti-corruption organization in India, told a journalist, off the record, that he didn’t expect much initial success. Ten percent of the vote would be enough, Yogendra Yadav said to Samanth Subramanian, who relates this story in the New Yorker. “I’ve seen too many vote-share tables in my life to expect miracles,” Yadav laughed.

After the votes were counted in Delhi, it emerged that the AAP had won a stunning 28 seats, just three short of Narendra Modi’s BJP. Building on that spectacular success the AAP announced today that it would contest all 26 national parliament seats in Modi’s home state of Gujarat. Arvind Kejriwal, AAP’s outspoken leader, is now a man to watch in Indian politics.

Gujarat sends 26 elected lawmakers to the Lok Sabha, India’s national parliament. It is not India’s largest state nor its most populous, nor is it considered a pivotal battleground in elections due by May next year. But it is Narendra Modi’s turf. He has been its chief minister since 2001, winning three elections easily and building a reputation as a man who takes care of business. Gujarat’s better-than-average growth and pro-business environment launched Modi’s career as a national figure. He is destined, some say, to be the next prime minister.

But Gujarat was divided in the 2009 national elections. The BJP won just 14 of the 26 seats; Congress took the other 12. With Congress’s popularity plummeting (it lost 35 seats in Delhi and was handily beaten in other state assembly elections this year), an upstart party like the AAP has a remarkable opportunity to snatch a few seats.

Kejriwal and the AAP stunned observers (and even surprised themselves) with their showing in Delhi’s assembly elections. Because the AAP took home so many seats, Modi and the BJP were prevented from being able to form a government without coalition partners. Could the upstart AAP build on that success in Modi’s home state? It would be unwise to bet against it.

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