Is the Aam Aadmi Party headed for oblivion? Yes, if you look at the exit polls results from Delhi. No, if you look at Punjab. In this tale of two states, we can see why this is the worst of times for AAP and also the best of times for the party.
Trends from Delhi tell us how much Arvind Kejriwal may lose in this election. But Punjab predicts what his party can gain and reclaim in the future.
Though exit polls are not giving us exact numbers, with a predicted 20% vote share it is clear the AAP has become a rage in Punjab. In the fertile fields of the land of five rivers, Kejriwal is all set to reap the harvest he had sown, and later destroyed, in Delhi, where his party is expected to win just 0-2 seat.
But, Punjab today is a replica of Delhi yesterday. It is a reminder of the fact that the idea of AAP may have changed geography but has not become history.
Consider the similarities.
During the campaign it became apparent that many voters were not too keen on giving both the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine another opportunity. The reason: they were tired of the corruption-tainted regimes of both the parties over the past decade.
The latent anger against the Badals was almost identical to the fury against Sheila Dikshit government. But the alternate was not acceptable to many either. Disenchantment with the Congress in Punjab was similar to the lack of hope in the Delhi BJP.
Ironically, the AAP got everything right in Punjab and almost everything wrong in its original laboratory—Delhi.
In Punjab, it picked up the right candidates; people with a history of commitment to the local cause, activists with impeccable credentials and leaders with strong roots in their constituencies. From Bhagwant Mann in Sangrur to HS Phoolka in Ludhiana the party fielded a strong line up of candidates who had a long history of ground work in Punjab.
It did the exact opposite in Delhi. Had the AAP allowed Kejriwal, Yogendra Yadav, Shazia Ilmi, Kumar Vishwas and Manish Sisodia—its original stars— to contest from Delhi, the results could have been very different.
But the party, and this is what the exit polls suggest, seems to have made the mistake of assuming that its brand equity would help anybody win from Delhi and the brand identity of its top leaders would help them win from anywhere in India.
With the benefit of hindsight it can be safely said the AAP dispatched its generals to conquer new territories without strengthening the defences in its own backyard. The result: when the BJP armies came marching in, there was no one to defend its home turf.
In its original avatar in Delhi, the AAP was a reflection of the common man’s craving for idealism. The AAP was the answer to every man’s quest for conscience.
A lot has been said of Kejriwal’s decision to resign after his failure to introduce the lokpal bill in the Delhi assembly. But this is a flawed argument.
A majority of opinion polls immediately after his resignation had clearly shown that Delhi voters supported the decision and wanted Kejriwal to return with a majority.
Kejriwal’s decision lost its ideological moorings because his party drifted from its core values in Delhi. The decision to quit became unjustifiable on moral grounds because the AAP was seen embracing outsiders, turncoats and VIP netas who were not part of its Ramlila Maidan past and its lokpal movement.
So, is this the end of the AAP? No. What is happening in Punjab is a sign of times to come. Today voters are saying abki baar Modi sarkar.
Once they tire of both the Congress and the BJP, like in Punjab today and Delhi not so long ago, they would again say: pehle AAP.
Kejriwal has to just ensure that he learns the right lessons from the battle of Punjab and the disaster of Delhi.