Suggestions for Aam Aadmi Party moving forward

The Lok Sabha Election is lost. The Delhi Government is abandoned. There are many mistakes and it is water under the bridge now. What is important is that lessons are learned so that the rest of the journey escapes this downward spiral.

The most worrying thing for AAP right now is the lack of awareness of just how badly they have fucked up this election and their prospects. While it is good that Yogendra Yadav is at least showing his face after the result unlike the irresponsible Kejriwal, it is alarming to see Yogendra Yadav speak of the result as a positive thing on TV, completely ignoring the utter decimation of AAP. 4 seats in Punjab were done with very little guidance from the core leaders. The core leaders are nowhere to be seen. The efforts of countless volunteers, donors, voters laid waste with not one voice vocal on core policy of AAP entering Parliament. This is not how you uproot corruption.

There seems to be some utopian belief that these things take time and people should wait or join the Party. This is false from what I saw. AAP was more than ready and completely engaged for a far better result. What happened was the leadership completely mismanaging the Election. Total failure to anticipate the public thinking and choose actions for desired impact. The Congress credibility was decimated majorly due to AAP, even if BJP reaped the full results. The BJP credibility actually got strengthened with random strategy. It was not impossible if AAP had stayed on its own track. AAP became something people did not recognize in the process. Not only there seems to be no recognition of that, you have Yogendra Yadav being okay with party growing at its own pace, volunteers volunteering, those leaving not being committed and all kinds of nonsense. Like some new age ashram watching the world unfold with detachment. That is quite a switch from immediately contesting against biggest leaders of biggest parties and further confuses people. If there is no hurry, what was Varanasi and Amethi at the cost of many other seats about?

Volunteers delivered with unprecedented commitment. You had people coming from across the country on their own budgets to support you in Varanasi.

Right now, you have AAP as a party that speaks up against high command culture unable to visualize leaders beyond Arvind Kejriwal who is the final word on everything. Your core reason for existing – the Janlokpal Bill and Swaraj bill have been rendered near impossible in the Delhi Assembly. Incidentally, this is the Delhi Assembly you also quit because you couldn’t deliver them and have since got decimated in, in the Lok Sabha Election with Kejriwal who promised the people the world and being there for them and then resigned and vanished and not even contested from there again because he’s chasing Modi. You are going to be faced with asking for votes knowing fully that you cannot deliver the Janlokpal Bill and Swaraj Bill because if the UPA blocked it before, a BJP majority is hardly going to pass it now – in the extremely unlikely chance you manage to form a government. Oh. Did I mention Delhi police will be controlled by the party whose workers normally thrash yours? And if you whined about paid media before, elections will be called very soon, and media will have completely legitimate reasons to rave about Modi after his stupendous recent win, AND rave about BJP’s complete sweep about Delhi in the Lok Sabha Election AND legitimately discuss the AAP complete decimation in the same Delhi in the same Lok Sabha Election AND Modi will be  living in Delhi AND gives interviews happily now, AND any paid media to cover if an inch of AAP still remains visible. If media was Modified before, with UPA2 in rule, you don’t even want to think about it now with Modi as PM.

Whoever thinks this isn’t a disaster for the party is delusional. Leaders included.

From what was essentially about convincing voters that it was their best interest that made Delhi govt resign, campaigning for Lok Sabha among people and being well established by the time this vulnerable campaigning came up, the mismanagement of the Lok Sabha Election strategy has brought AAP to this point. Not to mention undoubtedly contributing to the BJP solo majority, instead of weakening it.

This is defeat, and the road ahead is tougher than it was for the new party even. The sooner the party leadership realizes this, the better.

Realizing it will be a problem. The AAP leadership seems to have fallen into the habit of arrogance and tall claims and not listening. People quitting AAP may have false agendas, but you cannot deny that every single person brings up the lack of democracy, and when I said the leadership should be accountable, those within too said that AAP cannot be without Kejriwal in the top spot. When so many views converge on one point, whatever the motivation, there is essence to that point striking a note without fail.

