What Went Wrong For AAP and What Arvind Kejriwal Needs to Do

The recent drubbing of Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Gujarat Assembly elections as well as in Punjab’s municipal polls has put a big dampener on the party’s plan to expand beyond its Delhi base. In Gujarat it lost its deposit in all the 29 seats that it contested and secured just 0.003 percent votes. NOTA polled 1.8 percent in comparison.

In Punjab, where it is the main Opposition party, it won from just one ward out of more than 630 seats in elections to three municipal corporations and 29 municipal councils /nagar panchayats. This comes in the wake of a similar drubbing in Goa where it lost its deposit in 38 out of 39 seats it contested .

Also Read: Why It Was Crucial For Kejriwal to Make Peace with Kumar Vishwas

Many of its supporters are wondering why the AAP is floundering so badly when even at the start of this year it seemed poised for a major breakthrough outside Delhi with all the buzz around its Punjab and Goa campaigns. They are also puzzled why its good work in health and education, among other sectors in Delhi, is not translating into votes outside the state.

To answer this conundrum we have to look at a bit of history. In India’s past (pre-independence), only two parties managed to gain national status – one was the Congress party under Mahatma Gandhi in the 1920s and the other was the BJP under Lal Krishna Advani, in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. The two shared certain common features at the time:

  1. A vision and a compelling narrative – independence from British, build the Ram temple as a symbol of Hindu resurgence
  2. Ideology – secular nationalism and Hindutva ideology.
  3. Capable state-level leadership to translate that vision into reality through organisation building and campaigns – where Congress had Nehrus, Pant, Malviya (UP), Gaffar Khan (NWFP), Patel, Morarji Desai (Gujarat, Bombay), Rajendra Prasad, JP (Bihar), CR Dass, Bose (Bengal), Rajagopalachari (Tamil Nadu) and countless others, the BJP had Dhumal, Shanta Kumar (Himachal), Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti (UP), Shekhawat (Rajasthan), Vasundhara Raje (MP), Modi, Keshubai (Gujarat), Gadkari, Pramod Mahajan (Maharashtra), Ananta Kumar, Yeddyurappa (Karnataka ) etc.

Notwithstanding their ideological differences, most of them were capable and dynamic local men who were given autonomy to expand, and both parties had vigorous inter-party democracy.

Also Read: Kejriwal Must Focus on Governance to Survive – India Needs an AAP

Losing Out on ‘National Party’ Status

The AAP had the potential to develop into an all-India party till March 2015 as it had a compelling narrative – the AAP could have set out to vanquish old, corrupt parties. The AAP’s ideology too was a compelling one – of swaraj and vyavastha parivartan, to be translated into reality through transparent participatory democracy by veteran and young idealist activists.

Moreover, the AAP’s leadership, comprising a gamut of civil society icons with all-India base and connections like Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Medha Patkar, Dharamvir Gandhi and an army of young, idealistic volunteers, was led by a charismatic and combative Arvind Kejriwal. This leadership covered almost all ideological bases – radical left-wing (Bhushan), left liberal (Yadav), centrist (Kejriwal) and right-wing (Kumar Vishwas).

This combined idealistic force completely annihilated Modi and Amit Shah's BJP, perhaps the greatest election machine of India, at the height of their powers in the epic battle of Delhi in 2015. The AAP was poised to expand in the whole country with nothing to stop it .

However as the famous quote goes, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The true character of a person is revealed when he/she is given power – immediately after the Delhi elections, Kejriwal showed his ‘true colours’.

Also Read: Why ‘Motormouth’ Arvind Kejriwal has Suddenly Gone Silent

Of ‘Insecure’ Leaders & ‘Cronies’

Acting in an insecure manner, Kejriwal, in one fell swoop removed the ‘idealist wing’ of the AAP (ie, Yadav and Bhushan) by levelling flimsy charges against them and replacing them with his ‘stooges’.

This ‘political execution’ was done in full public view, ensuring that the ‘cream’ of the AAP deserted it. The same process was repeated in Punjab, the one state where the AAP had made a major breakthrough. Two of its 4 MPs – Dharamvir Gandhi and Harinder Khalsa – were suspended while its state convenor Sucha Singh Chottepur was expelled after a ‘sting’ allegedly at the behest of the AAP’s Delhi-based leadership.

AAP’s transformation from an alternative party with a vision to another conventional high command party was swift and clinically brutal.

Now it hardly has any capable state-level leadership anywhere in India. The same ‘overbearing’ Delhi-based ‘cronies’ of Arvind Kejriwal are sent to states to sell their old formula, for which, as recent results in Punjab, Goa, UP and Gujarat have shown, there are no takers.

Is AAP Moving Towards Dynastic Rule?

Arvind Kejriwal’s paranoia and unwillingness to tolerate alternative opinions is part of a pattern displayed by many other parties in the past, such as the socialists and the BSP, which once promised to emerge as national players only to relapse to the respective state of the leader, exchanging their ideology and plural and democratic leadership for the ‘cult of the leader’.

The next stage of these parties is dynasty and ruling through populism and patronage. The AAP is already showing all signs of eventually transforming itself into a populist family fiefdom confined to Delhi .

People are either inspired by lofty ideals—swaraj ,vyvastha parivartan or by passionate anger – the ‘Ram mandir issue’, for instance, and by leadership strengthening these ideas. Mundane promises—mohalla clinic, good schools, water tankers etc – at best can help one win a small election or two in base areas, but not expand to an all-India level.

Social media and glitzy marketing – AAP’s core competence – at best are just auxiliary and augmenting forces but can never be the real deal. Their ideology, credible leadership and organisation need an overhaul. To paraphrase Arun Shourie, the AAP, in its present avatar, ‘is just BSP with Twitter’.

(The writer is Assistant Professor, History at SGGS College, Chandigarh. He tweets at @harjeshwar.

This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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