AAP’s journey till winning 28 seats in the state elections in Delhi was incredible. While there were several AAP supporters who criticized AAP’s decision to take support from Congress, it was the best decision AAP could have taken at that time. Arvind Kejriwal had a dream start, except for excessive media attention. The kind of attention literally no other political greenhorn has ever managed. Except for some minor flaws, the first 3 weeks of the AAP Delhi government was pitch perfect. But then the party started to make mistakes one after another and this has cost us a potential 50 seats.
1)The first mistake was to support the law minister Somnath Bharti. Whether Bharti was innocent or not was never the matter, good politics would have been zero tolerance once a serious allegation is levied, and AK should have asked law minister to quit and stay away till he is proven not guilty, instead of blindly supporting him. I am not even talking about his mid-night adventures in Kalkaji Extension. There was a serious allegation against Bharti being a spammer, and also one involving his role where he was warned by the court for trying to influence a witness a few days before the Kalkaji episode.
Such a move would have received respect from public and media, and would have put AAP on a higher moral pedestal.
Also party leadership or internal committees should never be used to pass judgements when party members have taken the role of public servants such as ministers of MLAs.
2) The dharna in Delhi just turned out to be a damp squib, and was finally perceived to be mere theatricals by public. It sent several wrong signals to the middle class and upper middle class voters who were banking on AAP as an alternative to BJP and Congress. Personally it reminded me of the good old communist party which used to call a Bandh or Hartal on the drop of a hat. For a CM in power sitting on a Dharna was never good Dharma. The Dharna alienated intellectuals, middle class voters and vast sections of media which painted AAP as a party which is not ready for governance. Moreover with no real action against the police officers. It ended up being an exercise to cover up for Bharti’s alleged misdeeds.
3) Quitting Delhi for not being able to pass a trivial bill (at least for the average person) was the biggest mistake. Lokpal Bill is perhaps central to AAP’s existence, and the leadership’s biggest dream. It’s probably the reason for AAP’s genesis. But the public gives a damn for the bill. For the voting public what mattered was a political party willing to resolve their issues, and AAP was doing just that even if the results were far from satisfactory. No one outside the BJP and Congress supporters questioned the party’s earnestness and willingness. AAP lost that goodwill overnight in Delhi.
AAP could have chosen 100 better routes to an honourable exit. The best would have been to force Congress to withdraw support by going after all the corruption cases of the previous governments. Public would have seen AAP as a real crusader against corruption, and the martyr status of being pulled down would have helped, instead of stepping down. Instead today the perception is that AAP has let Sheila Dikshit get away.
In addition, quitting gave an impression that Kejriwal was too eager to become the PM, and was greedy for power. People love ambitious politicians, but not greedy ones.
4) Filing of FIR against Ambani might have been a master-stroke if AAP handled it correctly. AAP could have initiated a larger debate, and several actions in a more matured fashion. However it is today seen more as a political gimmick. Tomorrow if and when Modi government agrees to hike Gas prices, Kejriwal can claim a moral victory. But it would have come too late. Also despite all his riches people envied Ambani. They did not hate him. You cannot simply start a new war front, and draw others into it, and that too without ample proof. People hated Congress and it’s leadership. In politics, if you do not tap into existing negativity to draw out the positives, you are a fool.
5) Immediately after quitting Kejriwal went after Modi. Modi had virtually disappeared from media during the 49 days of Delhi Government. The public anger was never against Modi, and was always channelized against Congress. Instead of being the strong ship in that channel, Kejriwal took on Modi, and in that process made Modi the only champion against the corrupt UPA-II. Worse, instead of tapping into the anti-incumbency vote bank, AAP became a part of the so-called pseudo-secular parties which had lost its charm in front of a Modi, who simply stuck to his development agenda.
Unlike in past elections, when communalism was a major issue, this year it was never a concern for most of India including a cross section of Indian minorities. Kejriwal’s fixation on Modi backfired completely.
6)By putting up candidates in 446 seats, the party spread itself too thin. With the lack of resources, staff, leadership and capital, most of the candidates have ended up losing their deposits.
You need at least Rs 2 crore (or Rs 15 per voter) and about 12,000 volunteers to reach every voter directly or indirectly at least once in the six weeks run up to an election in a Lok Sabha constituency. For 446 constituencies, AAP would have needed a fund of minimum Rs 892 crore. AAP finally raised about 4 percent of that figure. It was just not enough.
I remember Yogendra Yadav saying that this was an attempt to get a feel of what are AAP’s strengths across the country and not to disappoint supporters outside Delhi. That explanation is fine, and I agree if AAP had limited themselves to say 50 seats, at least couple of the Punjab seats might have missed out.