In my view, the AAP leadership needs to be accountable for misusing the tremendous support and delivering a damp squib.

This is my anger. Because my support for the election got misused too. I endorsed the Aam Aadmi Party, and from what would likely be a coalition government I got a clean majority for the party I do not believe capable of governing diversity to the point of the opposition not even having a leader. This is the very worst result I can imagine, and AAP played a role in making it possible when it quit its original plank and got into personality politics and religions. Arvind Kejriwal’s historic speech asking if he should contest from Varanasi was all about Ambani and did not once mention Swaraj, instead claiming that it was the will of the Gods.

I would like Arvind Kejriwal to accept that it was the will of the Gods that he does not proceed on this path. Why else would eeshwar, allah and wahe guru conspire to deliver such a result while fooling him that he was winning?

The task ahead is formidable and this post is not intended to only complain, but also offer the ideas that occur to me.

The first and biggest suggestion.

Arvind Kejriwal should resign as national convenor.

This isn’t merely about my anger for him and his reckless speech continually committing AAP to consequences it cannot bear (God’s will turning out to be defeat, grand statements of not allying with parties, even grander claims of uprooting corruption that ended with Adani-Ambani’s party so secure in win). It is also strategy.

Arvind Kejriwal is a thinker, a motivator, a public leader. Being convenor and managing everything about the party burdens him with responsibilities others can handle, and make him less available for what he does best – public outreach. If he appears exhausted in his public appearances, belief in AAP’s ability to handle the responsibility it is seeking drops.

His responsibility should solely be campaigning. Not even contesting ideally, but I suppose that can’t be avoided initially. The time freed from ALL the other responsibilities will allow him to deliver better speeches instead of repeating content, track and respond to current happenings better and will do a world of good to AAP’s image which has increasingly sounded repetitive. This will also make him more available to campaign wherever he is needed – which was one of the killing blows for this election – including for Kumar Vishvas.

Yogendra Yadav should resign as strategist

Unless I am mistaken, contesting from maximum seats was Yogendra Yadav’s idea. Combined with the disproportionate funding for Varanasi, it left few resources for other candidates and failed and it destroyed AAP’s chances in the places it could win as well by dividing funds, volunteers, public figures and more to the point where resources weren’t enough for all the places. This is directly responsible for AAP’s decimation and a blunder that cannot be brushed away by merely saying he’ll keep at it and one day he will get it right. Using public effort and funds, making public promises obliges Aam Aadmi Party to seek most efficient ways of achieving representation.

Further, there were many comments on Twitter about inappropriate candidate selection in Haryana leading to demotivated volunteers there. This is a serious organizational problem and must be addressed with adequate feedback from volunteers on the ground.

As a senior member of AAP, he probably can take over more of Kejriwal’s admin work to free him further. Or something. Which brings me to…

Strategy must be evolved by those deploying it

This was done in the Delhi Assembly campaign already. Volunteers came up with their own ideas and it was a rocking success. Volunteers know what they can pull off, which may not necessarily be hopping across the country in the wake of their inspiration to pull off a miracle there. It could be, but perhaps there could be better ideas too. They know where there are opportunities to pull off something. Candidates putting their reputations and money on the line know what support they need.

A new leadership

AAP cannot grow without a vibrant leadership, and key organizational goals should be developed with specific people taking charge independently. They should be open to input but not dependent on any external approvals to function. This will let the organization grow. You cannot have an National Party that cannot function if core person is not there. AAP has to decide. Is it an Arvind fan club, or is it a movement for self representation and transformation of politics?

If there is space made on the top so that vital roles are not clustered with a few people, then a leadership will emerge naturally, just like AAP emerged when the country needed a change. If there is clustered control at the top, then there is neither the need nor the opportunity for the leadership to emerge.

How to grow?

