May The Best Man Wins

Will it be an encore by the BJP or the Congress will show a spirited performance? These questions haunt Aam Aadmi Party as it prepares for the litmus test in the upcoming MCD polls in Delhi, writes Prakash R.

Faridabad : AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal during an election road show in Faridabad on Saturday. PTI Photo (PTI3_22_2014_000048A)

Chandigarh: AAP’s War Room. It is 7:00 in the morning. Counting is about to start. Election incharge of the party, Sanjay Singh and in-charge of the Media Cell, Deepak Vajpayee, are huddled together with the cadres. Sweets are already here; neatly lined up in a corner. There’s an atmosphere of celebration. Sanjay Singh calls Bhagwant Mann, a comedian and the party MP, who is contesting against Sukhbir Singh Badal in the assembly polls as well. Everyone is waiting for another comedian–party’s Punjab convener Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi– who is about to walk in just any moment. Sanjay Singh’s spirits are high. He seems to have bought in the prediction offered by Exit Polls showing AAP trouncing others in Punjab. In a half-mocking tone, he tells Mann, “We have won 70 seats in Malwa region itself. You are leading by at least 50,000 votes. Are you CM candidate?”
But the question was more than rhetorical. While the question of the possible CM put everyone in the party on the tenterhooks; it did not cut well with the Punjabis going to the polling stations. When AAP purged seasoned player Succha Singh Chotepur and replaced him with a lightweight like Ghuggi, it was already decided that if the party wins the election, Arvind Kejriwal will go to Chandigarh leaving Manish Sisodia at the helm in Delhi. The MLAs who had gone to Punjab for campaigning were asked to prepare grounds for such a scenario. In short, while AAP put every possible ingredient in the cauldron, the dish turned out to be only half baked.

(Above): Manish Sisodia was to take over the reign of Delhi had AAP won Punjab, but now looks incapable to lead a campaign; (Below Right): BJP has started making dent in AAP ranks by poaching Bawana’s MLA Ved Prakash

   While the state had already polled on February 4, the tidings that followed had made the party leadership jittery. BJP-Akali won Chandigarh local polls hands down. The BJP followed it with a rather spirited performance in Orissa local polls and victory in Maharashtra polls. Following the result of Maharashtra polls, AAP leadership started to debate whether demonetisation has ended up helping BJP? This might not augur well for AAP in the MCD polls in Delhi, scheduled for this month. A section of the AAP leadership was of the belief that BJP has discredited itself in its two terms in MCD and a repeat would be impossible. They also believed that since Punjabis have huge influence in Delhi, it will boost party’s chances following a victory in Punjab. That was not to be.
The same equation that gave them hope a month ago is troubling them now. One cannot look at party’s Punjab performance merely through the pigeonhole that it did not perform as well as it was expected from it. What is troubling it the most is which party it has lost to? The primary reason behind AAP’s stellar performance in Delhi was the consolidation of anti-BJP votes. If you closely analyse the numbers, it would give an impression as if AAP, an established party, trounced Congress, a novice.
Clearly, AAP’s gain was Congress’s loss. By trouncing AAP in Punjab, the Congress has positioned itself strongly in Delhi once again. Congress’s cadres are rejuvenated. If one goes by the statements of state party chief Ajay Maken, it becomes obvious that the party has learnt from its past mistakes and is working on them. Maken maintains that the element of practicality involved in the selection of candidates this time is unprecedented in party’s history. The Congress will go for the strongest and winnable names. The names have been selected after a due process where, first surveys were done, and then prospective candidates were asked to present verifiable proof of their support base. Only after they were verified the tickets were given to them. Jairam Ramesh’s expertise in civic services establishments was also used in shaping up the manifesto.
People working on the ground also maintain that it would be singularly impossible for AAP to gobble up all anti-BJP votes this time around. The Congress will show a spirited performance. It has performed rather well in the bypolls last year. One of the councillors who had won on AAP ticket then, jumped onto the Congress bandwagon early this year.
If one analyses the results dispassionately, the biggest loser of the recently held polls was AAP; although it fought the election only in Goa and Punjab.
Winning 20 odd seats in the maiden polls is not a small achievement in anyway. But it is troublesome for a party which was hoping to become a national player that the Congress’s fortune has not dipped as badly as was expected. Muslims, Dalits and Poorvanchalis have traditionally voted for Congress in Delhi. They shifted solidly to AAP during the previous assembly polls. This would mean that a resurgent Congress will only do so on AAP’s expense. The Congress has pretty little to lose here. It just wants to show that it is still in the fight. If it manages to show that, its vote bank will return to it.
Talking to TSI, one of the shortlisted candidates of the AAP said on the condition of anonymity, “BJP is not that big a problem for us as Congress is. Congress activists have good rapport with the officers even though they are out of power. They get their work done rather easily while our cadres find it difficult to even process a driving licence application. Officers resort to stalling tactic and red-tapism and our cadres cannot even ask them to flout the norms.”
AAP is struggling with this problem from the very beginning. Sisodia conceding that the party does not have the “Haisiyat” to even buy a pen does not augur well. While Sisodia says such things to demonstrate how party’s hands are tied up because of lack of power vested in them; such an admission breaks the morale of the cadres.
Cadres are also peeved with the fact that those crossing over from the BJP and Congress get more respect inside the party. When Mohalla Sabhas were formed, and some power was vested in them, cadres were of the hope that they will at least be accommodated there. But that was not to be. Most of the posts went to those crossing over from other parties.
The Poorvanchali bastion is also seeing cracks. Several parties from the region are planning to be in the fray this time. NDA partner Upendra Kushwaha, Samajwadi Party and Janata Dal (United) are all planning to test waters this time. The BJP has also shifted its focus by declaring Manoj Tiwari as state chief.
And if that is not enough, BJP’s win in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand will also trouble AAP big time. Delhi shares border with Uttar Pradesh from two sides. As many as 37 seats have people from Uttarakhand in dominance. The victory in Uttarakhand will reflect here as well.

