The municipal election results of Delhi have been of special interest this time, not so much because one wanted to see whether the BJP-RSS wave would sweep it or not but more because it would give a mid-term appraisal of AAP's hold over the city. First it was AAP's humiliating defeat at the Rajouri Garden constituency in an assembly bypoll and now its drubbing in the MCD elections. The party reacted predictably: the Rajouri loss was blamed on the sitting MLA's dispatch to Punjab and the routing in the municipal elections was blamed on faulty EVMs. What's entirely missing in AAP is a serious analysis of the reasons for the BJP's victory. In the absence of this, how can there be a plan to counter the saffron party's surge?
AAP lacked the basic understanding and foresight that once in state power it would have to follow the rules of the game...
However, this is the right time to reflect upon the "phenomenon" called AAP. When it won the landslide victory in the Delhi assembly elections in 2015, analysts and activists felt that a new political force had descended on India's political horizon. There was hope that AAP would cleanse the system and allow a clean model of governance. From autorickshaws to buses, you could overhear words of praise for Kejriwal; there was excitement in Delhi about the dawn of a new political era. The poor saw a possibility of a quality of life; those who were frustrated at the existing parties and governments envisioned a new corruption-free system. The contractual teachers, the temporary DTC staff, the health employees and more importantly the youth had hope from the new dispensation. These hopes, two years down the line, have been shattered and the support base among the youth, middle class and the precariously working population has declined drastically.
It all started when a few people within AAP felt insecure and started purging the party of others who might have challenged them, as objections were raised to the way tickets were distributed among many other things. That some of the MLAs have been forced out of the party has partially proven those objections to be true. On another front AAP started appointing its public faces to different state bodies, which could have been given to others from outside the party to expand the organisational reach. For instance, it could have started identifying intellectuals with expertise to head bodies and it would have sent a different message. Along with this its experiments in student politics in Delhi University failed miserably and it was also unable to make inroads into the vast mass of unorganised workers who have been suffering from an extremely precarious existence. Like other non-BJP political forces it failed to organisationally capitalise on the demonetisation issue as well. Many of these things were difficult to manage because of the high rhetoric that AAP engaged in during elections. It lacked the basic understanding and foresight that once in state power it would have to follow the rules of the game (for example, going back to a welfare state when the national economy was being aggressively neoliberal was an impossibility). It also needed to realize that within the given framework there are limitations imposed by countervailing political and bureaucratic forces.
AAP will have to expand itself and get out of an oligarchic organisational set up and try to build organisations across the sections that it considers its long-term support base.
The AAP government has undertaken significant initiatives in the field of education and health, such as the construction of school buildings and improving medical facilities. However, it failed when it came to regularising teachers in their jobs and undertaking qualitative changes in curriculum and pedagogy. It made the historical decision to implement the idea of neighbourhood school which was recommended as early as 1966 by the Kothari Commission—and it would have set in motion a lot of changes in schooling system—but it could not foresee the High Court's rejection of the notification at a private school's plea. A step like this could have been made use of if there was an organisational set up to follow it up and take it to the larger public. The idea that private systems of education or healthcare are not affordable solutions to the needs of the masses, and that there can be alternative models such as the Scandinavian countries or British or French systems demonstrated prior to their dismantling by the neoliberal state, could not be taken to the public. The reason was that AAP had lost its network and it never had a robust cadre base.
If AAP wants to save itself from a wipeout in 2020, it will have to understand two things—first, that its rhetoric and promises of 2015 cannot be achieved fully on account of many political and economic reasons and, secondly, its main contender is not the Congress but the BJP, which has a huge cadre base through the RSS and financial support through corporate funding. In order to sustain itself it will have to expand itself and get out of an oligarchic organisational set up and try to build organisations across the sections that it considers its long-term support base. During the MCD elections in a constituency like Greater Kailash or Chittaranjan Park one could see that it did not have volunteers, leaflets, public meetings, hoardings or any local mohalla faces. The others had all these. If even after the Punjab, Goa and MCD fiascoes they do not start acting now, they may end up as a short-lived political trend rather than the enduring force they were seen to be.