AAP cuts losses in 49 days, in position to change game again

Arvind Kejriwal may be a smarter man than we have given him credit for. His resignation as Chief Minister, after messing around with government for 49 days, may seem like a defeat to you and me, but the real point is all his failures will be forgotten over the next two months as we head into election season. What will be left, Kejriwal must be hoping, is the halo of the outsider taking on the establishment.

This is thus a good time to take note of the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP’s) gains or losses from running Delhi (or rather, running away from it). I believe he has not only rectified his strategic errors, but also made some gains from being in government. So Congress and BJP should brace for an all-out onslaught.

Here are my takeouts.

#1: Arvind Kejriwal’s only mistake was to take the referendum route to deciding whether he should join government or not. He thought the people would say no, but they didn’t. His own inclination was to occupy the entire opposition space and rule the streets with the minority BJP in government. The BJP didn’t oblige, and the Congress unexpectedly did. Kejriwal went for the referendum – which too unexpectedly asked him to become CM. It was a mistake, and he has now exited – bruised in image, but he has cut his losses.

#2: Kejriwal & Co did not sit idle in government. While we were busy excoriating Somnath Bharti for his antics, the AAP ministers were busy collecting information and files for future use once out of government. The Congress and the BJP (which runs three municipal corporations in Delhi) should expect a series of incriminating documents and allegations to surface in Delhi.

 AAP cuts losses in 49 days, in position to change game again

Rejuvenated? A file picture of AAP volunteers staging a protest

#3: It is not clear if the Lt Governor, Najeeb Jung, will recommend dissolution of the assembly or call for fresh elections. At the time of writing, he seemed to have recommended keeping the assembly in suspended animation. The politically wise decision (for Congress) would be to leave it like this, since the BJP also looks likely to decline an offer to form the government again. This would obviate the need for holding the Delhi elections along with the Lok Sabha polls. This would, in a way, suit both the Congress and the BJP, but if we assume the Congress’ aim is to damage the BJP, it would make sense to let both elections happen simultaneously. AAP will be waiting eagerly to know which was the Lt Governor will decide.

#4: The BJP temporarily has the advantage with AAP in Delhi, given its poor governance record in Delhi, but in the general elections all bets are off. An AAP unleashed as a street-fighting force which makes daily allegations about corruption is a different proposition from an AAP stuck in government. Freed from the constraints of office, AAP will be a more ferocious fighter.

#5: The interesting question to ask is what will happen to Congress now. While it is AAP’s gameplan to equate Congress and BJP as the same and pretend to be the only non-corrupt force, the fallout is difficult to predict: one part of the Congress votebank (the underclass and the minorities) could gravitate towards AAP and the rest towards BJP. The stability-with-change vote will go to BJP and the radical, anti-establishment vote could move towards AAP in Delhi. It could mean either a complete rout for the Congress, or a serious mauling. Unless Rahul Gandhi pulls off a miracle – which no one is betting on.

#6: The AAP’s real gains will come only if it manages to decimate the Congress. This will make it the main Left-wing national force by 2019, but of course a lot would depend on what happens in Delhi and Haryana in 2014.

#7: Any significant AAP gains in 2014 will lead to a new realignment of regional and national parties, since AAP’s anti-corruption avatar is inimical to regional parties more than national parties. The state parties are more corrupt than the national ones – but this is not visible right now as we treat AAP as national just because it won Delhi. AAP’s real battle will be in the states – but that is another story, for another time.

#8: If AAP makes a dream debut in 2014, a new centrist party will have to emerge around either the Congress or BJP. Which one it will be depends on the damage done to either by AAP and other parties in the general elections -  if any.

#9: The big casualty will be crony business – whatever happens in 2014. AAP’s sudden discovery of Mukesh Ambani as villain is suspect, but the fact is India Inc’s image has been sullied and it won’t find it easy to restore respect without a serious soul-search. One can be certain that AAP will keep targeting business in the elections – and unless businessmen take this threat seriously, they will be in deep trouble. As Shekhar Gupta notes in his column today in The Indian Express: “The political class ….will look after itself. It’s the corporates who need to be careful. They cannot repair the damage done to their image by spending a little more on corporate social responsibility. They need to embrace the equivalent of what your doctor would call lifestyle changes.” The good thing about the rise of AAP is crony capitalism will be exposed. But the bad thing is it will set corporate confidence back by at least a few years – just when you need to restore it.

The ultimate takeout: Governance is not what AAP is about. Its real role is that of a changer of status quo - and for this, getting out of government was vital. In government, no party can fail to compromise.

Updated Date: Feb 16, 2014 08:47:43 IST