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  Opinion   Oped  05 May 2017  AAP needs to put its house in order

AAP needs to put its house in order

Sanjay Kumar is a professor and currently director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. The views expressed are personal.
Published : May 5, 2017, 12:15 am IST
Updated : May 5, 2017, 1:56 am IST

Does this defeat means the beginning of the end for the AAP in Delhi?

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal (Photo: PTI)
 Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal (Photo: PTI)

One can hardly deny that the performance of the Aam Aadmi Party has been pretty bad during the recently-held Delhi municipal elections. But this defeat should not be summed up as the end of the party. Political parties win and lose elections, but what damages the party more than the defeat is the internal fighting and blame game amongst party leaders. We have seen how the Asom Gana Parishad in Assam, which emerged from the Assam movement (All Assam Students Union), once the ruling party, is hardly any political force now after splits and division within the party as a result of internal fighting amongst its leaders. The AAP has managed to bring about a truce for now among warring leaders after expelling Amanatullah Khan, but there is a need for the party to keep its act together if it aims to build it further. The MCD elections may merely be local body polls, but the results of these elections have posed bigger questions. Does this defeat means the beginning of the end for the AAP in Delhi? Is an increased voteshare of the Congress any sign of revival of the party in Delhi? And finally, does this massive victory of the BJP indicate its increasing popularity?

If the AAP’s performance in these elections is compared to its victory in the 2015 elections, it may look like a strong negative vote against the party. Rightly so, as the party suffered a negative swing of 26 per cent votes (26 per cent votes compared to 52 per cent voteshare in 2015 Assembly elections). The number of seats won by the AAP also does not tell any different story. It managed to win only 48 of the 270 wards for which elections were held (elections were countermanded in two wards due to the death of candidates). But it may be too early to say that this is the end of the AAP in Delhi. In a triangular contest, the AAP managed to poll 26 per cent votes, which by no means indicates complete rejection of the party. Of every four voters in Delhi, one voted for the AAP when they had choices between three main parties, besides other smaller parties. The party has lost significant support amongst the upper and middle classes due to their disappointment with the constant agitational mood of the party leadership, but a sizeable proportion of lower class and poor voters seemed to have still voted for the AAP. This is mainly due to the work done by the AAP-led Arvind Kejriwal government in the field of school education, government hospitals, availability of free drinking water and reduction in electricity bills, of which the lower class and poor people of Delhi have been major beneficiaries. Even if one treats these results as a referendum, it cannot be seen as complete rejection of the work done by the AAP government.

 

True, there is a steep decline in the support base of the party, an issue to worry about, and there is a need for retrospection, but it will be too early to conclude that this is the end of the AAP. Parties win and lose elections, and revive, but for that it is important for the AAP to keep its house in order, avoid a blame game, and more important, refrain from blaming EVMs for its defeat.

Except for some Congress leaders who were leading the party’s campaign in Delhi, everyone else agrees that it is a bad defeat for the party in the MCD elections. The Congress managed to win only 30 wards and polled 22 per cent votes — a loss of 47 seats and eight per cent votes compared to the 2012 MCD elections. It seems that this is a continuation of the poor performance of the party in various elections since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Punjab being the only exception. But sadly, the party is trying to project its poor performance as an improvement in its performance compared to past elections, celebrating its voteshare increase from nine per cent in 2015 to 22 per cent in these MCD polls. This is like a student who after having failed a number of times celebrates his increase in marks even if he fails again and is not promoted. This improvement in the voteshare of the Congress in no way could be seen as any sign of its revival.

 

The BJP’s victory in these elections may be attributed to the interplay of multiple factors. First, the party correctly sensed the public angst against many incumbent councillors and the overall performance of corporations. The larger campaign narrative of the BJP in this election focused on delivering a “new MCD” to people rather than recalling its 10-year performance. The party’s gambit of not renominating any incumbent councillor proved to be extremely helpful in countering anti-incumbency as it helped in placing itself as the challenger in the eyes of voters. In the minds of many voters, the AAP and Mr Kejriwal were the only incumbents in this election. Second, though the state leadership led by state BJP president Manoj Tewari did campaign hard, the BJP seemed to have benefited immensely from the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as has been the case in several elections held during the last three years. Giving the party’s command in the state to someone who hails from Purvanchal also helped the party in mobilising a sizeable Purvanchali vote, which are in sizeable numbers in at least 80 wards.

 

One possibly cannot disagree that the BJP performed extremely well, winning 181 of the 270 wards, but one should also note that this massive victory of the BJP is also credited to the division of votes between the AAP and Congress in the triangular contest. The BJP polled 36 per cent votes; exactly same to its voteshare in the 2012 MCD elections. True, compared to the 2015 Assembly elections, it managed to increase its voteshare by four per cent, but it is important to note that compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections its voteshare declined by 10 per cent. The party with 36 per cent votes in a triangular contest would have won these elections anyway, but the massive victory in terms of seats is largely credited to the split in the non-BJP votes between the Congress and AAP. Partial revival of the Congress damaged the AAP much more than the popularity of the BJP, as the AAP and Congress share a common votebank in Delhi.

 

Tags: delhi municipal elections, amanatullah khan, arvind kejriwal, manoj tewari