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Negative politics cripples Aam Aadmi Party's electoral prospects

In spite of its recent election debacle, AAP has a vast network of workers in the capital-state Photograph: (Others)

Delhi, India Apr 17, 2017, 07.56 AM (IST) Rajesh Singh

 

In an electoral defeat, only half the battle is lost. The other half also goes when a vanquished political party refuses to acknowledge the reasons for the setback and takes refuge in excuses. In doing so, the party nips in the bud chances of an honest appraisal, subsequent corrective measures, and hopes of a comeback. One may wonder: Why would any political organisation want to willingly commit harakiri? It would, if its senior leadership has slipped into a delusional mode. Take the example of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which appears determined to self-destruct.

 

This may sound like an exaggeration. The AAP is still dominant in the Delhi Assembly, having 66 out of 70 seats and is set to complete its five-year term unless there is a massive split in the party. It has a vast network of workers in the capital-state. It has spread its wings in neighbouring Punjab, has a semblance of an organisation in Goa, and is gearing up to fight the Gujarat Assembly election in the year-end. This should be quite a feat for a barely four-year-old party. 

 

Ironically, the initial successes paved the way for the AAP’s subsequent decline, as they made the party leadership over-confident, arrogant and oblivious to the people’s changing mood. For all its grand talk of connecting with the masses, the AAP has never been more disconnected.

 

For all its grand talk of connecting with the masses, the AAP has never been more disconnected.
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The Rajouri Garden by-election result in the party’s stronghold of Delhi is a telling instance. Not only did the AAP lose a seat it had held but it also lost its deposit. The Congress, which had been decimated in the 2015 Assembly poll, pushed the ruling party to the third spot; the Bharatiya Janata Party, which had been routed, made a triumphant return by bagging the seat. Delhi Chief Minister and AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal’s reaction demonstrated the party’s unwillingness to see the writing on the wall. He claimed that the people had punished the AAP for having shifted its sitting legislator from Rajouri Garden to contest a seat in Punjab. 

 

One is not sure if the voters had perceived the shift as a crime which deserved punishment — but even if they did, was the crime of such a serious nature that the party should have lost its deposit? Kejriwal and his team know the answers lie elsewhere — they are not that dense — but they will not admit.

 

It can be said that one swallow does not make a summer. But Rajouri Garden is not the only setback for the Aam Aadmi Party. It had made a big show of creating a splash in Goa when it decided to contest 39 of the 40 Assembly seats. Its candidates lost deposits in all but one constituency. Senior leaders from Kejriwal down had at various times camped and aggressively campaigned in Goa, hoping to cash in on a divided Congress and a BJP battling against a splinter group of the RSS and its partner, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party. 

 

The AAP may not have hoped to govern Goa, but it had expected better than losing security money all over the state. In Punjab, though, it was confident of forming the government. The situation seemed made-to-order for the AAP: the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP ruling coalition had fallen into disrepute and the Congress was a tried, tested and rejected option. Besides, all four Lok Sabha members the AAP had, were from Punjab, and they were expected to provide the necessary momentum. There was even talk of Kejriwal shifting to Punjab as the chief minister once his party won the election. But his party was humbled, securing just 20 seats, which were just a few more than the third-placed Akali Dal-BJP’s tally. 

 

If the party does not fare well in the coming Municipal Corporation of Delhi elections, Kejriwal and his coterie will not have a fig leaf to hide behind.
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With three back-to-back defeats, the AAP is no longer on a sound footing. Rumblings have already begun within the party — a few of AAP's leaders have quit and joined its rivals and more could in the coming months — and the future is suddenly not so bright. If the party does not fare well in the coming Municipal Corporation of Delhi elections, Kejriwal and his coterie will not have a fig leaf to hide behind. The party may have survived the departure of Yogendra Yadav/ Prashant Bhushan-led group which essentially had no mass base, but it’s unlikely to bounce back in time for the 2019 Lok Sabha election and the Delhi Assembly poll a year after that, in case it fails in its bid to gain dominance over the MCD.

 

So, what went wrong for the AAP? Three primary reasons. The first is that the party has forgotten its core, which lies at its origin. It was born out of an anti-corruption/anti-criminalisation of politics movement. But as it settled down into its term after securing a hefty majority, many of its leaders came under the scanner for irregularities and criminal activities. Little action was taken against them. Worse, the government itself took questionable decisions, such as the appointment of parliamentary secretaries. When the likes of Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav protested against the party’s and the government’s dubious functioning, they were humiliated and shown the door. The people did not like the AAP’s conduct.

 

The voters realised that here was a chief minister and his party which, instead of working alongside the Centre on at least issues that concerned Delhi’s betterment, were more intent in burnishing their own combative image.
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The second reason has been an overdose of negative politics the AAP has indulged in. From calling the prime minister a “psychopath” to making allegedly defamatory statements against senior union ministers, such as Arun Jaitley, Chief Minister Kejriwal set the tone for the kind of politics he believes in. As far as the AAP is concerned, everything negative — from local to international — is the prime minister’s doing. The voters were not amused. 

 

The voters realised that here was a chief minister and his party which, instead of working alongside the Centre on at least issues that concerned Delhi’s betterment, were more intent in burnishing their own combative image. The aggression became all the more distasteful given that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP have been gaining ground across the country since 2014. Kejriwal’s insulting barbs against the Congress’s Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab also ruffled voters’ feathers in that State and gave the latter a great deal of traction.

 

The third is over-confidence, which is a direct offshoot of arrogance. The Delhi victory spurred the AAP into expanding its base without, one, building on the basics; and two, without setting an example of good governance in its flagship state, that is Delhi. Well-wishers of AAP had cautioned the leadership against stretching too far and too fast, but Kejriwal and team, intoxicated by the Delhi success and seduced by dreams of national (even international) prominence, refused to listen. At the end of the day, they are back to square one: Delhi! 

 

All is not lost for the party yet. The AAP needs to recalibrate its strategy, own up mistakes, and let go of its misplaced vigour for venomous talk. If it wants to be taken seriously, it must focus on good governance in the state it rules, and it should try to conduct itself with dignity. 

 

Kejriwal’s mentor Anna Hazare has already lost hopes in his student. We’ll know soon if the people of Delhi have too. 

 

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are that of the author and not of WION)

   

Rajesh Singh

Rajesh Singh is senior political commentator and analyst.

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