Delhi polls: Can Arvind Kejriwal pull it off for AAP a second time?
Their story is unlike of any other party that has emerged on the political landscape of India. Born of an anti-corruption movement spearheaded by veteran Gandhian Anna Hazare, the Aam Aadmi Party has gone further than what those associated with it may have fathomed when it first emerged in October 2012.
Led by former IFS officer Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP rode the wave of change that swept India symbolised by Anna’s fast unto death at Ramlila Maidan for a Lokpal. Much has changed since then – Anna has stood firm in his belief against politics, while his star protégés Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi are facing each other in the high-stakes battle for Delhi.
Delhi, the land which has stood witness to the rise and fall of many empires, is once again at the crossroads of history as it decides whether to give more time to Narendra Modi-led BJP or to go by the promise held out by Kejriwal.
If opinion polls are any indication, the AAP is giving a tough fight to the poll management of Amit Shah – the man who has ensured that the BJP has emerged stronger with each assembly election held after he took over as party chief.
The fact that the BJP has put in its entire might to ensure that Kiran Bedi wins Delhi indicates that the AAP poses a serious challenge.
To be fair to the AAP, there are many factors that are going in its favour. It has a committed cadre base that has gone all out – in the bitter Delhi winter – to reach out to each family, each voter to spread its message.
It was a strategy that had worked in its favour in December 2013 when it emerged as a force in Delhi with 28 seats in the assembly. Also, the AAP has made deep inroads in the lower strata of society – they are committed voters and go out to vote rather than being armchair critics of politics and politicians like the urban middle class.
Linking its strength with this section of the society, the AAP has come out with a populist manifesto which promises a 50% cut in power tariff, making water a legal right with upto 20 kilolitres (20,000 litres) of free water to every household per month, building lakhs of new toilets and other such sops.
The 70-point agenda of the AAP also includes a plan to make Delhi a free Wi-Fi city, reduction in VAT, 20 new colleges, regulate fees of private schools, add 30,000 more beds in Delhi hospitals and create eight lakh new jobs in the next five years if it comes to power.
The party has resolved to legislate the Jan Lokpal Bill and also Swaraj Bill, with an aim to "devolve" powers directly to the people.
The AAP manifesto also promises to regularise unauthorised colonies within one year of coming to power.
Clearly, the AAP has its hand on the pulse of the people of the city even as it tries hard to dispel the notion that it ran away from the responsibility of ruling Delhi after 49 days in power.
The AAP has chosen to blame the Congress – the national party had supported AAP government from outside - for having not allowed it to run the government.
The single biggest pull factor for the AAP remains its chief Arvind Kejriwal. Successive opinion polls have suggested that he remains the favourite candidate as the next CM of Delhi.
Win or loss, Kejriwal is the man of the moment and the polls a referendum on his style of politics.
A self-proclaimed “anarchist”, Kejriwal has regained much ground after the AAP was washed out in Delhi in the Lok Sabha polls.
Kejriwal has personally apologised for his actions during his 49-day tenure as chief minister of Delhi last year and promised not to quit again.
"...Many people across Delhi feel that our actions have let them down. In May (last year), we apologised to the people of Delhi for the disappointment caused; and in case you missed it the first time, I do so again - so you hear us loud and clear," he said.
"We did not lie, and we did not steal. However, I acknowledge that people were still hurt by our actions, because what AAP represents is bigger than all of us. People felt hurt that they invested so much of themselves in a party and movement that was seen to have walked away," Kejriwal said writing on the website of a TV news channel.
It is to his credit that Delhi seems to be listening as reports indicate that Kejriwal has single-handedly changed the course of discourse from the wrongs committed by his party to a positive vote for the betterment of Delhi.
The opposition, especially the BJP, seems to have gauged the change in the public mood but they are yet to put their finger on the extent of the change in tide towards the AAP.
But in reality it is for the people of Delhi to decide whether to pardon the AAP and Kejirwal or to go with the BJP and continue to believe in the promise held by Narendra Modi and the clean image of Kiran Bedi.
The winner will be out on February 10.