The word ‘Revolutionary’ has been an adjunct to the Aam Aadmi Party since its inception in 2012. The party’s victory in the Delhi elections was not only a stunning landslide it was revolutionary on numerous fronts. London-based techie and AAP supporter Ajay Agarwal explains.
AAP has been doing its homework and doing it well. The Delhi ‘dialogue’ was not only revolutionary but crucial to its victory. Arvind Kejriwal demonstrated that they are willing to involve people in discussions and spend time with them to develop the mind-space of existing as well as potential voters. They had the advantage of more time than their competitors and could channelize all their energy into what was a small-state election. This election victory showed that elections in India can no longer be won with a significant connection with the voter. It also showed that last minute cramming isn’t the best strategy when it comes to success at exams.
The major criticism that the other parties levelled against Mr Kejriwal (and AAP) was that he was a quitter – giving up the post of Delhi Chief Minister after a mere 49 days during his first stint last year. This had been used and over-used for a year. AAP’s strategy to counter the criticism was a simple one – an honest admission that they had got it wrong. Honesty is such a rare commodity in Indian politics that opponents were left awestruck. Even Mr Kejriwal’s style of apologising and his promise of not quitting again was accepted by voters. In fact most felt moved that a politician was apologising and acknowledging he had made a mistake. Arvind is a shrewd operator – he understood that many people were a bit aggrieved by his combative ‘Dharna’ style and his resignation a year earlier. He answered both issues, one with an apology, another with a promise to use it only as a last resort. A well thought-out slogan promising “Paanch Saal Kejriwal” communicated that promise effectively. I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually conducts a referendum before planning to do a dharna next time!
Mr Kejriwal struck the right chord with people when he continued to talk of real issues that relate to real people and during his campaign he focused on the issues that the average person on the street is contending with instead of getting drawn into personal confrontations. He continued increasing his connection with the people. While the BJP continued to depend on ‘Modi Magic’ and appealing to the hard-nosed elite against Mr Kejriwal’s ‘Dharna King’ image, the AAP focussed on the weaker, oppressed sections of Delhi.
The rise of AAP is without a doubt due the support that it has received from people across India and across the socio-economic spectrum. Different people support him for different reasons. Weaker sections support Mr Kejriwal because he is personally connected to them; religious minorities support him because he is seen as better than Congress; smaller ‘third front’ parties support him because AAP represents their best bet to halt the Modi juggernaut. Above all else however, millions of people in and outside of India supported him because they see in him as the best hope for Indian politics. They manifest themselves as faceless volunteers of AAP. They want to give AAP a chance to see what is possible. The ‘Aam Aadmi’ are not only supporting the party but driving change in the political landscape. They are the biggest strength of the Aam Aadmi Party.
Large numbers of people from the ‘apolotical’ class who always maintain a good distance from politics and who ordinarily don’t engage in political discourse came out in their droves to support AAP. They not only funded the elections but also contributed selflessly to swing the party to victory. This is down to Mr Kejriwal’s great ability to reach out to ordinary people – particularly those who have long been indifferent to politics because they have never benefited no matter who was in charge.
The BJP’s own-goal
Another important reason behind Mr Kejriwal’s success was the tactics used by the BJP. The party deployed all its MP’s, half the cabinet, the Prime Minister, the cynical Kiran Bedi et al to beat out the challenge posed by AAP – it appeared that the party was flustered. At first, many saw it as the BJP merely throwing all its resources behind the election. Then the personal attacks began, a campaign to malign Mr Kejriwal, in particular the so-called ‘AVAM Conspiracy’ which alleged that AAP had received funds from ‘dubious’ sources. It gave Mr Kejriwal the opportunity play victim and showcase his party’s integrity when he called for all donations to be examined. Fence sitters saw in these tactics the familiar ugly face of politics that the two big parties used to indulge in the past. There is a natural tendency to support the victim in such situations. The BJP forgot that many Indians actually like Mr Modi as well as Kejriwal and antagonized those people by getting personal about Mr Kejriwal. It is surprising that the BJP did not realise that such tactics would be counter-productive. It is even more startling given the fact that the BJP has done exceptionally well when it comes to PR since the arrival of Mr Modi in national politics.
However, for me making Kejriwal a personal election target was a PR blunder. Because of this, they lost support, respect and admiration of a large section of Indians all over the world who were not necessarily anti-Modi to start with, but wanted to see Kejriwal win the Delhi election. By drawing all manner of cards (good/bad/ugly) against AAP, BJP was perceived as a powerful dictator willing to do anything to get to power and stop the new hope in Indian politics. Most people who wanted AAP to win did not necessarily want it to be a personality clash between Modi and Kejriwal and were willing to give both the benefit of the doubt. Ultimately, the BJP made it personal against Mr Kejriwal and lost.
Whilst AAP’s victory may have been in Delhi, its significance will resound throughout India. Smaller, regional parties will be emboldened by the BJP’s loss and the fact that its aura of invincibility has been shattered. It will instil in them the belief that the Modi wave may be receding.
As for the AAP, they must tread with caution whilst thanking the BJP for scoring a few own-goals.
AAP will be well advised to be patient and not be in a hurry to change everything. This may not necessarily be a time to be too ambitious and dream of election victories outside Delhi. If they can focus on Delhi for the next five years, fulfil most of their promises and bring about visible change, they may be on their way to bringing about the change in Indian politics they set out to achieve.