Time for AAP to read the writing on the wall

Losing an election is part of the game for a political party. Every party has had its share of electoral setbacks, only to bounce back again. One just has to remember the stunning comeback of the Congress barely three years after it suffered a morale shattering defeat in the 1977 general election or the spectacular BJP win in 2014 after two successive defeats to realise that defeat, like win, is not something permanent. The big defeat of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi municipal elections​, therefore, need not be seen as signs of a party on the fast road to oblivion.

If the commentariat is still busy writing the epitaph of the party that won an incredible 67 out of 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly just​ three years ago, it is because the party has shown absolutely no signs of having read the writing on the wall or any inclination to embark on a course correction. One of the first requirements for the revival of a party is to do an honest introspection to see where it may have gone wrong and what it needs to do win back the confidence of the electorate. But in choosing to attribute its loss to tampering of EVMs, AAP has not only proved that it is a bad loser but has also foreclosed any possibility of a revival any time soon.

The humbling losses in Punjab and Goa – two states AAP had said it would sweep with its jhadoo – should have brought it down from Cloud Nine to Terra firma and made it realise that its national ambitions were rather premature; that it was trying to achieve too much too soon; that it needs to focus on governance in Delhi for which the people of the city state had given it such a massive mandate. But it did nothing of the sort and instead blamed the EVM for its loss – like school boys who blame the umpire after losing a cricket match.

That it has fallen back on EVM bashing after the drubbing in the MCD polls suggests it still does not know – or even wants to know – what hit it. If AAP – and more specifically its chief Arvind Kejriwal – had done any serious soul searching after the twin debacles in Punjab and Goa, it would have realised the need to abandon its national ambitions and concentrate on governance in Delhi. A non resident Chief Minister without portfolio, who spent more time outside the state to oversee the party’s expansion drive in other states and spent all his time in Modi bashing when he is in Delhi was not what the people had bargained for while voting in such overwhelming numbers in 2015.

AAP has come a long way since the time it rode the crest of the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement launched by Anna Hazare. It has lost its moorings that made people see it as an alternative to the cynical, corrupt, casteist and communal parties that have held sway all these years. Having smashed two national parties into pulp in 2015, it should have realised that it needed​ to dismantle the system put in place by the two parties and usher in an era of honest, people centric politics. Instead, it chose to perpetuate the system through cynical, personality driven and populist vote bank politics, leaving the electorate thoroughly disillusioned and disappointed. The results are there for everyone to see.

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Yet, the fall of AAP must be mourned by the people of the country because it had raised hopes of a complete break with the kind of politics they had seen and promised something much better. As he stands on the ruins of the party, Kejriwal would do well to ponder over what his erstwhile good friend and colleague Mayank Gandhi has written in an open letter to him after the drubbing in the municipal polls. He should realise that it is time to go back to the drawing board and apply correctives. One of the first things he must do is to get off the high horse and smell the ground beneath. He must do away with his megalomaniac streak and accept that he is not bigger than the party. Fortunately for him, he has time to make amends. But if he decides to pursue his cynical, manipulative politics, it would be the end of the road for him as well as AAP.

That would be a real tragedy.