- Arvind Kejriwal at a press conference in New Delhi
Arvind Kejriwal picked the obvious name for his party: the Aam Aadmi Party.
Mr. Kejriwal, a former bureaucrat and activist, has been cultivating the image of himself as the common man. The words “aam aadmi” are printed on the Gandhi cap that has become a fixture of his look ever since he laid out his vision for a political party two months ago.
When an NDTV reporter, in a recent interview, asked him: “Who is Arvind Kejriwal?” he replied: “aam aadmi, aam aadmi,” without hesitation. The party officially launched Monday, on the 63rd anniversary of the day India enacted its constitution.
Manish Sisodia, who co-founded the Aam Aadmi Party, said they picked this name because it’s a party “of the people, by the people and for the people of India.” The name allows plenty of room for word plays: Mr. Sisodia told India Real Time “the common man” will now contest elections, campaign and vote.
The choice of “aam aadmi” didn’t go down well with the ruling Congress party, which feels the phrase has been hijacked from its political lexicon. “The aam aadmi is synonymous with the Congress since 1885 when the party came into existence. Nobody can hijack, skyjack or bicycle-jack the intrinsic relationship between the Congress and the people of this country,” Manish Tewari, a senior party official, said in a televised press conference. Congress party spokesmen were not available to comment.
The phrase is a favorite of Congress youth leader Rahul Gandhi, who repeatedly referred to the aam aadmi in a public address in Delhi earlier this month.
The phrase “aam aadmi ko kya mila,” which roughly translates from Hindi as “what does the common man have,” was one of Congress’s most popular slogans ahead of the 2004 general elections, which the party won. A 2009 Times of India article headlined “The rise of the aam aadmi,” said that these words “did wonders” for Congress at the time.
But it’s unclear whether the name will benefit Mr. Kejriwal’s party in the same way. “The name is not that important by itself,” says Pradip Kumar Datta, professor of political science at Delhi University. “It really depends on the kind of mobilization, on the kind of values that they can associate with the name.”
This, he says, largely depends on how well the party does at the polls. Since it is presenting itself as an anti-system party, if it enters an alliance with established parties it will make “a mockery” of its name, says Mr. Datta.
While Mr. Kejriwal is popular among the young, urban middle classes, for his party to be successful it will need to broaden its support base, experts say. To secure votes in rural areas, for instance, the party will have to have a convincing development agenda.