An open letter to Arvind Kejriwal
Let me first note that I have always held that coming of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Indian politics has been in the best interests of our democracy and I have advocated support for this political experiment from the start. Having said that, today, I feel AAP is in a state of disarray, and needs an in-depth self-introspection and need to re-discover itself. Still having a lot of hopes from AAP, I cannot stop myself from mentioning the following for your consideration for whatever they are worth, more so because the need of a stronger AAP across India is even more relevant today with a super powerful BJP and decimating Congress along with a few other regional parties.
First, one is bound to begin with the controversies surrounding your 49 days rule in Delhi. In my opinion, there was absolutely no need to come to power in the first place having 28 seats where there was a party with 32 seats unable to assume power themselves. Your minority status was enough for you to avoid getting into the Congress trap if you were sure of protecting your MLAs from being poached by BJP, which they would not have done given the Lok Sabha election ahead. And, having Delhi election along with Lok Sabha election, with a moral high after rejecting ‘support’ from Congress and BJP, could have proved to be a better bet for AAP than what turned out to be.
Second, if you have assumed power, working simultaneously on multiple fronts and not getting stuck with one law would have been a better option. There was absolutely no harm in sending the draft Janlokpal Bill to the Governor, including the Swaraj Bill too, which would have shown the world what you intended to do on the legal front. Any prevention from his office would have also given you the reason to politically fight back. And if you are resigning, why did not you do it in the same way when you came to power, that is, taking a referendum from the people who voted for you?
Third, on hindsight, the challenges during the 49 days rule could have been tackled better: more realistic handling of the very right cudgels against drug-sex menace in Khirkee Extension, dharna on issues of police inaction and government control rather than action against a couple of policemen, public positioning of your right steps in water and power issues, et al.
Fourth, the decision of contesting Lok Sabha elections across the nation was right, but it could have been better fought with a pro-people government in Delhi and focus on some selected seats across India, where you could have also given time to many seats. There has surely been a Modi tsunami on a dream well sold by a liberally funded BJP. But still focusing on say five seats in Maharashtra or four seats in Bihar or three seats in Odisha or three in Gujarat or Rajasthan would have helped the cause better. I understand the organisation building or getting six per cent of votes in maximum states were important purposes. But sending some more MPs to Parliament could have been better achieved with focus on a few winning seats and candidates.
Fifth, the entire mechanism of AAP general membership needs to be relooked into. The party claimed more members in the country than the total number of votes polled and NOTA in most states number higher than AAP votes. These cannot be attributed to Modi mania at all. Better full proof system of membership coupled with immediate reaching out to the new members and engaging them locally must be developed to make it a productive exercise and not just a self-congratulatory belief of strength.
Sixth, the Delhi process of selection of candidates could not be replicated at the national level, and there obviously have been many bad candidates selected with even dubious or not-so-distinct backgrounds. I know the time limit you had, but it also says that under pressures the party buckles. And that is no good. Lesser better candidates will make a better option than higher average candidates. Also, your own avowed principle of bottoms-up approach with volunteers having the highest say in selection of candidates could not be honored in the process.
Seventh, there obviously has been less focus on Delhi and the electorate of your first supporting state taken for granted. Manish Sisodia and Shazia Ilmi should have been candidates in Delhi. The candidates should have been announced much earlier, and you should have given more personal time here. Kumar and you fighting Rahul and Modi was a brilliant idea for visibility. But Delhi was ignored in the process.
Eighth, the manifesto of AAP came very late, just few days before the other national parties, and even after some regional parties. And the entire campaign did not focus on your positive agenda of participative eco-friendly poor-friendly development, but only on anti-Modiism and a feeble anti-Congress rhetoric. The negative tone of campaign was a faulty approach indeed. Blending pro-people agenda with opposition to corruption, communalism, crony capitalism and dynasty rule in equal measures surely was a better strategy. Your stellar idea of constituency-specific manifesto was hardly done in most places. The best ideas of Delhi elections could not be practiced nationally.
Ninth, now being a more relevant time for AAP, the party must quickly expand and further empower on Swaraj principles the National Executive, Political Affairs Committee, and make every district and state committee within the next 45 days based on the experience of the last 100 days. You have a good cadre of half a million Indians, largely young, across India, and each of them can be taken in a relevant body and a region given to each to own up for their work locally. From Gram Panchayat to Parliament, Indian democracy allows more than 16 lakhs elected positions today. You may still require more than a million dedicated volunteers to reach out to all of these positions. Your brand of alternative participative politics must be seen and felt in every village and town and not just discussed in media, and you alone seen in television. Active state and district leadership of AAP is the crying need of the moment.
Tenth, while the whole national structure of AAP needs to be institutionalised fast, the focus over the next 150 days needs to be on Delhi, Haryana, Maharashtra and even Punjab. These states have the highest visibility and possibility of AAP and with virtual decimation and consequent demoralisation of Congress everywhere, AAP can legitimately take the opposition space quite effectively.
But let not AAP fritter away energy in opposing a few leaders, rather focus more on its own positive campaign, raising pro people issues, ensuring people’s participation in welfare-based politics and developing leadership with clear goals in each of the talukas or localities of these four states of India. Emphasis on local positive issue based campaign a la Punjab this time can work wonders for AAP in these four states in the next five months, and give the nation its genuine pro-people alternative that India needs today more than ever before. Your Punjab success this time amidst Modi-fication can be your best lesson.