By trouncing AAP in Punjab, the Congress has positioned itself strongly in Delhi once again; something that is giving aap sleepless nights

It is not difficult to see that it is AAP that is getting surrounded from all sides. Yogendra Yadav has also started fishing in the troubled waters. The BJP has reposed its faith in its decision not to repeat the sitting councillors, or to give tickets to their kin. MCD polls are a different ballgame. A party cannot merely win this poll on its image. The candidate’s inability is essential. AAP lacks such faces. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that apart from Kejriwal, no one in the party has any support base of his own. While its volunteers are hard-working, they are mostly greenhorns when it comes to electoral understanding, electioneering and sheer face value. BJP’s decision not to field sitting councillors has provided such leaders to AAP. But their numbers are not big.
As far as cadres are concerned, they don’t look as spirited as they were some months ago. Volunteers are not falling over each other for the ticket, as was norm in the past. There is some confusion as well over who would lead the campaign. While Dileep Pandey is party’s convener in Delhi, Ashish Talwar is the state in-charge. Talwar was managing Goa polls where party’s CM candidate stood at fourth position. Once seen as a game-changer in the state, only one of AAP’s candidates managed to save his deposit. The party although assured Congress’s loss in few seats.
Sanjay Singh and Durgesh Pathak took care of Punjab, which was later directly taken over by Kejriwal himself. It is almost impossible that both of them will come forward to take charge of Delhi. Talwar’s image among old volunteers is not very flattering, while Dileep Pandey’s capability as a taskmaster is questionable at the best. That leaves Kejriwal. If he leads the election and the party fails to perform, who will question his capabilities? Who will be the sacrificial lamb, so to speak?
These questions are up in the air as AAP prepares for the litmus test in Delhi. If it manages to win the poll, it has the capability to media manage its image and finger BJP in the nose. If not, there are unlimited possibilities. All bad for the party.
In the Mahabharata, Sanjay inquires Dhritarashtra, “O King! What will you reply to your forefathers in heaven when they will ask you as to why did you let so much blood spill?” Dhritarashtra says, “More than the result of the war, the question that troubles me is that on whom shall I put the responsibility of this bloodbath.” There is only as many times that the EVM will bear such a responsibility.

BJP’s win in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand will also trouble AAP big time in those constituencies in delhi that border uttar pradesh