Time for Arvind Kejriwal`s AAP to reinvent itself

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls - the biggest carnival of democracy in the world – while the BJP, riding on the back of the Narendra Modi wave, emerged as a clear winner and the ruling Congress was thrown out of power, it was Arvind Kejriwal’s one-year-old Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which was the biggest loser of all.

Ritesh K Srivastava

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls - the biggest carnival of democracy in the world – while the BJP, riding on the back of the Narendra Modi wave, emerged as a clear winner and the ruling Congress was thrown out of power, it was Arvind Kejriwal’s one-year-old Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which was the biggest loser of all.

As predicted by the exit polls, AAP, which had contested on some 440 seats, fared poorly and clearly failed to impress the voters of the country. The rookie party, which had been boasting to win over a 100 seats since the beginning of the crucial General Elections could win only four seats, and that too, outside Delhi, where it had stunned the political pundits by wining 28 out of the total 70 assembly seats last year and ended the 15 years of uninterrupted rule of the Congress party.

The party drew a complete blank in Delhi - considered to be its strongest fort but surprisingly won some ground in Punjab. AAP`s unexpected success in Punjab could help the party in the upcoming Haryana and Maharashtra assembly polls.

While many AAP candidates - including better known faces Shazia Ilmi (Ghaziabad) - lost their security deposit, the party fared badly in Maharashtra too. Exit polls had predicted at least one seat for the AAP from Maharashtra. But none of its candidates finished even second in the six Lok Sabha seats in Mumbai where there were high hopes on Medha Patkar and Mayank Gandhi. Bangalore turned out to be another disappointment for the AAP. The party had hoped to make a mark in Karnataka.

One year back, AAP, which was an offshoot of Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal movement, made a spectacular political debut by defeating Congress in Delhi, its chief Arvind Kejriwal too defeated Sheila Dikshit, the three-time Chief Minister, and since then it received enormous public support and its strength grew by leaps and bounds.

Taking outside support of the Congress, which it attacked and tagged as the “most corrupt”, AAP formed the government and Kejriwal became the Chief Minister. In the beginning of its 49-day rule in Delhi, the AAP govt took some very bold decisions, which further added people’s support to the party at the ground level, but in its over-enthusiasm and due to political immaturity, the party took some very faulty decisions and got mired in controversies.

Several AAP leaders made headlines for falling on the other side of the law and Kejriwal, then a favourite politician in the national media, kept ignoring them. When it should have taken tough action against its own leaders who were defaming the party through their unmindful acts, the AAP leadership kept shielding them, Kejriwal kept himself busy in making accusations against Congress, BJP and some leading industrialist and replying to their counter accusations.
Just when all this was happening, fissures started to appear in the party and many of its founder members voiced their dissent over the autocratic functioning of their party chief and started deserting it one by one. In a very short span of time, both the national media, which had once made Kejriwal a hero in the people’s eyes, and the very aam aadmi, who the party claimed to be fighting for, got bored of AAP’s regular theatrics and the habit of seeking public mandate on every big and small issue.

As if all this was not enough, Kejriwal made the biggest political blunder of his otherwise steady going career by deciding to quit as Delhi Chief Minister for failing to get the Jan Lokpal Bill passed in the state assembly. Despite being tagged as an “escapist” and intense criticism, Kejriwal and his party decided to jump into the national election without even properly assessing its strengths and weaknesses and the possible consequences of its actions on the party’s future.

In its over-enthusiasm, the party probably failed to gauge the people’s mood and displayed and over-confidence by assuming that it would get a similar response from the country’s voters as it received during the assembly elections in Delhi. In order to bring the party into the national reckoning, the AAP leaders made blatant attacks on the Gandhi family, the Congress, the BJP and its prime ministerial nominee. The AAP`s founder leader, Arvind Kejriwal even decided to fight against Narendra Modi directly in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, stealing the limelight from Congress, which fielded Ajay Rai in the triangular battle. And working on the same tactic, the AAP fielded a delightfully articulate Kumar Viswas against Congress heavyweight Rahul Gandhi, who was involved in a bitter political fight with BJP’s Smiriti Irani in Amethi. Both Kejriwal and Viswas lost in their respective constituencies.

Ironically, in the process AAP forgot that there is a huge difference between a state’s assembly election and a national election. It forgot that a mere victory in a single election in just one state can’t guarantee your victory in the national elections. AAP failed to realize that it probably takes years for a party to establish itself among the masses and to win their hearts.

Supporters of AAP may argue that the young party’s vote share has increased even if it failed to win good number of seats but they should not forget that the success and failure of any party is also measured by the number of seats it wins and losses in any elections.
However, there is no disagreement that a young party like AAP was a no match to sufficiently funded and well established two national level parties. There is no doubt that by taking on Narendra Modi, the AAP managed to get the nation`s attention to stay relevant in an uneven contest.

With no money, no muscle, AAP’s rise is still a classic case study for sociology and political science. Also by deciding to field 440 candidates across India, the party succeeded in laying the foundation for future electoral battles. With a virtually non-existent party, AAP has no doubt become a presence in the pan-Indian consciousness.

Throughout their elections campaign, the AAP leaders raised important issues like corruption, crony capitalism, lack of accountability in governance etc. This is probably the first time that AAP`s rise has made every big party or politician sweat it out for every single vote. Through its relentless campaign, AAP has surely struck a chord with the Indian voters, though it needs to start afresh, repackage itself, learn from its mistakes and stay grounded.

Though in the number game, it has failed, it would still be too early to write off or underestimate AAP or Arvind Kejriwal, who fought bravely against his maverick opponent.

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