Sitting at home a day before the counting of votes, AAP leader Prashant Bhushan was expecting at least 15 seats for his party. "We feel that we have a strong chance in 15 seats, but we will be happy with eight." But if we get less than that, then we have a lot of work ahead of us," he told Hindustan Times.
A day later, on Friday, the 16th, Bhushan's party won just four seats, all in Punjab. If the party was looking for a notable presence in Parliament, then its only hope was from the state that had been traditionally dominated by the SAD-BJP combine battling the Congress for decades.
AAP won Sangrur, Faridkot, Patiala and Fatehgarh seats in Punjab. In Sangrur, AAP's candidate Bhagwant Mann was a clear favourite all along.
But if AAP did well in Punjab, it failed to win any seats in any other part of the country. Party chief Arvind Kejriwal lost Varanasi to PM designate Narendra Modi. In a city like Mumbai, where AAP was expecting their candidate Medha Patkar to snatch a victory, the party failed to open its account.
AAP's hopes to be recognised as a national party after the elections were also shattered as it failed to get the required 6% vote share each, in at least four states. Clearly, the party suffered due to a series of strategic blunders before the polls began.
Most people agree that Kejriwal's decision to quit as Delhi's CM after merely 49 days in power was the biggest mistake that cost the party dearly.
"Had he continued, we could have concentrated in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab to swing more seats. We kept warning the party leadership, but they had become so unapproachable that we had no possible means of communicating our fears to them," a senior AAP leader told HT. While AAP fielded more candidates than the BJP or the Congress, their efforts came a cropper.
Bhushan accepted that the party has several challenges ahead. "We need to prepare for internal party elections and also set up a grievance redress mechanism. We also have to start building the party in states where we don't have a presence. But we will start focusing on the assembly elections in Delhi, Punjab and Haryana."
Within the party there were loud murmurs that the senior leadership of Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia, Sanjay Singh and Gopal Rai had become virtually unapproachable to volunteers. "They stopped meeting us, wouldn't reply to smses, ignored our suggestions and did as they pleased," another senior AAP founder member told HT.
In Delhi, where AAP contested all seven Parliamentary seats, the city in-charge, Ashish Talwar, was extremely unpopular among volunteers. Scores of volunteers HT spoke to complained that there had been numerous complaints against Talwar but they had all been ignored. "He used to speak rudely and never gave any attention to volunteers' suggestions. Defeat was staring us in the face but none of the senior leadership took a call on Talwar and, instead, allowed him to run amok," another senior founder member told HT.
The senior AAP leadership also felt that the media had turned against them. "But instead of reaching out to the media to start a dialogue, our leadership got terrible advice to start boycotting media organisations.
Without an alternate platform available, we were caught in a bind and that contributed largely to the middle class voter turning away from us," the AAP founder member said. This will also have an impact on the party's finances in the future. It managed to garner about R35 crore for the general elections, but with donations likely to shrink after the Parliamentary elections, it is not sure how it will sustain itself.
Finally, it was the AAP's record in the 49 days when it ruled Delhi that came back to haunt them. As a senior bureaucrat in Delhi summed it up, AAP failed to produce a few noticeable changes that would have made all the difference. "I advised Kejriwal that his government had to do a few things that could have made his governance visible.
All he had to do was keep the city roads in good shape, ensure that garbage was collected and the colonies remained clean.
Simple administrative moves like these would have made a huge difference, instead of staking their future on a Jan Lokpal Bill. Their dharna over the control over Delhi Police was a great idea, but the immediate cause was wrong.
We tried telling this to Kejriwal, but he refused to listen to us."
In some ways, the perceived inability of Kejriwal and his senior colleagues to build consensus, and listen to his well-wishers, also proved to be a major strategic blunder.