Kejriwal's AAP was battered in the Delhi byelections Photograph: (Zee News Network)
When it came to power, AAP stood for accountability and transparency in public life which now stands tarnished
There is no short cut to success and neither it can be consolidated by mere sloganeering. The byelections in Delhi are a warning sign to any political party which thrives on social media messaging and constant media turmoil. To sum it up, this is the worst moment for the sunshine party of Indian politics. Not only has AAP lost the elections but came a distant third and worse - it lost its deposit.
Not only has BJP’s vote share surged over 50 per cent but even poll-battered Congress emerged stronger despite losing the seat to BJP in the Delhi byelections as its vote share surged to over 30 per cent - a huge boost in the reign of Modi.
What makes matters worse for AAP is that it has happened in the wake of Punjab and Goa assembly polls where AAP wanted to make a national debut but came up short there too. Today its own bastion is crumbling amid a lack of trust among voters in the national capital who expected the world from the rebel-turned-politician who during Anna's anti-corruption campaign in 2011 promised the Delhi electorate a new era of 'trust and responsibility'. The message in the Delhi byelections is clear - it wasn't bad election management but trust which has collapsed. The signs are ominous with BJP snapping at its heel emboldened by victories nationwide.
Fundamentally, AAP believed that Congress is finished as a force in Delhi making it overconfident. This, coupled with constant bickering with the Centre on every little issue clearly put off Delhiites who prefer a man who can get the job done and does not blame everyone else when the going gets tough. The 'victim' feeling of AAP being persecuted by the big brother at the Centre did not fool anyone. Though AAP can certainly claim to be arm twisted by the Centre on some issues but most of the skirmishes could have been avoided if chief minister Kejriwal had deferred his grand national ambition to a later date.
Fact that AAP committed itself to focus only on Delhi after its historic second win, there remained a lingering feeling that more could be done for the party despite a washout in the national elections. It rested on the belief that Rahul Gandhi and his beleaguered party is finished nationally and AAP can either be a natural successor or at least be part of big game politics where regional parties can stitch together a coalition to halt the BJP juggernaut.
The attempt to expand the party at the cost of fortifying their bastion lost them the game. Delhiites felt AAP was more interested in 'other' national issues. Even before demonetization, AAP’s odd-even campaign received full public support and cooperation because people felt that it is genuinely interested in issues close to Delhi’s heart. It is the principal reason why not only did AAP come third in this election but lost its hard-earned deposit. AAP’s vote is primarily the 'original' Congress vote which is poised to being bifurcated for good now and this trend will become clear in this MCD poll.
But AAP’s problem doesn’t end with the MCD results. The Election Commission will soon pronounce its verdict on the issue of office-of-profit on 21 MLAs. In case, lawmakers are disqualified then 21 seats will hit the polls making it a referendum on AAP.
It might not immediately destabilise the government but it would make it 'ungovernable' for Kejriwal. The Delhi byelection result is a lesson for everyone. BJP’s vote share crossed 50 per cent which shows that comeback is possible provided the campaign is consistent and the message is clear.
In the case of AAP, the message got blurred. When it came to power, AAP stood for accountability and transparency in public life. Today, people see it as a bunch of individuals who want to climb the political ladder quickly at the expense of Delhi and add to this corruption cases has marred the credibility of AAP as a 'corruption-free' and stable party. The AAP tenure has now known more for less work and more for corruption and impropriety in public - a far cry from its promise of a new dawn in Indian politics less than two years ago.
This problem is further compounded by intense internal fission which ended with the firing of senior leaders from the party. AAP looked like a school of squabbling leaders speaking in different voices. It reached a crescendo during Punjab elections where the party couldn’t come to a conclusion over its chief ministerial candidate.
Despite the clarification from AAP that Kejriwal remains committed to Delhi, a nagging feeling existed in both Delhi and Punjab that Kejriwal wanted to leave Delhi for a 'bigger' state.
The refusal to believe was the beginning of the end of AAP as the electorate in both states questioned its integrity and voted it out.
AAP still can turn things around provided it gives a silent and stable government. A government which works quietly and whose work can be seen by all and sundry. Euphoria in politics doesn’t last forever. Hope and expectation need to be tempered with trust and good work. In this election, AAP has lost trust more than the election and if it wants to remain relevant in Delhi, it would need to regain the trust of the people. It would require them to spend time in office and not in front of its adversary’s office.
Former chief minister of Delhi Sheila Dikshit reshaped the map of the city within the same rules which now applies to Kejriwal. There is nothing wrong with the desire to become a national entity. TMC, NCP and many other parties have done the same but they could not buck the national trend and failed to evolve as a national party as their voter base remained mainly regional.
AAP, on the other hand, is not tied to the caste matrix at a regional level. The appeal of AAP lies in hope and promise. The promise was clean politics, silent governance and complete accountability which was forgotten within a short span of time.
However, as they say, a week is a long time in politics, AAP can still make a comeback provided it maintains its commitment towards the electorate which catapulted the party into the national limelight. All it needs to do now is to silently govern in Delhi and quietly expand outside. But for that to happen Kejriwal will have to resign as the Chief Minister and commit himself to the organization for the twin goals to be achieved.
It cannot be done in its current avatar. And for that to happen, the public campaigner will have to once again relinquish the public office and go back to the people.
The rise and fall of a party that was heralded in the Indian political scene with much fanfare-- the Aam Aadmi party in 2013, the party fighting the elections for the first time in the state of Delhi and won an impressive 28 of the 70 seats (WION)