Aam Aadmi Party’s humiliating performance in the bypoll in Delhi has set off varied reactions in political circles. The defenders of AAP would argue that it is a one-off loss due to the adverse circumstances in the constituency itself; the party would come out with flying colours in the upcoming MCD elections next week. The detractors of AAP would assert that this is the beginning of the end of the AAP’s political journey.
The truth may be somewhere in between.
It is a fact that Jarnail Singh – who had won from the Rajouri Garden constituency, which has a sizeable Sikh votes, in 2015 on the AAP ticket – was away in Punjab for over a year to prepare and contest for Punjab elections. The voters in the constituency must have been peeved at this irresponsible action – why seek votes in Delhi if you prefer Punjab?
A similar impression was further reinforced with the chief minister and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal’s forays into the Punjab territory. Kejriwal, unlike Jarnail, did not contest the election in Punjab, but the message was given loud and clear to the Punjab electorate – by no less than the second most important leader of AAP and Delhi's deputy chief minister, Manish Sisodia – that if they voted AAP to power in Punjab, that would mean voting to make Kejriwal the chief minister of the state.
This must have rattled the voters in Delhi. After all, they had given an overwhelming victory to AAP in general and Kejriwal in particular, in 2015, to serve the people of Delhi for five years.
Having achieved his goal in Delhi, Kejriwal’s setting the eyes to become the Punjab chief minister was nothing short of a betrayal for the Delhi voters. So at the first opportunity to get back at him, in the Rajouri Garden bypoll, they handed him and the AAP a humiliating defeat – with their candidate losing even his security deposit.
But will the Delhi voters’ anger with AAP subside with this one-off action or will the party suffer further consequences in the days to come? That would become somewhat clear in the forthcoming MCD elections next week, when the entire Delhi voters will choose as to who would head the three municipal bodies.
The municipal elections are of enormous significance for both AAP and its main rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party. Though AAP won a landslide 67 out of the 70 seats in the Assembly elections in 2015, it was constrained to function in several ways as the three municipal bodies of Delhi were dominated by the BJP, which had swept the polls in 2012.
The AAP’s victory in the MCD elections would bring the state government in sync with the grassroots bodies, enabling better governance, and Kejriwal believes that it is of utmost significance for last-mile delivery of government projects.
But the BJP is working hard to hold its position in the MCDs as an affirmation of the rising popularity of its mascot, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and also as a revenge for the humiliating loss that AAP had inflicted on the national party in the Assembly election in 2015.
If AAP does exceedingly well in the MCD elections, it would leave the Rajouri Garden blot behind and get on with the task of administering Delhi with greater vigour and more cohesion. But if it suffers another humiliating defeat – if the party is reduced to the third position and the BJP and the Congress emerge as the main contenders, as it happened in the Rajouri Garden bypoll – then the unravelling process of AAP would firmly set in.
The fact is that, irrespective of the election results, AAP must do some course correction if it is to remain a potent force in Delhi.
The party had assumed that by providing free water and subsidised electricity – two major basic needs of the people – in the very first few months of coming to power in 2015; it had won the gratitude of the average Delhi voter. Yes, it did, but the voter, at no point, wants to be taken for granted.
The AAP’s national ambition certainly affected the government’s routine administration, as most major party and government leaders were seen camping in Punjab and Goa for most part of a year.
That was a clear dereliction of duty. Kejriwal has, of course, shot back to this charge saying that the prime minister has been spending more time electioneering across the country, whereas he was confined to just two states.
That is possibly a valid assertion but the BJP’s stars are still on the upswing because Modi’s leadership is an assertion of both the planks – good governance as well as Hindutva politics, and that is a bigger draw.
AAP had entered the political arena with the twin assertion of good governance and moral politics. The AAP government’s performance on the good governance plank may be contested, but it cannot be completely negated. Its decisive measures in providing better health and educational facilities to the poor – Delhi’s government hospitals are dispensing medicines and most diagnostic tests free and Delhi’s government primary schools are witnessing better attendance of teachers and better facilities for the students, like uniforms, textbooks and quality midday meals (all these have become a ‘new normal’ in Delhi) – cannot be wished away.
But AAP and Kejriwal have certainly slipped on the treacherous ‘moral politics’ plank. For sure, it is not a new development. This came into full play just before the 2015 Delhi elections, when the party gave tickets to liquor barons, local strongmen and habitual defectors, setting aside its own 2013 exemplary experiment of choosing candidates from the ‘mohalla sabha’, after deliberations within the constituencies themselves.
By 2015, AAP and Kejriwal had grown wiser. They possibly came to realise that in this dog-eat-dog world of politics, moral politics would not carry them far. If they had a desire to taste success in electoral politics, they must be like Congress and the BJP and the sundry regional parties which are the major political forces in different states.
Today, AAP is just another party in power, trying hard to retain its hold in power by every means necessary – fair or foul. The various scandals about the AAP government that are unfolding every other day – thanks to a large measure due to the hyper-drive of the central government and its political nominee, the lieutenant governor of Delhi – presents a sorry picture for a party and a leader who had given India the hope for an alternative politics. That hope remains shattered, irrespective of the political outcome in Delhi, now or in the future.
Updated Date: Apr 14, 2017 11:08 AM