Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party: The Common Man Party emerged from the ashes of India’s enormously popular, but now somewhat diminished, anti-corruption movement and enjoys huge support among the labourers of poor, urban India. To almost everyone’s surprise, in December the AAP swept the state elections in New Delhi, winning 28 seats out of 70 and ousting the long-time Congress chief of Delhi and seizing political power of the capital. Electricity bills came down by half and the poor got free water – New Delhi’s rickshaw drivers seem to unanimously support the party, based on the posters adorning their vehicles – and soon the party’s leader quit to run nationally. Businesspeople fear it as a disruptive wild card in national politics, but even cynics admit that the AAP has brashly pushed anti-corruption issues onto the national agenda and kept its larger rivals honest.
Narendra Modi (BJP): A lower-middle-class son of a chai wallah (tea seller) from a town in rural Gujarat, Mr. Modi has had a curious and remarkable rise through the pro-Hindu movement to become the Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat, where he has won a majority in three elections. He has presided over a decade of strong growth in Gujarat and is widely respected by the business community for slashing red tape and attracting investment, though critics say Gujarat was prosperous before he got there and has regressed on many social metrics. He does yoga every morning, once wandered as an ascetic, is said to be incredibly demanding, and has pledged to replace the weak coalition in New Delhi with a strong, decisive and business-oriented administration. He is widely expected to win. But many still can’t see past the vicious anti-Muslim riots of 2002 that occurred under his government and in which more than a thousand people – mainly Muslims – died. Mr. Modi’s refusal to apologize, and his supporters’ claims that he shouldn’t have to, have kept the controversy alive and fuelled fear of what his government might do with a strong mandate.
Rahul Gandhi (Congress): He is the great-grandson of India’s founding prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the ostensible prime ministerial candidate for Congress. The son of Sonia Gandhi, who leads the party, Mr. Gandhi has struck most observers as a reluctant heir to power. The party brought him out to lead Congress in the state elections of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, but the party’s consequent failure there left many disappointed, and questioned Mr. Gandhi’s ability to guide Congress into the future. But even though corruption has bedevilled the Congress-led coalition throughout its recent reign, Mr. Gandhi’s name still means a lot in Indian politics – both as a brand that can attract voters in droves, but also as a contrasting vision for a pluralistic country.
Arvind Kejriwal (AAP): A former tax collector from the Indian Revenue Service might make an unlikely firebrand, but the mustachioed Mr. Kejriwal – whose supporters wear the white Gandhian caps of Indian independence – has become a powerful force for social justice, honesty and transparency after a decade of multibillion-dollar scandals in Indian politics. He led the unknown party to surprising success and pushed for an anti-corruption bill with great support, but some wonder whether he can replicate that success at the national level with a fraction of the organizational support of the larger parties. Others saw his resignation from Delhi’s government after just 49 days as a sign of the type of instability that might come with him winning power in a coalition.