Aloof AAP leaders blamed for party's Lok Sabha fiasco

  • Saikat Datta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 16, 2014 14:22 IST

Sitting at home a day before the counting of the votes in the 2014 parliamentary elections, AAP leader Prashant Bhushan expected 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, Bhushan's party was looking at just four seats, all of them from Punjab, where the party had least expected such a feat. But if the party was looking for a notable presence in Parliament, its only hope was the state that had been traditionally dominated by the SAD-BJP combine battling the Congress for decades.
Four seats from the constituencies of Sangrur, Faridkot, Patiala and Fatehgarh showed trends in favour of AAP. In Sangrur, AAP's candidate, Bhagwant Mann had already established a lead of over a lakh votes and was clearly all set to be the new party's first MP.

If the trends hold then he would have three other colleagues from AAP accompanying him to Parliament in a few days.

Though it has performed well in Punjab, early trends showed it may not win any seat in any other part of the country.

Party chief Arvind Kejriwal was trailing behind BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi from Varanasi by over 70,000 votes in the first few rounds of counting.

In Mumbai, AAP candidate Medha Patkar was trailing at the third spot, while BJP's Kirit Somiya had gained an unassailable lead over NCP candidate Sanjay Dina Patil.

While AAP hopes to be recognised as a national party after the elections if it gets 6% vote share in at least four states, it won't be a force in Parliament.
Senior party leaders told Hindustan Times they would be happy with the recognition as a national party after having made a series of strategic blunders before the polls began.

Most agree that Kejriwal's decision to quit as Delhi's CM after 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.

In fact, Bhushan accepted, 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 the states where we don't have a presence. In the short term, 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 the volunteers.

"They stopped meeting us, wouldn't reply to smses, ignore our suggestions do as they pleased," another senior AAP founder member told HT. In Delhi, where AAP was contesting all seven parliamentary seats, the city-in charge, Ashish Talwar, was extremely unpopular among the 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 give any attention to our suggestions of the volunteers. Defeat was staring us in the face but none of the senior leaders took a call on Talwar and allowed him to run amok," another senior founder member told HT.

The AAP senior leadership was also miffed as they 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 35 crore for the general elections, but with donations likely to shrink after the 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 the Delhi Police was a great idea, but the immediate cause was wrong. We tried to tell 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.

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