All is not lost for AAP in Delhi
Suryakiran Tiwari, in Hindustan times, January 12, 2015
(Writer Suryakiran Tiwari aka Politicalbaaba runs a popular blog on Indian politics and elections. Politicalbaaba has been nominated by The Guardian as one of the online voices providing an alternative view on India and the general elections. Politicalbaaba also writes on social and economic issues. jk)
Delhi is going to the polls early this year. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had formed a 49-day government with the support of Congress after the last elections and then Arvind Kejriwal resigned after his lokpal bill was defeated on the floor of the house. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the state in the Lok Sabha elections winning all the 7 seats by huge margins (6 seats >1 lakh margin). Kejriwal seems to have lost the popular support since then. While opinion polls predict a BJP victory, they also say Kejriwal is ahead in the race for the post of the chief minister. Can AAP repeat its performance of last state polls in Delhi or will it be decimated like it was in the Lok Sabha election?
The BJP is on a roller coster ride. It has has formed governments in three out of four states (Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand) which went to polls last year after the general elections. In Jammu and Kashmir, it has emerged as the second largest party and may also be able to form government there. The BJP now is a much stronger party compared to what it was 8 months ago. It now rules in 11 states (in 8 it has its own chief minister and in 3 it is the junior partner), highest for any party in the country.
The party played the delaying tactics well and ensured that Delhi was under President's Rule for a sufficiently long period throughout all elections in the four states. This very well frustrated the AAP whose leader Kejriwal wanted Delhi to go to polls at the same time as the other four states. He very well understood the pitfalls for the AAP of a delayed Delhi poll. The BJP did well in the states telling the voters that the same party's government in the state as the Centre will ensure good development.
What had made the AAP do so well in Delhi the last time – it had won 28 seats out of total 70 and formed the government with Congress' support. There was a huge anti-incumbency wave against the state as well as Central Congress government. The UPA regime was embroiled in many scams at the Centre – 2G, coal – as well in the state – Commonwealth Games scandal.
Corruption was a big issue and there was a leadership vacuum and Narendra Modi and Kejriwal occupied that space. Both had a clean, honest image and they provided an alternative to the people. People could relate to his Aam Aadmi image which along with innovative campaigning, transparent funding and participative politics ensured Kejriwal's party marred the chances of the Congress party. Not only did he dent the Congress' image but also hampered the BJP's chances of forming a government in the state.
Things are different this time around. The Kejriwal wave has somewhat ebbed after he quit just after 49 days of becoming the CM. Even his vociferous supporters did not like it. Plus there is no anti-incumbency. Anti-incumbency against whom? The BJP has been ruling the state indirectly under President's Rule and Modi is going strong in popularity charts. Modi also has an unblemished record on corruption as the Gujarat CM. Plus 8 months is too less a time for an anti-incumbency feeling. So Kejriwal's slogan of throwing out a corrupt government will not work. In the last elections, he fought against Shiela Dikshit and this time he is fighting against Modi.
The party has become weak after some MLAs like MS Dhir and Ashok Chauhan deserted the party, some high profile leaders like Shazia Ilmi revolted and one was suspended. The party's much publicised funding plan has been severely hit this time. Last time they aimed at raising Rs. 20 crore and reached the target pretty quickly due to generous funding from the Aam Aadmi at large who saw themselves in Kejriwal. Innovative measures like dinner, lunch and selfie with Kejriwal have done nothing great so far. The party is feeling the pressure and ads in the print media, TV and billboards have dwindled. The autowallahs, who voluntarily put up AAP's ads, have refused to do so this time.
At the same time, the BJP has made two important announcements. It has said that a compensation of Rs. 5 lakh will be paid to Sikh families (4% of the population) and promised to regularise the 1,600+ unauthorised colonies of the Capital. This is expected to benefit them politically. The poor and economically backward sections of society living in these colonies had backed Kejriwal last time. This vote bank could slip from AAP's kitty in these elections.
Kejriwal's position is explained by the taxi driver who took me to the Delhi airport. "People voted for Kejriwal to provide a stable government. He ran away in 49 days. What's the guarantee he won't run away this time? If we elect him, BJP at the Centre wouldn't co-operate and he may use this as an excuse to resign again. So same government in the state and Centre is good," he told me.
So is it all over for the Aam Aadmi Party? Certainly not. Though the party lost all Lok Sabha seats, it managed to increase its vote share. Congress got 15% of the votes in the Lok Sabha elections. Sheila Dikshit's statement that her party would support the AAP in case of a fractured mandate shows that Congress has already conceded defeat. Congress vote share will be up for grabs and its minority vote bank may well shift to the AAP. The BJP's inability to maintain the same lead in the assembly polls as in Lok Sabha in some states is also a silver lining for AAP.
While the BJP will try to make it a Modi vs Kejriwal fight, AAP will focus on the tussle between Kejriwal and BJP's likely CM candidate Jagdhish Mukhi. The AAP knows very well that Kejriwal cannot fight Modi, but they certainly know they can take on Mukhi or any other BJP leader for that matter.
Kejriwal will also try to play the card he dealt beautifully the last time – BJP is as corrupt as Congress. For this he would portray how the BJP government is similar to the Congress regime and highlight the fact that 20 ministers in the Modi cabinet have criminal cases against them, BJP's position on black money is the same as that of the Congress and its stand on the Netaji classified documents.
Modi held a big rally on Saturday and attacked anarchist Kejriwal highlighting his flip flops. This has put AAP on the back-foot a bit. But all is not rosy for the BJP either as they too are suffering from massive groupies. And the AAP will play on the faceless campaign of Delhi BJP.
So it's not all over for the AAP whatever the opinion polls have to say. Even the last time around, pollsters gave only 10 seats to the AAP. The AAP has been ahead of others in preparing for the polls, already announced a candidate for the CM's post as well as for all assembly seats. And now it's time for a nail biting finish.