AAP's dilemma: Did its efforts benefit BJP in the Lok Sabha elections?

Bhopal: By all indications it would be a minor miracle if the Aam Aadmi Party hits the double digit mark in the 16th Lok Sabha. But, let's not allow numbers to cloud our assessment of the party; these are hardly ever adequate to measure impact. The real contribution of the AAP lies in the qualitative change it has brought to the nation’s politics - it made people and their issues a major talking point and it held up the mirror to the politicians and parties, making them insecure. If the BJP wins big, it should thank the AAP leaders for building and sustaining the anti-incumbency mood over three years and finally, chipping away at the Congress' core vote base.

A supporter of Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP) removes a poster with a portrait of Delhi CM Kejriwal from the site of a protest after Kejriwal called off the sit-in protest against the police in New Delhi. Reuters

A poster of AAP convenor Kejriwal on a Delhi road. Reuters

But where does the party head from here? The assembly polls in Delhi and the general elections that followed a few months later offered it distraction from existential issues. Now, it is time to for it to face reality. The government in Delhi which it formed after a spectacular electoral debut as a year-old-party is lost. As is a big chunk of its supporters. If it fails to register a decent performance in the Lok Sabha polls in Delhi, it would be a loss of face. It would be starting from the scratch - minus the goodwill - if elections are held for the assembly sometime in future. The House is in suspended animation since Kejriwal government’s resignation in February.

The unexpected success in Delhi led the party to try too much in too little time. It sought to contest 434 Lok Sabha seats across India even before consolidating its presence in Delhi. That was far too many to manage even with a huge force of committed volunteers. Its strategists now concede that it should have focussed on fewer seats in each state to create a small but viable parliamentary party with pan-India representation.

It now aims to test its strength in the upcoming assembly polls in Haryana and Maharashtra. The party is enthused by the positive response from Punjab where it has caught people’s fancy. It also caught the imagination of people in several other states through its simple, no nonsense campaign in the general election. It believes that regardless of the number of seats it wins the vote percentage would encourage it to stay afloat. The party is awaiting a national party tag for which it needs at least six per cent of the valid votes polled in any four or more states besides winning at least four seats from any state.

In a way elections have been the oxygen for the party so far. With the leaders and cadre too busy on the field many crucial matters such as the sharp divisions within, structural weaknesses and virtual absence of organisational leadership remain
unattended to. These are matters that pertain to the survival and growth of the party. What happens when there are no elections? How does it work amid members of such diverse ideological strains? The AAP's strength lies in the consensus against the conventional politics that turns elected members into neo-feudal lords who hardly connected with the voters; but how long can it cash in on a single strong point?

Kumar Vishwas, who has challenged Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, put it aptly when he said the BJP might end up reaping the benefits of the AAP leaders' efforts over the past three years. "The AAP should get the credit for awakening the voter," he added. Point taken. The vote AAP created against the Congress may have gone to the BJP, but what about its own future?

Going by the response in the states, the AAP has managed to create pockets of goodwill for itself. But goodwill alone may not be enough to sustain it as a political entity. It must use the lull after the election to put its house in order.

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