Less than a year ago, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) seemed down and out after its abysmal showing in the Lok Sabha election. But today a complete overhaul of its organisational structure and a sharper election agenda have helped revive the party's political fortunes.
It wasn't easy for the AAP to shed the tag of a quitter it was saddled with after it resigned in just 49 days following its historic assembly election win in 2013. But this election campaign, which started in November, had an unexpected element: Kejriwal apologised to the people at each of his 110 public meetings.
Delhi's voters forgave and forgot immediately--and the AAP leader was back in the game stronger than ever. He did not even let his former India Against Corruption colleague and the BJP's candidate for the top job, Kiran Bedi, take the sheen off his campaign.
"Our honesty was the biggest factor that swung it for us. Plus, we delivered and kept our promises of free water, cheap electricity and curbing corruption," senior party leader Manish Sisodia told HT.
The AAP unveiled a slew of promises in its manifesto, such as making Delhi a world-class city, to woo all sections, including the middle class, large parts of which shifted to the BJP during the Lok Sabha election.
The organisation-building process began before the general election. During the 2013 polls, the AAP had roughly 15,000 volunteers for 3,500 polling premises comprising 12,000 booths. This time, it had 35-40,000. In July 2014, the AAP had its first structured booth volunteer unit in Tilak Nagar, and kept spreading from there.
"Volunteers are any party's foot-soldiers. They are the party's face. You cannot win with a top-heavy structure," said AAP strategist Ashish Talwar.
The Centre's decision to delay holding fresh polls after Kejriwal resigned in February 2014 worked in the AAP's favour. It began preparing in June itself and was first off the blocks announcing its candidates.
The AAP also had the BJP's lacklustre campaign and adversarial politics to thank for its win. The BJP's decisions to ask 300 MPs to campaign in the city, to announce Kiran Bedi as its candidate for chief minister and to attack Kejriwal backfired badly, sealing the AAP's victory.
Parachuting Bedi, who looked unprepared for the job, also upset BJP state leaders and exposed fissures within the party.
"The BJP juggernaut has been on a roll since the Lok Sabha election victory in May 2014. But we knew this would not work here," said an AAP leader. "Unlike Maharashtra and Haryana, AAP was a strong, third alternative to BJP and Congress. Also, people here saw what we did in 49 days, and how the BJP neglected Delhi in the past nine months."