Friday, May 16, 2014

Aam Admi Party Fares Well In Punjab But Lost All Over India

AAP leaves its mark on Punjab, bags 4 seats-Indian Express-17.05.2014

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) emerged as the giant killer in Punjab by wresting four of the thirteen Parliamentary seats leaving the SAD-BJP alliance with six and pushing the Congress tally down to only three seats in the Lok Sabha elections, results of which were declared on Friday.
With fledgling party routed across the country, Punjab was its only saving grace. Two of its candidates — comedian Bhagwant Mann and Prof Sadhu Singh — won by huge margins. While Mann won by over 2.10 lakh votes at Sangrur — defeating the Shiromani Akali Dal’s Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and the Congress sitting MP Vijay Inder Singla — Prof Sadhu won by over a lakh votes, defeating SAD sitting MP Paramjit Kaur Gulshan and pushing Congress MLA, Joginder Singh Panjgrain, to the third slot.
Philanthropist and cardiologist Dr Dharamvir Gandhi, the AAP candidate at Patiala, pulled off a huge upset by defeating Congress heavyweight, three-time sitting MP and Union External Affairs Minister Preneet Kaur.  At Fatehgarh Sahib, former diplomat Harinder Singh Khalsa defeated the Congress’ Sadhu Singh.
The party’s prominent candidate at Ludhiana, anti-Sikh riots activist and lawyer H S Phoolka, finished second behind the Congress’ Ravneet Bittu. He had been leading in the early trends giving jitters to both the Congress and SAD candidate Manpreet Singh Ayali.
Political observers view the AAP upsurge as a phenomenon that has arisen out of double anti-incumbency (against the SAD-BJP in the state and the Congress at the Centre); historical tendency of the Punjab electorate to vote for a third alternative and the number of non-political AAP candidates.
Election Results 2014: Four blunders of the 
Aam Aadmi Party---FirstPost
From the adrenalin and belligerent patriotism of Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement to the sophisticated politicking in Delhi, Aam Aadmi Party's script unfurled like a political fairy-tale. Drama, lots of noise, an us-against-the-world undertone, one newspaper headline a day and just the right number of controversies, Kejriwal's AAP story was right out of a all's well that ends well political saga - stuff Bollywood would be proud of. And then Delhi government happened to them... 
The exit polls in various channels lobbed one number after another at its viewers, the Aam Aadmi Party must have felt a strong strain of deja vu. