Punjab, Goa and Delhi Elections: Scripting a Requiem for AAP

The municipal election results of Delhi have been of special interest this time not so much because one wanted to see whether the BJP-RSS wave (a combination of corporate capital and cadre based politics) sweeps it or not but more because it would give a mid-term appraisal of AAP’s hold over the city. First it was AAP’s humiliating defeat at the Rajouri Garden constituency in an assembly bypoll and now it’s drubbing in the MCD elections. The party would have its usual naïve and implausible explanation – such as after the assembly bypoll Arvind Kejriwal’s comment that people in Rajouri Garden constituency were unhappy because their sitting MLA was sent to Punjab – and then after MCD elections it is obviously the EVM’s fault. Those who are blaming the will have to ensure that when paper trail will be introduced in 2019 General Elections they must win to prove that BJP wins only because it manipulates the machines because they don’t they would be further discredited. The opposition in general and AAP in particular are still not seriously analyzing the reasons of BJP’s victory and therefore have no plan to counter its surge.

However, this is the right time to reflect upon the ‘phenomena’ called AAP. When it won the landslide victory in assembly elections in 2015 analysts and activists felt that a new political force had descended on India’s political horizon. Remember that when it won it was not a chance victory but a concerted work by ‘volunteers’ from across the country and it was a victory of ‘hope’ that AAP would cleanse the system and allow an ideal and clean model of governance. You would have sat in a rickshaw two years back and heard words of praise for ‘Kejriwal’. Going around Delhi talking to people then one felt an excitement about this new political force. The frustration of the middle class with the existing parties and governments and its search for an ‘ideal-type’ governance found an echo with AAP while the poor of the city saw promise of a better life in its rhetoric. The contractual teachers, the temporary DTC staff, the health employees and more importantly the youth had hope from the new dispensation. These hopes, two years down the line, have been shattered and the support base among youth, middle class and the precariously working population has declined drastically.

It all started when a few people within AAP felt insecure and started purging it of others who might have challenged them as objections were raised to the way tickets were distributed among many other things. Given that some of the MLAs have been forced out of the party has partially proven those objections to be true. On another front the party started appointing its public faces to different state bodies, which could have been given to others from outside the party to expand the organisational reach and the public faces could have been assigned important organisational role. For instance, it could have started identifying intellectuals with expertise to head bodies and it would have sent a different message. Along with this its experiments in student’s politics in Delhi University failed miserably and it could neither make inroads into the vast mass of unorganised workers who have been suffering from extremely precarious existence. Like other non-BJP political forces it failed to organisationally capitalise on the demonetisation issue as well. Many of these things were difficult to manage because of the high rhetoric that AAP engaged in during elections. It lacked the basic understanding and foresight that once in state power it would have to follow the rules of the game like going back to a welfare state when the national economy is being aggressively neoliberal was an impossibility. It also needed to realize that within the given framework there are limitations imposed by countervailing political and bureaucratic forces.

It has undertaken significant initiatives in the field of education and health as one could see infrastructural developments such as construction of school buildings and improving health facilities. However, it failed when it came to regularizing teachers in their jobs and undertaking qualitative changes in curriculum and pedagogy. It made a historical decision to implement the idea of neighbourhood school which was recommended as early as 1966 by Kothari Commission and it would have set in motion a lot of changes in schooling system but it could not foresee the High Court’s rejection of the notification at private school’s plea. A step like this could have been made use of if there was an organisational set up to follow it up and take it to the larger public. The idea that private systems of education or health care are not the affordable solutions to the education and health needs of masses and that there can be alternative models as Scandinavian countries or British or French systems demonstrated prior to their dismantling by neoliberal state could not be taken to public. The reason was AAP has lost its network and it never had a robust cadre base.

If AAP needs to save itself from a wipe-out in 2020 it will have to understand two things – that it’s rhetoric and promises of 2015 cannot be achieved fully on account of many political and economic reasons and, secondly, to survive Congress is not the opposition it is the BJP, which has a huge cadre support base through RSS and financial support through corporate funding. In order to sustain itself it will have to expand itself and get out of an oligarchic organisational set up and try to build organisations across the sections that it considers its long term support base. During the MCD elections in a constituency like Greater Kailash or Chitranjan Park one could see that it did not have volunteers, leaflets, public meetings, hoardings or any local mohalla faces. The others had all these. If they do not realise right now and start acting on it even after Punjab, Goa, Rajouri Garden and MCD fiascos this might be a requiem for a political trend that appeared briefly only to get lost in what seems to becoming an unipolar Indian politics.