When the results started coming in, the common refrain from election officers across constituencies was: “We will tell you if the winner is other than Aam Aadmi Party.” Such was the complete sweep by a party which was written off not too long ago.
But this historic electoral success did not come easy.
A complete re-building of the organisational structure, and a sharper, positive election agenda revived the Aam Aadmi Party’s fortunes, which was down and out after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. And BJP’s issueless, ad hominem campaign did the rest.
The biggest challenge though was to shed the quitter tag. The election campaign, which started in November, had an unexpected element: Kejriwal apologised to the people at each of his 110 public meetings. It was a message many found genuine. He emerged stronger, not letting the anointment of his former India Against Corruption colleague Kiran Bedi take the sheen off his campaign.
Senior party leader Manish Sisodia told HT, “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.
In its manifesto, AAP unleashed a slew of promises, making Delhi a world-class city being the prominent one, to woo all sections including the middle-class vote, large parts of which shifted to BJP during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. “The message we sent out was clear: the focus is on governance and Kejriwal is prepared to stay,” said another AAP leader.
The process started before LS polls. During the 2013 elections, AAP had roughly 15,000 volunteers for 3,500 polling premises comprising 12,000 booths. This time they had 35-40,000. In July 2014, AAP had its first structured booth volunteer unit in Tilak Nagar. It 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. Overall, AAP had 50,000 active volunteers, up from 25,000 in 2013. “We launched various frontal outfits. Once elections were announced, all ships sailed in the same direction,” he said.
After Kejriwal resigned in February 2014, the centre didn’t hold fresh polls for a year. And the delay worked in AAP’s favour.
It started preparing in June itself. It was also first off the block in announcing candidates. It helped the Kejriwal-led party that BJP couldn’t come up with an election manifesto. “Unlike in BJP, there was no confusion in AAP. Right from the word go, we wanted paanch saal Kejriwal. There was a singularity of purpose,” said an AAP volunteer.
BJP’s adversarial, ad hominem politics backfired. Also, BJP’s decision to ask 300 MPs to campaign in the city, to announce Kiran Bedi as the CM candidate and attack Kejriwal all backfired, sealing AAP’s victory. MPs such as Niranjan Jyoti made controversial statements.
Parachuting Bedi, who looked unprepared with many contradictions, upset BJP state leaders and exposed fissures. “We’re better off fighting a ‘Kiran vs Kejriwal’ battle as Modi was still is ‘a force to reckon with,” admitted an AAP insider.
BJP’s advertisement blitz also seems to have irritated Delhiites. “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. 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 BJP neglected Delhi in the past nine months,” said an AAP leader.