7) Candidate selection and ticket distribution were totally flawed. AAP called in for nominations from just about anyone from anywhere. Problem was that political aspirants were huge in number, and many managed to get 100 to 1000 supporters from their constituency and filed in their applications for a party ticket. Obviously only one can get through and there was no transparency in the rules around the final choice of a candidate. A friend of mine who was aspiring for a ticket from a UP constituency said that there were 30 candidates each with nearly 1,000 supporters who were vying for a party ticket for his constituency. Then leadership chose someone unknown to most party supporters. This alienated everyone else who were rooting for the party and their supporters. And AAP polled less than 4000 votes, when there were 30 candidates with 1000 supporters each in the first place. So essentially AAP alienated 29 of them and their supporters.
All bright ideas around having primaries just disappeared into thin air, perhaps due to lack of time.
Para-dropping of candidates work, if there are candidates who are really popular and you have a volunteer base which can work for them. AAP has just one star which is AK, and AK might have pulled off from any place if the opponent was not someone as popular as Modi.
8) AAP took on media, while Modi ignored every media entity for most of the elections until he was sure that the tide was clearly in his favour. Except AK, Yogendra Yadav and Ashish Khetan, very few of the AAP spokespersons knew how to engage with an aggressive media anchor baying for their blood, were always on the defensive.
And there were motor mouths who spoke their mind, and not the party’s, or at least what the party needs to especially during the election time. Prashant Bhushan is an example of someone who embarrassed the party and the leadership, with several politically incorrect statements, and then retracting them.
Your crusade against corruption gets diluted, when you include everyone in your list of corrupt. Media did not take it very kindly.
9) There were no clarity on the AAP’s larger agenda other than fight against corruption. Nothing concrete on foreign policy, or economic agenda except some specific plans on reviving SME and manufacturing, and a few other broad goals. Even BJP did not have any path breaking agenda, except broad plans and statements. However, BJP was harping about development from day one, and was showcasing the Gujarat model, which was marketed brilliantly. Narendra Modi had the clear backing of industrialists, pro-capitalists and the larger business community which controls the media. Modi except in select places like Varanasi stayed away from Hindutva and other touchy subjects, which could have potentially alienated thinking classes from the BJP.
The biggest challenge was AAP being perceived left of center(which it really is), and the image of being the New age Communist party. India can digest socialism, but communism is taboo everywhere except the three states of Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura. And these states would rather prefer original communists to a left of center non cadre based party without a specific ideology.
10) There were several blatant lies and half-truths spread by BJP and it’s large social media army which AAP could not counter. Funding details around the various NGOs run by AAP leaders, AAP’s soft corner for separatists, Naxalites, Maoists and terrorists, and alleged connections with every anti-national group. AAP leadership either ignored such propaganda or were ignorant about such propaganda.
AAP’s failure to answer allegations by former party men and the likes further painted a wrong picture. In politics when you set high moral grounds, people expect you to follow that.
I guess millions switched over and started believing the BJP propaganda as AAP leadership could not successfully tackle them, however absurd the allegations were.
A few examples….
a) AAP is the Congress B Team and is a tool to stop Narendra Modi becoming PM.
b) AAP stayed in power so that Sheila Dikshit gets enough time to cover up and then disappear from the scene to be governor of Kerala.
c) AAP is a party full of Naxalites and anti-national elements, and their agenda is to destabilize India and hand over Kashmir to Pakistan.
The list is endless. But the BJP have been relentless, and I saw several AAP followers and supporters quitting under the attack. Clear written explanations and communications could have helped AAP.
11) Arvind Kejriwal. AK was AAP’s biggest strength and weakness. He was the face of the party. In him people saw a bright, honest, educated and progressive leader in December 2013. However AK kept taking U-turns, and several decisions by him turned millions of voters away from AAP. This lead to an image of him being indecisive, a trait which Indians also identifies with Dr Manmohan Singh, the outgoing PM.
Modi on the other hand was seen as a decisive leader. Throughout the campaign, Modi made very few mistakes, and never really changed his agenda. Every action and inaction of AK was scrutinized by public with media providing their own interpretations. From a corruption crusader, he was made to look like a bumbling, incompetent, and almost unstable person. This cost the party badly. In fact his actions have caused irreparable damage to his credibility as a leader among fence sitters who voted for BJP and not for AAP in these elections.
And AK must own complete responsibility of the election debacle.
At this hour despite the debacle, I am fully convinced that we need alternative politics to what is dished by Congress, BJP and regional parties. And only AAP can provide that.