- Posted May 19, 2014 by
AAP: The Hype that Vaporized
Those blessed, unfortunately, with slightly long memories may recall the front page of a pink paper in the last week of December 2013 announcing the entry of Adarsh Shastri, a grandson of Lal Bahadur Shastri, into the Aam Aadmi Party. Shastri, it was said, had left a Rs. one crore salaried post to join Arvind Kejriwal's crusade against corruption and for "alternative politics". It appeared that AAP- the new political kid on Indian political scene had arrived and was going to be game changer. But it was not to be.AAP came, blitzed and boom.. just vaporised. Its leaders forfeited their security deposits , came fifth at places, and won four seats from Punjab. The irony is four winning AAP guys in Punjab won not because of AAP, but despite it. They won because of their own persona. Bhagwant Mann is a well beloved comedian and Dr Dharamvir has won people by his social work. In case these candidates had won because of AAP, then Gul Panag, the charming dimpled girl whizzing about on motorcycle in Chandigarh would have been a sure winner; but that was not to be.
The news about Shastri was important because it was the starting point of a media blitz that suggested that after its staggeringly impressive debut in the Delhi Assembly election, AAP was going national in a big way and would field candidates all over the country for the 2014 general election. The easily excitable TV channels went into a tizzy and till the beginning of February this year every other panel discussion centred on the AAP phenomenon. From top-notch Infosys executives such as V Balakrishnan and banker Meera Sanyal to long-time activists such as Medha Patkar, every notable it seemed was climbing on to the jhadu bandwagon.
Particularly impressed was the editorial class that felt AAP was the best vehicle to stop the BJP and Narendra Modi capitalising on the shortcomings of the Congress-led UPA Government. AAP, claimed its cheerleaders, would make a grand entry into the 16th Lok Sabha with as much as 100 MPs.
It is worthwhile to now see how Adarsh Shastri, the gentleman who set the ball rolling and who claimed to be the political heir of his grandfather, fared. He contested as an AAP candidate from the Allahabad constituency and polled exactly 6,439 votes. In terms of ranking he was sixth.
Shastri was hardly the only person who got more media traction than votes. Infosys alumni V Balakrishnan contesting Bangalore Central received 39,869 votes, Meera Sanyal contesting Mumbai South for the second time secured 40,388 votes. Anjali Damania, who shot to fame levelling charges against Nitin Gadkari did a little better in Nagpur, receiving 69,081 votes.
More instructive was the performance of those who are regarded as activist icons in the world inhabited by NGOs. Their most iconic figure was undoubtedly Medha Patkar who contested Mumbai North-East. In the AAP scale of things she did rather well securing 76,451 votes.
The other celebrities from the 'activist' world whose mere mention makes a section of the media go starry-eyed demonstrated the reach of their influence. In Kanyakumari, anti-nuke activist SP Udaykumar received 15,314 votes; in Khandwa, Narmada Bachao Andolan star Alok Agarwal got 16,799 votes; in Khunti, Dayamani Barla notched up 11,822 votes; and in Bastar, the celebrity Soni Sori got the endorsement of 16,903 voters.
In Haryana, billed as the AAP's next big conquest after Delhi, its celebrity candidate secured a respectable 79,452 votes, notwithstanding an opinion poll released by him suggesting he was clearly in the lead. Unfortunately, it wasn't good enough for even a bronze medal. In the state as a whole, AAP secured only 4.2 per cent of the popular vote-hardly a potentially government-forming performance.
Indeed, had it not been for the remarkably good showing in Punjab-four seats and 24.4 per cent of the popular vote-and a respectable maintenance job in Delhi, AAP may well have been history. As it is, it may have to answer those critics who feel that there was a disproportionate diversion of scarce resources for Kejriwal's purposeless vanity battle in Varanasi.
Arvind Kejriwal, the poster boy of new-age politics who had fired the imagination of the country with a spectacular debut in Delhi assembly elections, will now have to go in for some serious introspection. Drawing a blank in his party’s original karmabhoomi Delhi and a grand total of four seats is not what he had promised in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections 2014. In March, Kejriwal had claimed that the AAP would get 100 seats in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls and the next government would not be formed without AAP’s support.
