Kejriwal may have called it a victory of democracy and the people when he announced his decision to end his dharna against the Delhi police, but the truth is that however he chooses to paint it, he has, in just two days, caused considerable damage to the carefully crafted image of the Aam Aadmi Party.
In, first, backing the audacious actions of his law minister Somnath Bharti who practically led a vigilante mob into the house of four Ugandan women and threatened them, before heading out on what seemed to be a completely pointless and arrogant dharna, Kejriwal has managed to anger a crucial constituency of his support base - the moneyed middle and upper classes who have been donating generously to the party coffers. The same people who were welcoming the 'new political alternative' just days ago are now deriding the 'anarchist' and 'vigilante' actions of the Aam Aadmi Party.
And though AAP may call their detractors over the last few days 'elitist' (Party spokesman Ashutosh tweeted, "Elitist establishment feels threatened with minor effort to change things. They are part of the system and benefit to run corrupt system) and insist that they sit with the 'real' aam aadmi, the truth is that Kejriwal simply cannot afford mass scale disillusionment from the middle classes that uncharacteristically turned out in droves to vote for them in Delhi. And the proof as they say, is in the pudding. In this case, the rather large and now increasingly wobbly pudding of online donations.
The Economic Times has done some basic number crunching and discovered that AAP's online donations declined sharply the day after Somnath Bharti's midnight shenanigans were revealed in the media, and continued to drop as Kejriwal went on his dharna.
According to the report, "On January 17, the day when news of Bharti's activism in Khirki Extension on the midnight of January 15 hit the newspapers, the party collected just Rs 1.6 lakh, down fromRs 4.45 lakh the previous day. Since then, as the party and Kejriwal came out on to the streets raising various demands and evoking imagery of protests in the days before the anti-corruption movement became a political party, donations have remained low." (For more data and a table showing the decline of online donations click here)
Although this may not necessarily reveal mass scale disillusionment or even indicate a funding crunch for the party, it is indeed a troubling indicator of just how unpopular Kejriwal's actions have been, and points to the need for more carefully thought out and executed planning if AAP is to make any kind of serious impact in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Raiding houses on flimsy 'moral' grounds and then disrupting day to day life is a surefire way to get on the wrong side of middle class sentiment. All of a sudden, all over the country, the largely homogenous middle class is viewing the Aam Aadmi Party with alarm. One also wonders - doesn't the capital that AAP claimed was poorly governed, need governing?
As Firstpost editor Dhiraj Nayyar pointed out, Kejriwal's mistake is that of the knee jerk activist. He is endorsing the politics of Somnath Bharti at the cost of other more sane voices like Yogendra Yadav or even Captain Gopinath who are much more appealing to the urban middle class.
It is still not too late for AAP to 'change face'. But whether Kejriwal will realise this in time and then be able to do enough to reassure the middle class is another story altogether. He has barely any time to lose with Lok Sabha elections just months away.
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Updated Date: Jan 23, 2014 09:32:14 IST