The rise of Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is being followed with keen interest in Pakistan.
Recently, a friend who is an Indian married to a Pakistani, and living in Canada, wondered aloud if AAP would have a spillover effect on Pakistani politics. I informed her that many Pakistanis actually think AAP is the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) of India!
Perhaps, that explains the interest this side of the Indus about how the AAP fares, and what lies in wait, especially in an election year in India.
But are AAP and PTI really similar? Is there a nodding acquaintance between the agendas of Arvind Kejriwal and Imran Khan? And even if they are different in form and style, will they, as anti-status quo forces, eventually succeed in heralding a change in the neighbourhood?
The jury is still out on the long term future of both AAP and PTI in India and Pakistan, respectively, given the near gravitational pull to a whimsical one-man leadership. It might even seem like an adventure to find similarities, but there's no harm trying — given the interest their arrival on the political stage has aroused.
Even though AAP was formed only last November and PTI has been around nearly 18 years — which is a daylight gap in terms of experience — the two do have an unmistakable footprint where their raison d'etre is concerned: to bring change.
Even though AAP's major plank is the eradication of corruption, and its decision to spread its wings as a broad-based national party only recent, in hindsight, Kejriwal may have laid the spadework when he founded a movement back in 1999 whose very name was Parivartan — meaning change. PTI was founded in 1996 and interestingly, one of its main planks was also rooting out corruption.
The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, which is governed by Khan's party became the first provincial government to enact the updated Right To Information law last month, something that Kejriwal also struggled for in his individual capacity to fight corruption.
But while AAP has been able to make an almost immediate impact by winning 28 of the 70 seats on offer in the recently held Delhi Legislative Assembly elections, which also saw Kejriwal upend the record reign of Congress Party chief minister Sheila Dixit, the PTI remained in political wilderness for nearly one-and-a-half decade.
However, once the PTI held a "game-changing" rally in October 2011, whose reverberations were felt across the political divide — stinging, in particular, the smug Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif, which had almost assumed it would romp home in the upcoming elections — the mantra of change fired the imagination of Pakistanis fed up with the existing order which had failed spectacularly to deliver.
Kejriwal's victory, on the other hand, swiftly gave birth to the idea of broadening the Aam Aadmi horizon. The party will now be contesting the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.
The one obvious corollary of both the AAP and PTI's populism of sweeping change — in the former's case, sweeping assumes literal proportions given that broom is the party's poll symbol —is that the other mainstream parties were forced to lift their game, rethink strategies and at least make a modicum attempt to look like the new kid on the block in the embrace of hoi polloi.
However, it would be stretching the imagination to conclude the two parties are entirely similar entities despite the apparent commonality in fighting the status quo. The Oxford-educated Imran Khan is inspired by the Bihar model of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Despite being a clean politician set against rivals who are seen as thoroughly corrupt, Khan has enjoyed the high life, and with all his high public profile still wears an "elitist" veneer.
Kejriwal, on the other hand, has no problem literally, brandishing the broom, and wearing the mantle of Aam Aadmi as he goes about his business in both personal and public spheres.
The genesis is 'similarly' different. The PTI is basically an urban phenomenon, whose centripetal force is its youth. AAP is more representative of the relatively downtrodden— with or without urban base — left at the mercy of a thoroughly corrupt order.
But some interesting parallels do exist. While both the PTI and AAP are strong on the mantra of change, they haven't been able to do justice to their pre-election promises in government — although AAP is relatively new to this role — and, are generally, beset with confusion in their outlook, approach and ranks.
The two parties also lend themselves to populism; their leaders wearing a self-righteous halo and taking dictatorial decisions with little room for in-house consultation, and are generally shy of debating issues inside the parliament or seeking consensus.
The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.