It is a disappointment because Delhi's massive mandate raised the hopes of the people that AAP would emerge as a principle party at the national level. After that historic verdict, AAP had decided to contest elections in Punjab. We started focusing on the organisation and the idea was to consolidate the gains of the parliamentary elections of 2014 when the party had won four seats. At that time, the party had lost every seat outside Punjab, including in Delhi. As the party got to work in Punjab, it was enthused to see the energy and empathy for the party at the grassroot level. Soon enough the media also assumed that AAP could win more than 80 seats (of 117); the same was predicted by Huffington Post which said that AAP would be the new king of Punjab politics.
During the campaign, every analyst who visited Punjab vowed that AAP had a very strong presence. It was universally acclaimed that AAP had a massive wave in the Malwa region which commands more than half the seats in the state, though there were weaknesses in the Manjha and Doab areas. Three exit polls predicted an AAP victory; others claimed a photo finish between AAP and the Congress. Even this morning, TV channels asked me who would be AAP's Chief Minister. One channel wanted to know if Arvind Kejriwal would go to Punjab and leave Delhi, which I denied in the strongest possible terms. But by 9.30 am, it was clear that AAP's dream had ended and that the Congress had won. In fact there was a time when trends showed on TV that AAP was trailing even the Akali-BJP alliance at third position. But finally it is the Number Two Party.
AAP also contested Goa with high hopes, but could not open its account. In Goa, we believed that AAP might replace the Congress. So one can ask, what has gone wrong for the party? Was it a bubble? Or is AAP just a one-state party? I know analysts will be ruthless in their assessment about AAP. Criticism is most welcome. But I want to say with all the humbleness at my command that AAP is here to stay in Indian politics. Those who think that AAP's future is bleak are going to be proven wrong again.
This is not the first time that AAP has suffered a rather humiliating defeat. After the 2014 parliamentary elections, AAP was carpet-bombed with criticism. It contested more than 400 seats, but could win only 4. But it bounced back with a thundering margin in the Delhi election and re-wrote electoral politics. AAP won with a historic mandate. It was nothing less than a revolution because it humbled two very powerful political parties who had a wealth of experience in fighting innumerable elections.
The silver lining for AAP in these elections is that it today is the main opposition party in Punjab which is no mean achievement. Let's not forget the fact that AAP is only a four-year-old party. And it was fighting assembly elections in this state for the first time. For a first-timer, it is a great beginning. Many political parties took years and many elections to achieve what AAP has accomplished in its first attempt.
In four years' time, AAP has a government in one state, which is doing path-breaking work in the areas of education, health and drinking water; AAP has set the benchmark in honest and transparent governance in Delhi and now in another state, it is in the opposition.
No other regional party has this distinction. Other parties except the BJP and the Congress can't boast of a formidable presence in more than one state, the state of their dominance. In that way, AAP is better off even in defeat than the Samajawadi Party, the BSP, Shiv Sena, the Trinmool Congress, the DMK, the AIADMK, the BJD, the NCP etc. Punjab elections have proved that AAP has the potential for a bigger political outpost. AAP's opponents shouldn't commit the mistake of taking it lightly.
Despite this loss, I can say that AAP has tremendous goodwill in other states also. Arvind Kejriwal addressed big rallies in MP, Rajasthan, Gujarat, UP, Jharkhand in the month of December, just after the announcement of demonetization by the Prime Minister Modi. The response was very encouraging. The lesson for the party is to work hard to build the organisation, convert sympathy among people into votes. It has to build a cadre and keep the morale of the organisation up which is another challenge for the party.
But AAP's contribution should be seen from a different angle too. AAP has demystified the fact that elections can be fought only on the strength of money and muscle power, and only traditional political players can contest and win elections. AAP has shown the path in Delhi, and in Punjab too, that clean candidates with honest money can also contest, win and become the member of the legislature. AAP candidates did not distribute money and liquor to bribe voters and yet they came out victorious. It's a huge leap in Indian politics.
In the end I want to gently remind us all that in 1984, the BJP could win only two seats. It was also pronounced dead and buried. Today, the BJP has replaced the Congress and it is the most dominant political force. There is more to come from AAP.
(Ashutosh joined the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2014.)
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