January 26, 2015

DELHI POLLS 2014 - Part IV


Though I have been a vivid follower of Indian politics over the last 12 years, I must confess that I have never seen the fortunes of any single political party swing from one end of the scale to the other in such a small time frame viz a viz the Aam Admi Party. Formed by former IPS officer Arvind Kejriwal and his coterie of confidantes following differences of opinion over the future of the anti-corruption movement with their mentor Anna Hazare, the outfit thrived in the national capital all thanks to the growing discontent over the policy paralysis that had become the hallmark of the then Manmohan Singh led UPA II regime. At a time when Modi mania had not yet set in, at least in most parts of the country, Kejriwal managed to captivate the minds of the voters in Delhi, chiefly the middle class by promising to eradicate corruption and reduce power tariffs.

In the 2013 state polls, the AAP on its debut, won a staggering 28 seats, just three seats less than the BJP; with the outside support of the Congress, Arvind was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Delhi, a move hailed by many including me back then, as the first step towards cleansing the entire political system in the country. In the next few days, as the funds started flowing into the party's account, the membership of the AAP too grew by leaps and bounds; several eminent people from many different streams left their 'thriving' professions to join the party as it began spreading its network beyond the borders of the capital. Once in power, Kejriwal did fulfill some of the promises he had made during the campaign like reducing the power tariffs. However, his 49 day reign was marred a host of controversies like Somanath Bharati's mid night raid and the fiasco surrounding his resignation after the Lokpal Bill failed to pass the test in the legislative assembly.

Though supporters of the AAP may not agree with me on this, at least in the open, Kejriwal's move of resigning from the post of the CM was a calculated one. Perhaps, he had hoped that the 'sacrifice' he had made in passing the anti-graft legislation would help him win the hearts of the people across the country. What the former IRS officer failed to realize was that by this time, BJP's PM nominee's talk of development had managed to strike a chord with the masses. The General Polls was a disaster from the AAP's perspective . Of the 400 odd seats that it contested, the party won just four seats even as a host of of its top leaders including Kejriwal himself had to bite the dust. In the next few days, the fortunes of the AAP declined with many observers dipping their pens in black ink and writing its obituaries. Voices of rebellion against the party chief and his coterie grew by the day even as many bigwigs resigned from the outfit.

The next state polls to the Delhi legislative assembly though is without doubt, the most important juncture in the AAP's political history; the results scheduled on February 10 could be the big 'make or break' moment for the Kejriwal led party. With the polls most likely to be a direct contest between the AAP and the BJP, the stakes are high for Arvind Kejriwal; he needs to put the bitter experiences of the past behind and re-affirm his hold over the party. Aware of this, the party decided against putting up candidates in the recently concluded state polls and concentrate only on the capital. The party's campaign is on full swing and the crowds turning out at Kejrwal's gathering indicate that he is not going to go down without a fight.

If the AAP does manage to go past the half way or for a fact even manages to finish as the single largest party in the next assembly, a very likely option, it would herald a second innings for the outfit as well as its chief. This scenario will give him the chance to govern the capital for a full term and implement the many promises he has made to the electorate in the past few months. Besides, this could be the model government that the outfit could showcase to the people across the country, thereby helping him build a strong support base outside Delhi. With Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand going to the polls in the next two years, Kejriwal and the AAP would be in a solid position to make in roads in these surrounding states provided he is in power in the capital. Moreover, all the questions being raised regarding Arvind's 'autocratic' style of functioning will be brushed aside. Moreover, the aura of invincibility surrounding the persona of the PM and the BJP president Amit Shah will be diminished to a large extent, allowing parties like the AAP and for that matter, even the Congress to make a political comeback of sorts.

A loss in the polls to the BJP though would mean a 'death knail' in the political career of the former Delhi CM. For long now, reports have indicated that a series of leaders in the party including Yogendra Yadav, Kumar Vishwas and Shanti Bhushan are miffed with Kejriwal. They believe that the AAP chief has strayed from the path of anti-corruption only to fulfill his personal agenda. In case, the AAP does lose out to the BJP, these voices will only gather momentum in the coming days; in that scenario, the former IRS officer will have to resign from the post of party president citing moral responsibility, failing which, another split in the party is imminent. For the party though, as the principal opposition to the BJP, it will still play a major role in Delhi politics for some years with or without Kejriwal at the helm of affairs. However, by the 2020, one must not be surprised if the battle for the capital becomes a two-sided affair between the saffron outfit and the grand old party, relegating the AAP to the fringes. Under these circumstances, the party's dream of forming a government at the Centre will be all but over.

For all posts in this series on Delhi Elections 2015, click here (Link)