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MCD Election 2017 Results: Poll debacle suggests AAP is in throes of an existential emergency

The so-called “pep talk” Arvind Kejriwal gave to newly elected municipal corporators of the Aam Aadmi Party on Thursday was hardly the way to enthuse people who have lost the fervour of people. Though these brave hearts had just battled an electoral tornado and kept the party flag afloat, the meeting began with the Delhi chief minister chastising them severely for being late and keeping him waiting.

Instead of beginning the interaction — with many of them for the first time — by enhancing their self-esteem by dwelling on the significance of their victories when others fell by the wayside, Kejriwal’s address was loaded with moral sermonising. Instead of celebrating their success, the repeated emphasis was on recalling past glory. Instead of talking about the crisis that the party faces after the rout in Delhi and sub-par performances in Punjab and Goa, the AAP supremo romanticised about the halcyon days of the party.

Kejriwal did not, even once, applaud the achievements of these winners, instead verbalising the party’s emergence from the anti-corruption agitation, and crediting every electoral accomplishment to that movement. “Countless people made sacrifices and your victories are due to these sacrifices,” he told the gathered members.

In contrast to the Assembly election in 2015 when only the most unfortunate AAP members suffered defeats, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) polls saw only the pluckiest candidates overcame public sentiment against the party. For a party whose voteshare was eroded by almost half, the leadership’s failure to shower victors with wholesome praise indicated scant respect.

corporators would be more than willing to barter the party tag for a Bharatiya Janata Party label. It was unfortunate that in his first meeting with them, the party chief displayed doubts over their loyalty. By casting such aspersions and suggesting that he feared that many among them could be lured into the BJP fold, Kejriwal showed AAP’s process of candidate selection was anything but flawless.

Kejriwal has been stricken with the victimhood syndrome ever since he became chief minister, and during this talk, he tried to spread the infection. Instead of telling party officials that displaying incorruptible scruples was the best way to ward off BJP attempts to lure them, he advised them to record every phone conversation. “Once you have recorded the conversation, we will call a press conference and play it,” he declared.

It is time that such ambush-style politics was replaced with issue-based opposition to the BJP. Before stinging others, the AAP leader must remember that over the past two years, there have been several exposures over AAP legislators’ brushes with the law. Instead of accepting that the blame lay within, Kejriwal is attempting to brazen it out.

The logic why AAP members should refuse inducements is also warped. “You don’t need money, you didn’t have to buy party tickets and spend lakhs of rupees on the campaign,” was Kejriwal’s logic. He forgot that people accept bribes for other reasons too, mostly because they are low on principles.

AAP corporators, contended the leader, should always remember that “betraying the movement would mean that you have betrayed God”. Even if one accepts money and crosses over to the BJP, one must “remember that you will never be happy. The money shall not bear fruit and God will extract twice or even three times the amount — it will cause you great pain and anguish”, he told them.

AAP is confronted not with a moral crisis, but an existential emergency. Because it is a new party, it will have to face the bitter truth that the problem begins at the top. Unlike old and traditional parties, AAP cannot wait for BJP to make mistakes. It has to be prepared of the eventuality that 20 of its MLAs will be disqualified on the parliamentary secretary issue.

Given the current political scenario in the capital, chances are barring an odd candidate, all AAP nominees in the bypolls would forfeit their security deposit. That would possibly trigger mass desertions and Kejriwal will then be fighting to stay in office till 2020. There is no denying that BJP will make every attempt to further weaken AAP and paralyse the state government.

When he was sworn in as chief minister in February 2015 on the back of a sweeping victory, when AAP got support from all sections of people, Kejriwal had warned party colleagues to guard against hubris setting in. At his post swearing-in speech, he declared, “When one gets such a victory, arrogance can creep in. And if one gets arrogant, everything is lost. That is why all of us — me, the ministers, MLAs, families, volunteers must be on guard. We’ll have to introspect constantly and question ourselves to ensure we don’t turn arrogant. If we turn arrogant we will never complete our mission.”

The jury may still be out on whether AAP will ever accomplish its objective or not. It would also be unwise to write the party’s obituary right away. But unless the party leadership, Kejriwal downward begin the promised introspection sooner than later, it will be tough to keep obit writers at bay.

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