After this performance, the party’s relevance is in question. So, what went wrong with the arithmetic of Kejriwal and AAP? According to analysts, social scientists, brand consultants, close associates of Kejriwal and last but not the least, the solid supporter of AAP – the autowallahs – it’s the error of judgment and sky-rocketing ambition of the AAP chief that did his party in. They feel that he should not have jumped into the Lok Sabha polls by dishonouring the sentiments of Delhi voters, who had catapulted him from an NGO activist to chief minister.
Arvind Kejriwal during the Varanasi campaign. It was a big mistake on the part of Kejriwal as he hurriedly gave up Delhi’s chief ministership. He should have stayed back. It needs at least two to three years of planning to contest an election, along with a solid organisational structure, which was missing in the case of AAP.
Probably, Delhi would always remain a sore thumb for Kejriwal, as the national capital had given mandate to AAP against the ruling Congress and Sheila Dikshit – a three-term CM. During the last phase of campaigning, Kejriwal himself admitted that quitting Delhi was a mistake. And the same Delhi hit him back with not a single seat in this parliamentary election. The people in the know of the functioning of the AAP say that the selection of candidates proved to be a blunder. “Kejriwal, in one of the core team’s meeting, had said that whosoever contested from AAP ticket in Delhi would win. So, brimming with over-confidence, he fielded strong candidates including himself from other constituencies and not Delhi,” a senior member said. “AAP could have proved to be good opposition, but Kejriwal lost focus after winning seats in the Delhi Assembly elections. The basic tenets on which the party was formed and got overwhelming support from people gradually faded away,” says Rakesh Agarwal, secretary, Nyaya Bhoomi, an NGO, who had been associated with Kejriwal since 2000. He feels that key identifiers like the concept of swaraj, honesty, transparency, democratisation, etc promulgated in the party’s charter were gradually lost in the labyrinth of power and it ceased to exist just for the aam aadmi.
There were a series of bad political judgments and AAP became a victim of its own statements and claims, which were far from realistic. Political analysts opine that confronting BJP’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi in Varanasi was a major blunder. Why Kejriwal chose to challenge Modi and not Rahul Gandhi was the question making rounds for quite some time. Instead of contesting against Rahul Gandhi, who was slated to be the next prime minister in the UPA government that ruled for 10 years, Kejriwal chose to take on Modi – a state CM contesting the Lok Sabha elections. That was a mistake. Moreover, the slanderous remarks Kejriwal made against Modi in public rallies were against the ethics on which AAP was built and it didn’t go down well with the electorate. It damaged the image of Kejriwal, which was due to his own doings.
Against Modi’s development and good governance plank, Kejriwal’s anti-Modi rhetoric failed to cut ice. “This is a mandate for Narendra Modi’s promise of governance and development,” says Rajya Sabha MP, Rajeev Chandrasekhar. The gradual revolt within the party much before the Lok Sabha election campaigning also proved deterrent. Initially, it was perceived that AAP’s candidate from Gurgaon, Yogendra Yadav would sail through, but it didn't come true. Friction began within the core team of Yadav, and many deserted him. This is the reflection of Kejriwal and AAP’s growing arrogance and inaccessibility both to party members and the common man, which is very strange.
Another crucial factor for AAP’s anti-climatic show amid high expectations was the party’s approach towards its own candidates. Barring the high profile ones, AAP failed to provide logistical and moral support to its candidates in large number of places. “Forget financial support, we didn't even get the basic logistical support, and the absence of Kejriwal during campaigning, unlike Modi who campaigned for the BJP candidates, badly hit us,” said candidates from Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Despite losing badly in the elections, many would not like to consider it a failure for AAP in absolute sense. While, the party has polled in Delhi – about 33 percent -- despite not winning even one out of seven seats in the national capital; in Punjab, it has managed to get approximately 26 percent votes, which is equal to the share of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)’s, the incumbent party in the state. However, the performance, to say the least has been dismal. For the moment, the new party's miserable all-India performance demands some explanation of media motives. What was the three month AAP hype based on? Quite literally, AAP has turned out to be a paper tiger