The rise and fall of AAP

Failed experiment: Kejriwal's tactics seemed like Delhi was springboard to his personal ambitions

The rise and fall of AAP
The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) elections were important for the three main political parties – the BJP, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress — for different reasons. Winning the election was important for the BJP to register its arrival in Delhi, while for the AAP it was a matter of survival and for the Congress it was a question of revival.

Though the BJP managed to win the elections handsomely, the AAP and the Congress still believe that they managed to achieve what they had contested for. The Congress opined that these results indicated a revival of the party as its vote share increased from 9% during the 2015 Assembly elections to 21% in the MCD elections.

Even the AAP believes it did not lose the elections due to its declining popularity, but due to EVM tampering, and yet managed to survive. The question is, has the BJP really arrived in Delhi, did the AAP manage to survive and the Congress manage to revive itself?

The BJP’s victory may be attributed to the interplay of multiple factors. The party managed to successfully counter the anti-incumbency mood by changing all its sitting councillors. Second, though Delhi BJP president Manoj Tewari campaigned hard, the party benefited immensely from the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as has been the case in several elections held during the last three years. Giving the party’s command in Delhi to someone who hails from Poorvanchal also helped the BJP in mobilising a sizeable Poorvanchali vote, significant in at least 80 wards.

The BJP won 181 of the 270 wards, but one should note that this massive victory is also credited to the division of votes between the AAP and the Congress in the triangular contest. The BJP polled 36% votes, like it did in the 2012 MCD elections. Compared to the 2015 Assembly elections, the BJP managed to increase its vote share by 4%, but it is important to note that as against the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, its vote share declined by 10%.

A party with 36% votes in a triangular contest would have won the election anyway, but it is the split in the non-BJP votes which led to the thumping victory. True, the BJP has arrived in Delhi, but it is not as strong as it seems, going by the number of victories in the 270 MCD wards.

Cong bad run continues
Except for a few Congress leaders, who consider the party’s performance as good by its increased vote share in these elections compared to the 2015 Assembly polls, hardly anyone would disagree that the party performed badly this time around. It managed to win only 30 wards and polled 21% votes; a loss of 47 seats and 9% votes compared to the 2012 MCD elections. This seems like a continuation of the poor performance of the party in various elections across the country since the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Punjab being the only exception.

But the party is trying to project its poor performance as an improvement when compared to past elections, celebrating the fact that its vote share increased from 9% in 2015 to 21% in the 2017 MCD polls. This marginal increase in vote share in no way could be seen as a sign of revival of the Congress in Delhi. The blame game among several party leaders is enough indication.

Another question is will the AAP survive after these defeats? In the past, political parties have emerged from movements and contested elections in various states with mixed results. The Asom Gana Parishad, formed after a strong student movement in Assam, managed to capture power in the state in its very first contest. However, of the several other parties which resulted from such movements, most have almost disappeared from the political landscape of the state. Questions are being asked if the AAP has also moved onto that path? Is this the beginning of the end of the AAP? 

Negative swing
If the performance of the AAP in these elections is compared to its victory in the 2015 elections, there is a negative swing of 26% votes (compared to 52% vote share in 2015 Assembly elections), an indication of its declined popularity among Delhi’s voters. It managed to win only 48 of the 270 wards to which elections were held (elections were countermanded in 2 wards due to the death of candidates).

However, it may be too early to say that this is the end of the AAP in Delhi. In a triangular contest, the AAP managed to poll 26% votes, which by no means indicates a complete rejection of the party by the electorate. The party has lost significant support among the upper and the middle classes due to their disappointment with the constant agitational mood of the party leadership, but still, a sizeable proportion of lower class and poor voters seemed to have voted for the AAP, mainly due to the work done by its government in the field of education, health, access to drinking water and reducing the electricity bill, of which these classes were major beneficiaries. This vote share cannot be seen as a complete rejection of the work done by the AAP government in Delhi. It may not be appropriate to write the obituary of a political party which is in power in Delhi, is the main Opposition party in the MCD, is the main Opposition party in neighbouring Punjab and has 6% vote share in another state, all on account of just one defeat.

True, there is a massive decline in the support base of the party, an issue to worry about, but it would be too early to conclude that this is the end of AAP. Parties win and lose elections, but for that, it is important for the AAP to keep its house in order, avoid blame game within the party and, more importantly, refrain from constantly blaming the EVMs for their defeat. The leadership seems to be worried about possible defections. If that happens and if leaders begin to cross boundaries, the party may be in serious trouble.

(The writer is a professor and director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi)

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