Is it end of road or only a pebbly stretch for AAP?
Not long ago, V Balakrishnan, a former chief financial officer at IT giant Infosys, called the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) the ‘most successful and exciting start-up by an IITian in the history of India’. Those were the heydays of the party, which had shocked everyone to emerge the second largest in the Delhi assembly elections held in December 2013, forming the government and giving a serious scare to the Congress, if not the BJP.
Much water has flown down the Yamuna since Balakrishnan made that remark in the new year: Arvind Kejriwal became the chief minister, only to resign after 49 breezy and controversy-laden days, the party took on Narendra Modi like never before and accused him of favouring the Adanis and Ambais, among other industrial houses, fought and miserably lost – including Balakrishnan himself – in over 400 Lok Sabha seats, and opened a can of worms.
The can, which was opened partially during the Lok Sabha polls nomination period, was pried open once the results came out on May 16. With just four seats from Punjab, a 0-7 drubbing at the hands of the BJP in its ‘karmabhoomi’ Delhi, it was open season for rebellion, as leader after leader raised their voices against what they called is authoritarianism of Kejriwal and his coterie.
While Shazia Ilmi was the first among the big guns to quit, AAP Maharashtra biggies Anjali Damania and Preeti Sharma Menon were on their way to follow suit, only withdrawing their resignations in the end. The next salvo came from Yogendra Yadav, who stepped down from the powerful political affairs committee, and wrote his differences with Kejriwal in a mail. And as Kejriwal’s close aide and fellow Delhi minister Manish Sisodia sent a rebuttal, and both letters got ‘leaked’ to the media, the curtains, it seemed, were drawn so far as Yadav’s stint in the party was concerned.
For, this inevitably would have been followed by more resignations. Electorally, what may have also done the party in is its departure from the pure corruption-transparency plank and getting on the anti-Modi/communalism plank. Post-polls, corruption seemingly not an issue as of now, and Modi’s good governance and development replacing it as issues number one and two, AAP has more yoke around its neck. For, it is governance in which Kejriwal and his party were seen as drawing a near-blank when it got a chance, with the party, as seen by many, ending up with yoke on its face.
Saturday (June 7), however, brought some cheers for the party as Kejriwal tweeted after a national executive meet that he had had a long meeting with Yadav and the party would look into issues raised by him. In another tweet, he said, ‘We will also try to get Shazia back.’
The following day, Kejriwal addressed the media to say what AAP’s Maharashtra convener Mayank Gandhi said in a tweet, ‘All’s well that ends well.’ Stressing that the party’s political affairs committee will be reformed in ‘mission vistar’, the former Delhi CM said, ‘New members will also join the party in the coming days. On the spat between Sisodia and Yogendra Yadav, Kejriwal said, ‘All issues within party members have been sorted out, we are one big family. We are a new party, these things happen.’
For many, though, ‘these things’ not happening is one reason they had bought into the AAP dream.
While many see this only as a temporary holding back of the water that would burst the dam any time soon, many also see this as a churning natural and normal to all set-ups that try to organise themselves formally. To take Balakrishnan’s example, even a start-up takes time before it becomes, say, Infy. What matters, say the supporters, is the idea – and whether it has the potential. And in that there can be little doubt. For, it has currency among many across the country, as the Delhi assembly and the Punjab Lok Sabha results showed. What the party’s hardcore supporters say is, one should discount a certain percentage of the losses, for no one – not even Narendra Modi’s Man Amit Shah, who forecast 50-55 seats for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh a day before the last phase of polling on May 12 (the party in the end got 71+2) – could imagine the tidal wave in favour of Modi. Remember: these voters had seen Kejriwal’s 49-day administration, his tryst with street politics and his alleged abdication of responsibility. If despite all the muck-raking, a few more people voted for AAP, there must be some problem with the ‘bhagauda’ accusation – in that it is not sticking.
Sure, the party is seen by many as preferring ‘drama’ over something more mundane – and the word gaining currency here, especially after Modi took centre stage in Indian politics, is governance – but there’s nothing wrong in even a bit of drama to reach out to the people with issues in a country like India, where nearly half the country is off the radar so far as formalised mass communication is concerned.
There is nothing wrong, say this group, in hitting the streets or even doing street theatre if what you are ‘selling’ is slightly more complex than straitjacketed dreams.
So, back to the question with which we opened: is it the end of the road for AAP? Not likely if the party looks into the right issues rightly, as Kejriwal said on Saturday, for it does not take much to regain momentum – whether in sports or in cricket – if you are running in the right direction. And, getting back to statistics again: the Lok Sabha poll figures, too, said that. Delhiites might have been mighty disappointed, frustrated, even angry, with AAP, yet many voted for them. In fact, a few people more than the assembly, which means there is a momentum. It has to be lit and sparked.
If, however, Kejriwal and Co does not take this seriously, then.... well, you can kiss AAP goodbye.
By arrangement with Governance Now