End of the road for Kejriwal?
The counting of votes in the Sunday election of the Delhi Municipal Corporation (DMC) will begin on Wednesday (April 26) and the outcome could be another nail in Aam Aadmi Party’s coffin.
All the exit polls have predicted the AAP’s rout and a resounding victory for the BJP. Out of 272 seats at stake, BJP is poised to win between 210 and 220 while the AAP a measly 20-30 seats. If the exit polls prove right that the AAP is going to bite the dust, the overall result could prove to be a death blow to a party that came into prominence and power giving a new hope to ordinary people and promising the dawn of a corruption-free era.
The rise of AAP in 2012, an offshoot of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement that rocked the country and the Congress-led UPA government, is still fresh in our minds. Led by young IITian Arvind Kejriwal and a band of well- educated idealists, the common man’s party had caught the imagination of the whole world and the AAP had been projected as an alternative to ‘secular’ Congress and Hindu-centric Bharatiya Janata Party.
But, five years down the line, the AAP has not only failed the voters who have reposed faith in its anti-graft crusader Kejriwal and the party’s promised reforms in public life. In a way, the party’s rise and fall in a short span of five years is the story of a man who doggedly believes confrontations are the best means to achieve the ends.
Driven by perpetual self-publicity coupled with ambition, Kejriwal has managed to be in the news for all wrong reasons. From law and order problem in the national capital to garbage pile-ups on roads to water and power shortages were all the making of the BJP government at the Centre. His fights with the Centre over appointment of officials, devolution of powers and allegations of how BJP is preventing him from successfully running his Delhi State government are legion.
Little did Kejriwal realize his confrontational politics has alienated him and his party from the masses who are AAP’s backbone. Over the years, his trusted aides and party founders like Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav have deserted Kejriwal. So are many other intellectuals and supporters in India and abroad who had backed him morally and monetarily. Devoid of popular support at the grassroots level and backing in the elite circles, Kejriwal has been reduced to a one-man’s army in poll battles.
That is clear in the recent state elections in which AAP contested in Punjab where it was first projected to win a good number of seats, if not a majority, and Goa. To move out of Delhi to build political bases and challenge the well-entrenched parties could be an audacious move. But it signaled Kejriwal’s national ambitions to make the AAP a pan-India party. Here we can see a parallel between TDP supremo Nara Chandrababu Naidu and Kejriwal and how regional leaders try to propel themselves into national level.
Had Kejriwal limited himself to governing Delhi on sound lines after being given a massive mandate in the 2015 Assembly elections, things would have been different. But after his disastrous 49-day rule in 2013 as the head of the minority government, Kejriwal has not learnt any lessons. Nor has he corrected his course in the last two years after faltering in his first term despite the fact that the voters had given the AAP a chance to improve its performance and deliver on its promises made to aam aadmi. Could the party rise like phoenix in the 2020 Delhi Assembly election is anybody’s guess.
Meanwhile, Kejriwal’s rise and fall has some lessons for state parties and leaders with national ambitions. That is, to become prime minister with the help of like-minded parties.
Kejriwal, like all other heads of regional parties, is the one and the only face of AAP. Minus AK, there will be no AAP. That is also the situation almost all regional parties face in India. Without the head, a party’s survival will be in jeopardy because local parties rarely set up the first and second rung of leaders. Instead, the leadership is thrust upon someone in the family and it is automatically assumed he or she will be the successor. Unfortunately, even the century-old national party Congress has molded itself in a similar crucible of dynasty politics.
Clearly, there is a leadership vacuum in AAP and left to himself, Kejriwal will continue to harp on issues that are irrelevant to the mass of people. In recent months, his unabashed tirade against the BJP in general and visceral hatred for Prime Minister Modi in particular has reached the nadir.
Now, when he bites the dust what will he say? Currently, his whipping boy is the Election Commission which is staunchly defending the use of Electronic Voting Machines as tamper proof against allegations of opposition parties, including AAP,that they had been tampered with in the recent Assembly polls.
We need not be surprised if Kejriwal starts blaming EVMs as soon as the counting of votes begins.