New Delhi: Just two years after it swept to an unprecedented victory in Delhi, winning 67 out of 70 seats, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) suffered a shock defeat in the national capital on Wednesday. After a disappointing show in Punjab and rout in Goa, the party lost an election on its home turf in Delhi. A day after it came a distant second in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) elections, the Arvind Kejriwal-led outfit is going through a churn. On Thursday, the Delhi chief minister swung into action with three back-to-back meetings. The first with newly elected councillors where he made an emotional pitch, warning them of BJP's "dirty tactics", the second with AAP MLAs to dissect what went wrong, and the third with the party's Political Affairs Committee (PAC).
Stick together, work honestly: Kejriwal to AAP councillors
In an effort to keep his flock together, Kejriwal told the 48 newly elected councillors to stick together and work honestly. He even asked them to be wary of the BJP. "You have to work with honesty and should not allow anyone else to be corrupt either. Candidates from other parties can buy tickets, but AAP has no such liability. BJP will try to break the party and buy you. Donât take their money and always keep your phone recording device on. They can offer even Rs 10 crore. This money can make you happy, but God will punish you if you take this money." Kejriwal then made the newly elected AAP councilors take an âoath of honestyâ.
Taking responsibility for defeat
The humiliating defeat has been followed by a spate of resignations. Hours ahead of the emergency meeting in Delhi, senior leader Sanjay Singh quit as state-in-charge for Punjab, taking moral responsibility for the loss. Punjab co-in-charge Durgesh Pathak also resigned from the post. This was followed by resignations from Delhi state leaders, too, for the loss in the MCD polls. Delhi AAP convener Dilip Pandey and senior leader Ashish Talwar, both said to be close to the party chief, resigned from their posts.
Speaking to News 18, Singh explained his decision to resign, "The Punjab results were below our expectations. Just after the Punjab election results I had decided to quit but wanted to wait till the MCD results so that there is no negativity in the party till then."
Laxmi Nagar MLA Nitin Tyagi confirmed to CNN-News 18 that Gopal Rai, minister for rural development in the Kejriwal Cabinet, would succeed Pandey.
EVM battle Vs introspection
The party, it seems, is split in two camps â those who want to take the EVM battle forward and those who think the party should focus on internal reforms.
Just after the results confirmed a BJP sweep in the MCD polls, AAP leader Gopal Rai came out and insisted that the Saffron Party's victory in the civic polls could not be attributed to a 'Modi wave' but to an 'EVM wave'. The party maintained its position that Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were rigged to ensure a BJP victory. But before Rai made his comments, AAP MP Bhagwant Mann, among others, had come out strongly against the approach, cautioning the party not to blame EVMs for the losses.
AAP's Malviya Nagar MLA Somnath Bharti told CNN-News 18, "We have evidence presented to us by many MLAs. People were fed up of BJP misrule in MCD, then how can BJP win despite a 10-year anti-incumbency? The primary reason for this loss is the possibility of EVM rigging."
Greater Kailash MLA and AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj, too, doubled down on claims of EVM rigging. Bhardwaj, in fact, said AAP would look inwards only after it was "convinced" about the credibility of EVMs."There are two phases of introspection. The first is EVM tampering. The second phase is looking at whether we lost the connection with the people. But we are still on the first phase. Only after we are convinced about EMV credibility will we look at the second phase."
Sources, however, said that while EVMs were a "serious issue", the party's ground situation was "very bad". An MLA said, "The party leadership has conceded that the loss was not only because of possible EVM tampering. Some major reshuffling is on the cards. But we will continue to be tough on the EVM issue.â Kejriwal himself, though, stayed silent on EVMs after the polls.
HS Phoolka, leader of opposition in the Punjab legislative assembly, said, "It is wrong to say that the party is not introspecting. If we were not introspecting, then so many senior leaders wouldn't have been taking moral responsibility."
On the question of internal strife within the party, Phoolka said, "This is not discord. We are a democratic party. We don't stifle our people from speaking up like BJP and Congress do."
'We need to win back people'
While the debate over EVMs and the party's future strategy rages on in the AAP, senior leaders are almost unanimously in agreement over the party's connection with people, which they believe was not as strong as it once was. An MLA, who was privy to the discussions, told News 18, "The one structural issue that we have identified is our tenuous connection with the people. All our good work means nothing if the people don't see our message. Nobody can help us build this connection; we will have to do it ourselves. The exact strategy has not been chalked out but we all agree that we need to launch some mass-contact mission of some sort."