[ This piece was published in the New Indian Express on 3/4/2017 ]
The knives are out for Arvind Kejriwal and his AAP- if you follow the mainstream ( English), elite media you would believe that he has been wiped out as a political entity. This same media will politely ignore some telling figures released by ADR( Association of Democratic Rights), our own election watchdog: of the 403 newly elected MLAs in UP 322 are crorepatis( multi-millionaires) and 143 have serious criminal cases registered against them ( 107 relate to murder, kidnapping and crimes against women). In the five states that went to elections 75% of the seats were won by one of the top three wealthiest candidates ! These figures are the reason why Kejriwal and AAP will continue to be relevant with the people.
Yes, he lost Punjab ( and Goa, where he shouldn’t have gone in the first place) but not without a fight: AAP and its ally won 22 seats out of 70 with a vote share of 23.7% . It also came second in 27 seats. It is the principal Opposition in the state. Not a bad showing for a three year old party confronting three mainline parties who between them have more funds than many states do ! The problem with the “ Breaking News” culture is that it expects instant successes , to match the instant solutions it offers every night on its panel discussions. It forgets, for example, that Kejriwal had won just 28 seats in Delhi on his first attempt too. Its ironic that TV channels first build up a hype, and then slaughter you for not living up to it!
That being said, AAP could have done much better, given the Akali-BJP votes were up for grabs, just as the Congress vote was in Delhi earlier which it hoovered up so spectacularly. Since the Punjab Congress was hanging on to its vote share Kejriwal had to poach on the Akalis, which he failed to do. No judicial commission is needed to find out where he went wrong, the reasons are common knowledge in every “ Shere Punjab” dhaba: excessive back seat driving from Delhi, the expulsion of the man who built up the organisation in Punjab, cosying up with ex-Khalistanis, too many Duterte-like threats of locking up all and sundry, proximity to Panthic elements, the ego clash with the biggest ego east of the Indus, Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Kejriwal should not now rush off to Bangalore for another bout of naturopathy but should sit in Delhi and accept with all humility that he made mistakes. He should accept that his style of agitational politics has lost its novelty and is becoming repetitive, that his opponents have learnt how to counter it, a strategy which Napoleon knew all about when he famously said: “ You should not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war.” He should acknowledge that he needs to create genuinely vibrant state organisations and refrain from micro-managing them. He needs more Yogendra Yadavs and Prashant Bhushans around him, not just Sanjay Singhs and Aashish Khaitans, if he wants the educated middle classes and working youth to support him.
He should stop attacking Mr. Modi personally: the Prime Minister has a Teflon coating which is impermeable for the moment. Perhaps most important, he should completely overhaul his style and substance of campaigning: he is no longer a revolutionary but a Chief Minister and should observe the responsibility that comes with the post. People tire of negativity very soon and the halo of victimisation fades quickly, What the AAP needs is a booster dose of positivity in its outreach, a vitamin supplement to balance the antibiotic, as it were. And the irony is that Kejriwal has plenty of this, if only he would prescribe it.
AAP has done exceptional work in Delhi in the areas that matter: universal health care, education, slum improvement, water and power supply. Delhi is the only metro that has had the courage to successfully implement the odd-even car scheme. Its persistent demand for more autonomy to union territories finds resonance with the citizens. Its tenacious stand against corruption is its USP. These are the achievements that Kejriwal needs to take to the people, instead of the disruptionary politics he is being identified with. The strident opposition to demonetisation was a misreading of the people’s pulse; it is unfortunate that he is now following it up with another ridiculous claim that EVMs were tampered with in the recent elections. The misguided promise of waiving off residential property tax in Delhi is a mistake: the voters are wearying of the politics of sops and subsidies.
With the Congress being rolled back everywhere The AAP has a golden opportunity to occupy the space being vacated by it, it has built up a constituency that cuts across caste and class barriers, its bona fides are not doubted. All that is needed is for it to change its style: of leadership, public engagement and governance. It must also curb its over vaulting ambition to become a national party overnight. It should eschew all state elections till 2019 and concentrate on Delhi and Punjab. In the former it finally has an enlightened and open-minded Lieutenant Governor and therefore the opportunity to deliver all round good governance. If it can win the Municipal elections next month its ability to do so shall be further enhanced. In Punjab it should function as a constructive, not disruptive, opposition. It should quietly go about building its organisational structures in the states where it plans to contest the Parliamentary elections in 2019. The country and its citizens need a party like the AAP, but one which dares to reinvent itself. In 2013 Kejriwal had the courage to make the change from activism to politics. Can he take this leap of faith again ?