I had supported Aam Aadmi Party before the Delhi Elections, and now again before the Lok Sabha Elections, and as this stint of support comes to a close, there are a few hard truths (at least truths according to me) that need to be said.
Firstly and most importantly, this is a categoric defeat for Aam Aadmi Party at the polls. We can use platitudes like saying even one or two AAP politicians in the Parliament will make a difference. We can point to BJP's meager two seats the first time it contested elections, this does not change the fact that Aam Aadmi Party has lost horrendously.
There are four AAP MPs now, and that is always a good thing, but let us not fool ourselves or anyone that BJP's two seat show the first time it contested was anything but defeat either. We are talking about an increased vote share in Delhi, a good showing in Punjab. What no one is talking about is that AAP had put up candidates NATIONWIDE. From winning slightly less than half the seats contested in Delhi, AAP has dropped to winning 1% of seats it contested - none of whom had a role in National leadership or even campaigned outside their areas. Not a single AAP public figure won. This has a lot of feedback, if you are not busy not looking at it.
Naturally, the fight was tougher. There were more parties in the fray, the stakes were higher, the media was more biased.... we can list out the difficulties. Perhaps some candidates will get disqualified and some more AAP people may get in. Still, for every 100 seats contested, AAP won 1. This, by no means is a reflection of the voice of the people. This already fails at the "bhrasht raajneeti ukhad ke phek denge" campaign talk.
Still worse was to talk down the nationwide efforts and throw down the gauntlet at Varanasi and Amethi to make what was till then a contest of values into a clash between personalities. I am not talking of the decision to field strong candidates against strong leaders - that was important, but the decision to make the whole fight boil down to the two seats - Varanasi and Amethi.
The strategy of covering as many seats as possible failed too. It spread resources too thin, perhaps. Money, volunteers, candidates.
Those seats are lost. The damage that did to party prospects nationwide cannot be replaced in another five years. AAP didn't make it as a National Party. The loudest AAP voices did not get into the Parliament - which both Kumar Vishwas and Arvind Kejriwal would have, if they had contested from where their strength was, instead of chasing targets to take down. There would be more seats won, if the focus was spread nationwide. This is, by no means a small price to pay in terms of morale for a party that operates on a shoestring budget and whose volunteers often braved physical assault, injury and death to hold it high.
To me, this signifies a comprehensive leadership failure, even as the volunteers worked their hearts out.
The focus on vote banks - particularly by communities instead of livelihoods alone, as in the Delhi elections allowed room for far more skilled established parties to play completely on their home turf. This undoubtedly contributed to BJP's landslide victory as well. People lost touch with what they thought AAP was in the prime time leading to the elections.
This will have an impact on the upcoming Delhi Assembly Elections as well, because BJP WILL capitalize on this win with an immediate call for elections. That vacuum that no one wanted to touch after the AAP govt quit is gone. Far more work will be needed to capture that space back.
It was a gamble. A gamble that failed with far reaching consequences for the party. In my view, the party leadership including Arvind Kejriwal should step down, and new role holders elected with consent from core AAP leaders. Candidates, state convenors, key workers should be consulted. Perhaps Arvind Kejriwal may still get elected as National convenor, but he should step down and be considered on the basis of merit.
When I suggested this on Twitter, many were of the opinion that there are no other suitable leaders. This, incidentally is the argument both BJP and Congress had for never looking beyond Modi and Rahul Gandhi. If AAP is a people's movement without people's leaders, then it probably should forget about being a National Party. But I don't think that is the case, just like it isn't with the Congress party. There are leaders, if the party is willing to look beyond the usual suspects. There is also nothing preventing existing leaders to come back in their roles with the agreement of the party, but that democracy must be enacted before it is claimed for the country.
This opportunity should also be used to step back from the Nationwide hurry to expand (since it is a lot of time before another national election now) and a more robust organization should be built, with more leaders and role holders nominated so that mistakes of this election are not repeated in the Assembly elections to follow.
Role holders cannot be selected for inspiration alone. You need better strategists, better students of policy, thinkers, workers, leaders, organizers..... Arvind Kejriwal cannot be everything. Part of his failure also was he was doing too much to sustain. It simply was not possible for one person to do with any efficiency, and there appeared to be no one else. It is time the party grew to decentralize responsibility that converges on the goals rather than people and the goals need to be revisited as well. Does the journey so far indicate need to drop anything, add anything, refine something?
This defeat should be a lesson, if Aam Aadmi Party is to live up to its name. The people need to know exactly what they will get, and accusations of corruptions against parties and business houses ain't it. AAP needs to see where their talk of Swaraj moved to Ambani and Adani. When their talk of distance from communal politics became about kudrat ka karishma and eeshwar, allah, wahe guru. AAP needs to find itself.
I used to say this often, before stopping making suggestions when they stopped being taken. AAP cannot afford to get derailed. AAP has an agenda to represent people and take up their fundamental needs as a political agenda. That cannot be deviated from, for God, religion, community, scam, political targets or anything, if AAP has to survive.
But then that is a decision for you to take as a party. As an observer who has often stood shoulder to shoulder with your volunteers, I can only say what it looks like from where I am standing.
If the tall claims and nationwide reach and big talk hadn't happened, I do think 4 MPs is a good start. In any case, it always beats not having any MPs in Parliament.
But if Aam Aadmi Party is not to be a one night wonder, brutal as it sounds, it needs to go back to the basics and build up from there again.
Good luck, and I hope we walk together again, if I see Aam Aadmi Party, a worthy party being discriminated against by media and feel compelled to raise my voice to resist the imbalance.