The results of the recently concluded assembly elections were not surprising. While TV channels made desperate attempts to project the outcome as a sign of the ‘Modi wave’ being truly in force, the results reflected the status-quo bar one seat in Delhi.
In Karnataka, which is currently governed by Congress, the grand old party won both Gundlupet and Nanjangud seats comfortably. Not many were surprised when the BJP won the Dholpur seat in Rajasthan, where the party has a government.
Likewise, in Madhya Pradesh too, both the BJP and Congress managed to retain seats they originally held. Ater was won by the Congress, albeit by a reduced margin, Bandhavgarh went to the saffron party.
In Bengal, a bastion of the Trinamool Congress, the party won the Kanti Dakshin seat without much fuss, while the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha thwarted BJP’s attempts to wrest its traditional Littipara seat.
In Himachal Pradesh too, BJP’s Anil Dhiman, who rode a sympathy wave following the death of his father Ishwar Dass Dhiman, won the Bhoranj seat. Senior Dhiman had represented the seat until his death six months ago.
The only surprising, or even shocking, results came from Delhi’s Rajouri Garden, where the BJP’s Manjinder Singh Sirsa emerged victorious. The seat was won by Aam Aadmi Party little over two years ago. The seat had fallen vacant after AAP’s Jarnail Singh resigned to unsuccessfully try his luck in Punjab.
The extraordinary reversal of fortunes for AAP in its own backyard within two years of winning a historic landslide must worry its leadership, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in particular.
The argument that bypolls usually do not represent a defining trend in politics doesn’t appear to hold water in the case of Rajouri Garden. Given that the Kejriwal government has gone around the country claiming to achieve most of its poll promises within two years of coming to power, winning Rajouri Garden should have been an easy cake walk. But, far from even putting up a fight, the party’s candidate, Harjeet Singh, lost his deposit.
The result in Rajouri Garden showed a sign of recovery for the Congress party, which appeared to have made a huge stride in reclaiming the ground it had lost to Kejriwal’s party.
The news couldn’t have come at a more inappropriate occasion particularly when the Aam Admi Party is hoping to replicate its performance of 2015 assembly polls in the all-important civic body polls, scheduled to be held in little over a week’s time.
So what went so spectacularly wrong? Why did the party lose the trust of the same voters who only two years ago, had chosen to cause annihilation of the Congress and near-decimation of the BJP?
One of the biggest reasons for the AAP’s drop in popularity in Delhi and elsewhere has been the dent to its perception of being a party that truly represented the aam aadmi (common person). Senior functionaries were accused, often by their own volunteers, of giving up the values of aam aadmi in favour of adopting a luxurious lifestyle.
One volunteer in Punjab during my election trip, had this to say, “I used to have access to senior leaders in Delhi before we won Delhi elections. Post our victory, even an ordinary leader started behaving like a king. The direct access to them was gone we were expected to go through their secretaries, many of whom had their own personal assistants. They were no longer accessible to their own volunteers, who had played a key part in scripting the historic win in Delhi.”
AAP’s win in Delhi was down to its ability to connect with the local population in the national capital and convince them to give the party another chance to fulfill its promises. This was after the party had walked out of the government within 49 days of forming the government with Congress’s support in December 2013.
To shed its image of bhagauda (deserter) was a Herculean task but Kejriwal made it possible because of his determination to connect with every single voter of Delhi until they had forgiven him.
But, what was a USP for AAP and Kejriwal during Delhi elections, was abandoned soon after the party formed the government. Direct connect with people was replaced with a high-octane expensive TV campaign. To facilitate this, the Kejriwal government approved a whopping amount of Rs 526 crore for advertising. The government even hired an expensive PR firm for their image makeover for a mind-boggling fee.
What no one could understand was this; Why did the Kejriwal government need to abandon its direct connect with people in favour of expensive ad campaigns?
Kejriwal also received flak for ignoring many of his volunteers and well-wishers as he now had his own team of ‘advisors’ at his disposal. One of the core duties of these advisors was often to attack anyone who chose to highlight the areas of development in the government and the party. To make themselves relevant for Kejriwal, these so-called advisors also gave grief to erstwhile volunteers and well-wishers with genuine feedback on social media platforms. They would often be called names with their integrity being frequently questioned.
I suspect the same so-called advisors managed to convince him about a landslide in Goa and Punjab when the ground realities painted contradictory pictures. I had predicted last year that I will be surprised if AAP wins even a single seat in Goa. When I met Kejriwal for a Facebook Live in Goa, he sought to reject my assessment and said there was wave in favour of his party.
Both during my election trip to Punjab and after, I said that it was Congress and not AAP, which was likely to cross the magical figure of 59, most of these so-called advisors laughed off my assessment. Some even accused me of ‘desperately trying to be neutral.’
Going forward, if Kejriwal and AAP need to stay relevant in politics, this will require an urgent course correction. In corporate jargon, it’s called returning to the drawing board. Kejriwal must return to being the leader he was before the 2015 assembly elections. He ought to become a hands-on politician and stop surrounding himself by so-called ‘advisors’, who, truth be told, are nothing but a bunch of sycophants.