Three months ago when Arvind Kejriwal quit as chief minister of Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) projected him like a general returning home from victory, ready for another big battle.
Friday’s outcome in Delhi, where the AAP drew a blank, indicated that quitting the government on ‘moral high ground’ after just 49 days of rule seems to have misfired for the 18-month old party.
The saving grace for the party is its vote share — 32.9% this time, up from 29.3% in the December 2013 assembly elections, relegating the Congress to a poor third position.
The results clearly shows that for AAP, it is still Delhi that remains as its stronghold, the pocket borough. With the Congress getting just about 15% vote share, the AAP turned the traditional Congress versus BJP fight into AAP-BJP contest.
The next hurdle for AAP will be the assembly elections, when they are held. Ever since the AAP government quit, the assembly is in suspended animation and Delhi is under President’s Rule.
The AAP had won 28 of the 70 seats in the Delhi assembly, while the BJP-Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) alliance had won 31 seats. Kejriwal then went on to form a minority government with outside support from the Congress.
The vote share in the Lok Sabha elections indicates that the AAP has retained its constituency of slum clusters, and even middle-class voters. If and when it faces assembly elections, the AAP will be in a straight fight with the BJP to not just replicate its 2013 performance but also improve on it.
Across Delhi, AAP candidates stood second on all seven seats, some by very thin margins. In Chandni Chowk, Ashutosh earned over three lakh votes; in East Delhi, Raj Mohan Gandhi polled 3.81 lakh votes; Rakhi Birla (Northwest Delhi) got 5.2 lakh votes, while Anand Kumar (Northeast Delhi) earned 4.5 lakh votes.
In West Delhi and South Delhi, Jarnail Singh and Col Devinder Sehrawat polled 3.8 lakh and 3.9 lakh votes, respectively.
Another factor that went against AAP was its pan-India ambition. “Hell bent on becoming a national party, our leaders put up more than 400 candidates across the country and lost focus on Delhi, its core constituency. Another mistake was to abandon its anti-corruption plank,” said a party functionary.
A founding member of the party told HT, “The top leaders were completely cut off from ground realities.”
But the AAP’s official stand did not reflect any remorse. “We failed to communicate the decision to quit the government in Delhi to the people. We could have involved people in our decision,” Yogendra Yadav told mediapersons.
Yadav, however, did not forget to take potshots at the Congress: “We have eliminated Congress completely from Delhi.”