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The AAP phenomenon in Delhi: Paying the price for failure of governance
Posted:May 3, 2017
 
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The poor electoral performance of the four-and-half-year old Aam Admi Party (AAP) - Common People's Party - in the three municipal corporation elections in the capital has obviously raised several question marks over political survival of the newbie party that sprang up on the national horizon and raised much expectations among the middle and working classes less than five years ago, promising to restore probity in public life and bringing in transparency in government functioning.
 
The AAP came on the national scene in the wake of anti-corruption movement led by Gandhian social activist Anna Hazare in 2011-12 when few of the leaders - with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, a former IIT engineer and a government civil servant who had left his job in the revenue department -  leading the pack to form a political party on 26 November 2012 amid national and international media spotlight. The first test of its popularity came in 2013 Delhi assembly elections. The AAP won 28 seats in a 71-member assembly while the BJP emerged as the single largest party won 31 seats. The AAP formed a minority government with the support of the Congress and Kejriwal became the Delhi chief minister. The AAP government lasted 49 days with the inexperienced chief minister still unable to get out of his agitational mode.
 
However, its electoral performance in Delhi triggered national ambitions of the top leaders of the AAP. Kejriwal went with full verve and confidence into the 2014 general elections. The AAP fielded 434 candidates all over the country and Kejriwal challenged BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Varanasi.  
 
The AAP could win only four Lok Sabha seats from Punjab.  It won two per cent of popular votes. In Delhi, it received 32.9% votes though it could not win a single seat. The AAP’s golden moment arrived in February 2015 when it won 68 seats in Delhi local assembly elections securing 53.4% popular votes. Kejriwal became the Delhi chief minister for the second time.
 
Ensconced in the seat of power, Kejriwal’s hubris began to overtake him. He became the sole power centre in his party; some of his comrades-in-arms and founder members of the party became disillusioned with Kejriwal’s autocratic style of leadership and decision-making. They began to desert the party. 
 
Instead of concentrating on good governance, for which people had voted his party to power with record margins, Kejriwal chose a combative style of politics, making adversaries of all established authorities in the capital, from the Lt. Governor, a nominee of the federal government, to the police, that was also controlled by the federal home ministry.  He accused the BJP-led government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of sabotaging and subverting his decisions and thus his plans to deliver effective governance to people of Delhi.
 
In Punjab and Goa assembly elections, held in February-March earlier this year, the AAP had fielded its candidates for all the seats in two states. It came second in Punjab winning 20 seats in a 117-member house. In Goa, it failed to win even a single seat. Kejriwal assertion and loud claim that the electronic voting machines (EVMs) were responsible for the AAP’s dismal electoral performance did not cut much ice among the people who saw him as a poor loser.  
 
In the latest test - in its own backyard in Delhi - the AAP got a shock when it came a distant second in the civic elections winning only total 48 wards in three corporation out of 270 wards. Its vote percentage came down to 26.2% from 52.4% in 2015 assembly election. It is even lower to 29.4 % polled in 2013 assembly elections.
 
Kejriwal,  however, could not see this defeat coming and initially again blamed EVMs for the debacle. But this time many of his colleagues disagreed with him publicly and there were reports of deep dissensions in party ranks and doubts whether he would be able to hold his flock together. 
 
The AAP has lost much of its original appeal among people and it is not an easy task for Kejriwal to revive the political fortunes of his party. Though Kejriwal has admitted that mistakes have been committed and has promised to make course correction and initiate steps to recover popular faith in his party,  not simple.
 
Kejriwal is a man in a hurry who wants to reach to the zenith of power sooner than later. If Kejriwal abandoned his national ambitions and concentrated on Delhi, there may be a way out for him. For this, he would have to bring down his ego considerably. He would need support from all non-BJP parties; he would have to focus more on governance than grandstanding. .
 
The biggest mistake Kejriwal and his party/government did was to take the people of Delhi for granted. He left the administration of Delhi to his deputy, Manish Sisodia, and sought to fulfil his national ambitions. The party did little to tackle the problems of 16 million people of Delhi like pollution, transportation, traffic and made only populist moves like reducing water and electricity tariff. The AAP government opened a number of showpiece neighbourhood health clinics in poor areas and made some notable moves to improve the dismal standards of state education for the poor, but these were not enough to sway voters who invested more in the charisma and policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi than a chief minister who seemingly had little time for the people who elected him. 
 
If the elections have taught Kejriwal and his fledgling AAP a valuable lesson in democracy, it will be reflected in future policies and directions of the Delhi government and what it does to solve the many problems of the capital city while keeping his own flock together. 
 
 
 
 
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