I am only going to share Swarmwise – Rick Falkvinge’s book on how he formed and grew the Pirate Party – which isn’t all that different from AAP when it comes to origins or funds. It is full of good ideas, most of them directly useful for AAP – for example public lists of tasks that volunteers can take on and complete on their own initiative, or formation of a team to respond to current affairs within the hour with press statements – this is free publicity media uses – media wants responses to quote when something happens. There are many ideas and insights on what kind of thinking helped the most.

Forming new policies

AAP is going to need a list of concrete deliverables that they can deliver without fearing sabotage by the central government. Whether the sabotage is real or a perception or absent, it cannot be predicted, and AAP cannot afford to resign a second time, no matter what. So creating deal breakers out of Janlokpal Bill or Swaraj Bill will no longer work, though of course the government will fight to make it happen.

This will probably be a good time to promise social efforts – whatever they are – RTI education workshops, or monthly outreach meetings or whatever – that AAP will deliver regardless of whether they win or lose. These should be things that cement the bond with people and improve the quality of public life and public thinking. Because there is a real possibility that AAP will be in the opposition.

Perhaps this can be introduced as a tradition wherever AAP contests. Whether government is formed or not, our elected candidates will deliver these five things in addition to the manifesto points we will work to make possible even in opposition and guarantee will happen if we form a government. AAP needs to start delivering. No matter how small. But concrete.

Return to values

Strip down personality politics completely. Speak values. Respond to specifics without making personality wars. We oppose corruption. We oppose this corrupt action by this person without considering him a lifelong enemy or using his name as a slur. We oppose this policy for business houses because of this reason but the same business house may do its legal business with our complete support. No one is fully good or bad. No citizen or business can be disenfranchised. Wrongs must be stopped, not citizens – no matter how rich or poor.

Promise less, deliver more

AAP’s promise is its manifesto that it will strive to deliver. The rest does not need comment. Whether AAP will ally with parties or not, whether AAP will resign or not, whether this is God’s will for people or not. Whatever. Stick to your goals and make no promises that are not in writing. It will leave you free to respond to the best of your ability if your plan fails without accusations of breaking your word further harming reputation.

Ditch religion ASAP

Accept support from all – religions, castes, class, criminals, saints, kids, old, women, men, whatever. Care for the interests of all. But do not make special offers to any that were not requested for. Forbid all public representatives from religious tokenism as a means of outreach. Other parties do it better and it is completely irrelevant to AAP agenda. Sure, schedule things to not interfere with religions, but stopping a party event for namaz or anything is unnecessary and inappropriate. Adult Muslims can manage their need to pray without needing the party leadership to give them five minutes to do their thing. An official pause takes you into unnecessary terrain you don’t have the capability to handle. Even if you have never intended communal hate.

Appreciating the support

It isn’t as “granted” as Yogendra Yadav said. Aam Aadmi Party has remarkably involved and motivated supporters, but they are not an infinite resource where the resource is of poor quality if it discontinues. Being blamed for the failures of leadership will reduce support and demotivate. It is important that this support be acknowledged, and its squandering in the Lok Sabha Elections be accounted. AAP volunteers are labourers of love. They don’t want heads to roll still, it seems. I am amazed. I, for one will be very wary about committing months of support in the future without being certain that it is accepted with gravity in the direction it is put to use. But they should at the very least get concrete recognition of failures and measures taken to see that their valuable contributions are not wasted. This should be an open, humble and accountable process by leaders.

This should happen soon, before campaigning for Delhi starts, because the volunteers are still on the Election high. Most have not realized the changing ground realities they will face, which will make things difficult for them and lead to drops in support. AAP needs support. It isn’t as callous as dismissing people voluntarily contributing generously as not committed if they stop. If the apology comes before they realize and it values them, and prepares them to collectively face a tougher time for a goal worth achieving, then the support will be stronger – AAP will need that now.

Good Luck!