A litmus test for AAP

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal during a roadshow in New Delhi

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal during a roadshow in New Delhi   | Photo Credit: Kamal Singh

Defeat in the Delhi Assembly election could prove to be a big challenge to the party’s survival

The Delhi Assembly election will determine not only which party will govern Delhi, but also the Aam Aadmi Party’s future. Will the AAP survive as a Delhi-based party or renew its ambition to emerge as a national party?

A party like any other?

Born in 2012 out of a high profile anti-corruption movement, the AAP captured the political imagination of people of all ideological shades. But between 2013 and 2020, the party has deviated from many of its founding principles. Some would argue that it is becoming like any other political party. This is apparent, for instance, in the AAP’s list of 70 candidates for this Assembly election, which includes turncoats and tainted candidates.

The end of dynasty politics was a lofty ideal that the AAP said it stood for. It is worth recalling that after making an impressive debut in 2013 in Delhi, it was the AAP’s Manish Sisodia who said at the victory rally in Jantar Mantar that party member Kumar Vishwas could contest the Lok Sabha election against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Though Mr. Vishwas launched the anti-Gandhi campaign in Amethi in 2014, it was the BJP’s Smriti Irani who defeated Mr. Gandhi in the 2019 general election. By 2019, neither Mr. Vishwas nor the AAP was seen anywhere in Amethi.

In post-Mandal India, Arvind Kejriwal emerged as the poster boy of political protests. But now, when students, women and other citizens are taking to the streets of Delhi in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the proposed National Register of Citizens and the attacks on universities, Mr. Kejriwal is nowhere to be seen in protest sites. His muted solidarity is shown only in a few tweets and statements.

With many of the AAP’s founding members such as Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan no longer a part of the party, internal democracy, another ideal, seems to have changed. For all practical purposes, the party is now controlled by Mr. Kejriwal and Mr. Sisodia, similar to how the BJP is controlled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. This development is worrying as the absence of internal democracy paves the way not only for a coterie who could tighten their control over the party, its agenda and resources, but also for dynasty politics.

Despite these shortcomings, however, the AAP can claim to have done some good in Delhi, especially by improving school education and providing inexpensive electricity. While it may not be able to repeat its 2015 election performance, trends suggest that AAP is not affected by anti-incumbency. This makes it a potential contender for power. But this is easier said than done in a three-cornered contest, especially since the BJP won all the seven parliamentary seats in the 2019 general election.

Also, by announcing its list of candidates ahead of other parties, the AAP showed greater preparedness compared to the other parties. Both the Congress, which continues to be a house in disarray, and the BJP do not have leaders at the State level who can match Mr. Kejriwal’s stature.

Challenges ahead

But the AAP cannot take anything for granted. The BJP is using its ultimate weapon, Mr. Modi, to secure votes and playing its politics of polarisation ruthlessly. Delhi has been the bastion of the Hindu Right since the early days of the Republic. It was the Bharatiya Jana Sangh that kept alive the flames of the Hindu Right. L.K. Advani made his career in Delhi and reshaped the BJP in the late 1980s nationally. Therefore, issues such as the CAA could resonate with many of its traditional voters who may have voted for AAP in 2015.

The AAP may also be losing some voters from the Muslim community. The Congress faces an enormous challenge in revival after the demise of former Chief Minister Sheila Dixit, but looking at an analysis of vote distribution in the 2019 election, there are signs of Muslims voters returning to its fold. The Shaheen Bagh protests presented a golden opportunity for Mr. Kejriwal to cement the AAP’s connection with Muslim voters, many of whom have looked up to him ever since he took on Mr. Modi in Varanasi in 2014. But by refusing to seize this opportunity, the AAP has in some ways closed its doors to the possibility of national expansion. Its ambivalence towards secular causes is similar to the Congress’s ambivalence, and may create more space for the BJP to expand.

In 2014-2015, the AAP appeared to be emerging as a national party, but internal power struggles and the exit of prominent leaders downgraded it to a Delhi-based party. Even if it returns to power now, the AAP is unlikely to re-ignite its national dream. But if it fails to win this Assembly election, and if it loses to the BJP, the AAP might face severe challenges in survival.

Shaikh Mujibur Rehman teaches at Jamia Millia Islamia and is the editor of Rise of Saffron Power: Reflections on Indian Politics

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 12:21:37 AM |

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