How AAP lost its way

Last Updated 18 April 2014, 18:14 IST

The unfortunate outcome is that Kejriwal has sacrificed an opportunity to create pockets of the ‘Delhi model’ of success across the country.

Just about six weeks ago, opinion polls commissioned by various news channels and newspapers prominently featured only three names as possible priministerial candidates: Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal. As the country has gone through five rounds of polling with four more to go till the last one on May 12, there has been an enormous churning in the election scenario and quite noticeably, Kejriwal’s name has almost disappeared into a black hole of non-entities.

If Kejriwal pipped the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, Nitish Kumar and Jayalalitha as a possible contender for the prime minister’s post, it had a lot to do with the pan-India recognition and fame that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) gained within a short span of time after its spectacular performance in the Delhi Assembly elections.

In the vitiated political atmosphere, the AAP got considerable backing from the media and the general public because of its perceived image as a modern-day avatar with a thousand broom-wielding hands that would sweep away all the stains of corruption at one go and make India a shining example of people’s democracy.

But, nobody reckoned with Kejriwal’s innate kinkiness and overweening ambition. The circumstances that helped the AAP and Kejriwal to take over the reins of the Delhi government was a god-sent opportunity to showcase their idea of an alternative style of governance that was geared to meet the needs of the people rather than grabbing power for self-aggrandisement. They began on a promising note, attempting, if in a ham-handed way, to meet the water and electricity needs of common people and setting up an official mechanism to handle public grievances.

The mistakes committed by the AAP government in its initial exuberance was ignored by the people and as Kejriwal’s actions began to be discussed not only in Delhi, but across the country, there was a mild panic among established parties, especially the Congress and the BJP. Some state governments even imitated the AAP’s populist measures to show they were no less concerned with the problems of the people.

With the Lok Sabha elections approaching, neither the BJP nor the Congress would have dared to destabilise the AAP government and Kejriwal had a rare opportunity to continue to do some good work and use the groundswell of support across the country to make a mark in the parliamentary elections. Lakhs of volunteers, including some prominent personalities, joined the AAP and at one point of time, it was thought that the AAP could see at least two dozen of its MPs sitting in parliament.

But the maverick that he is, Kejriwal completely botched it all up in a matter of a few weeks. Being a man in a hurry, Kejriwal thought that the Delhi gaddi was too small for him and he should take a shot at the prime minister’s chair. He had staged a drama of consulting the people of Delhi before assuming power as chief minister, but he was so preoccupied with his self-conceived ‘call of destiny’ that he did not bother to consult the same people before resigning from the post of the chief minister.

Wrong moves

Kejriwal’s attempt to earn some brownie points by gate-crashing into Narendra Modi’s residence in Ahmedabad only earned him derision. Instead of selectively putting up candidates with good credentials in areas where the AAP had shown some presence, the party think-tank foolishly fielded over 430 candidates, even though it had little time to check their backgrounds. In a show of bravado, Kejriwal even filed his nomination in Varanasi against Narendra Modi, which helped him grab a few headlines, but in reality, which exemplified his immaturity and lack of understanding of politics.

All indications are that the AAP, which should have concentrated on consolidating its position in Delhi and returning to power with a proper mandate in the upcoming Assembly elections, has lost a lot of ground even in the national capital and may end up being an also-ran in the parliament elections. The BJP, which was initially apprehensive of the AAP stealing a march over it in the anti-corruption and anti-UPA government agenda and eating into its votes, apparently looks relieved that the initial storm raised by the AAP has dissipated without a trace.

The more unfortunate outcome of Kejriwal’s strategic blunder is that he has sacrificed an opportunity to create pockets of the ‘Delhi model’ of success across the country, with credible, meritorious and non-professional candidates offering a real alternative to the traditional politicians put up by the political parties with a set caste-money-muscle (in some cases, even criminal background) formula, who win election after election.

Soon after the Delhi results, even Rahul Gandhi and the BJP had talked about ‘learning lessons’ and giving a serious thought to the selection of candidates, but as the AAP floundered, they were emboldened enough to stick to the ‘winning formula’ and mostly offering the same old faces. The elections held so far have also followed the beaten track with the Muniyappas, the Moilys and the Kumaraswamys holding sway with little scope for the ‘outsiders’ to find a toe-hold in parliament.

The brighter side of the picture is that there is greater awareness, especially among the youth, about the political processes and they have come forward to involve themselves like never before. Higher percentage of polling is a testimony to the fact that the country’s democracy remains vibrant and there will be greater demand for accountability and performance from the winning candidates.

At the end of this round of elections, Kejriwal and his ilk will hopefully sit down and analyse how and where they lost the plot and what exactly needs to be done to regain people’s faith and confidence to move towards changing the course of politics.

(Published 18 April 2014, 18:14 IST)

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