Winner takes none?

After a dream debut, Delhi’s new party is caught in a dilemma

By Sahim Salim (Poll-itics)

Published: Fri 20 Dec 2013, 10:06 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 7:12 PM

After all the accolades earned in the Delhi assembly elections, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will now have to choose between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) if it wants to form the new government, in response to the over 450,000 public requests sent by SMS and email, urging it to do that.

Both the Congress and BJP are now looking to woo Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the AAP, which emerged as the second largest party after the BJP, with unconditional support to form the new government in the Indian capital.

However, the AAP’s election manifesto said they were opposed to the “corrupt, criminal and communal politics” of both the bigwigs of Indian politics. And soon after the election results, the party vehemently rejected any support from either in forming the government.

The AAP built its popularity on just the right mix of populism, activism and rhetoric. It projected an image that was in every way opposite to that of the ruling elitist Congress’. It looked approachable and honest, suggested solutions to everything ranging from corruption to inflation, put up its accounts and expenditures online, and approached citizens shunned by the police or administration with help. With all this, it successfully directed residents’ anger against the Congress to improve its own vote-share.

The AAP was bred by the anger of the people. Its leaders cashed in on the popularity of Gandhian activist Anna Hazare and the effect his fast against corruption had on Delhi residents. The movement enjoyed considerable support from non-resident Indians across the globe, which later transformed into financial backing for the AAP.

The other key aspect of the movement was its appeal to the middle class of urban Delhi, especially after Kejriwal et al branded it as the “second freedom struggle” — this time against “corrupt politicians”.

After the movement, Anna and Kejriwal parted ways but the latter retained the little symbols of the movement — the Gandhian cap, common-man clothes, token fasts against corruption and sensational claims against the ruling and opposition parties. The AAP entered politics with the aid of these little symbols and channelised the popularity the Anna Hazare movement had.

It then took the mandate of “cleaning the system” and called several press conferences to reveal how its ‘independent investigations’ into popular leaders’ deeds had exposed ‘dark’ and ‘corrupt’ secrets. These claims captured the attention of the media, and then in turn, the imagination of the common man.

With this approach, however, its policies began to be dictated by the need to remain in the spotlight. In hurriedly convened press conferences, they lambasted politicians and subsequently, incurred the wrath of political heavyweights, who retaliated with allegations that the AAP had illegal funding. The AAP tried to defend itself against every word of criticism and it’s precisely these responses which have put the party in a fix.

Now on the verge of forming the government, it has to examine each statement it made in a fit of passion. It has to ensure that in taking or offering support to any party to form the government, it comes out looking good. That is how it set nearly impossible conditions for the BJP and Congress for a coalition and both parties rejected them.

Now if the AAP supports the BJP, the Congress would get an opportunity to reiterate its claim that the fledgling party has rightist ideologies, while supporting the Congress would send the message that it has allied with the very party it opposed. There is also the risk of the Congress withdrawing support when it suits them. Moreover, the AAP’s electoral pledge of investigating corruption by both the national parties when they ruled Delhi will remain unfulfilled if it agrees to an alliance.

The other option is re-election. The ground sentiment, however, is that the party may not perform as well as it did at first. One, the people have expressed their anger against the Congress by voting it out of power; two, both the national parties will be well-equipped to deal with Kejriwal’s political tactics; and three, both the national parties reacted very well to Delhi’s verdict, with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi even saying that he would “learn from the success of the AAP”.

But conversely, the AAP could also benefit from a re-election. Its popularity has soared further after its spectacular debut and its leader has been profiled — mostly in a positive light — by newspapers and TV channels. What needs to be seen is what Kejriwal and his party will do in this scenario. Do they trust the confidence they enjoyed and hope for even better results in case of a re-election, or will they offer support to either one of the national parties and form the government?

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