The Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party rose like a meteor, but hasn’t crashed like one — at least not yet. Nonetheless, the euphoria that accompanied the AAP’s December 2013 electoral debut in Delhi, likened to the Arab Spring by some, has dulled, leaving the party tackling difficult questions around its past and future strategy. Right through the general election campaign, Mr. Kejriwal was chased by the accusation that he had irresponsibly abandoned governance in Delhi after only 49 days. However, barely had Mr. Kejriwal apologised to Delhi voters for the error of judgment, when he was taken into custody in a defamation case filed by the Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Nitin Gadkari. The AAP’s response to the defamation case has been as expected, with Mr. Kejriwal preferring detention to furnishing a bail bond and the cadres reverting to protest mode. From the AAP’s perspective, it is no doubt a travesty of justice that its “honest leader” has been jailed while the “corrupt” continue to escape punishment. Yet, moral indignation as a repeated tool can be fatigue-inducing. The AAP captured the public imagination with its energetic anti-corruption crusade only to abdicate when placed in power. Today, its principal challenge is to overcome its “forever-fighter” image and prove that it has the steel required to stay in and discharge responsibility.
For all this, though, it would be a mistake to write off the AAP, which fought a valiant battle in the general election, capturing four seats — all in Punjab — for a two per cent share of the national vote. In Varanasi, Mr. Kejriwal took on the might of the Narendra Modi campaign machine with no resources save the support of an army of well-wishers who descended on the temple city vowing to make it a contest worth remembering. Mr. Kejriwal expectedly lost to Mr. Modi, and by a good margin. However, his alternative narrative, built around corporate support to the Modi campaign, and the open flaunting of resources by the Bharatiya Janata Party, had its takers, as can be seen from the over two lakh votes Mr. Kejriwal polled against a prospective Prime Minister. The Muslim support Mr. Kejriwal drew has its own lessons to offer. Muslims flocked to Mr. Kejriwal, rejecting appeals by local don Mukhtar Ansari to accept himself as a candidate. This indicates at once the community’s yearning for clean and secular politics and its strong distrust of Mr. Modi. In the coming days, the AAP will have to ask itself if it erred in spreading itself thin over the whole country. The AAP also has its task cut out in proving to the country that it represents a certain idea that will continue to remain relevant — perhaps now more than ever.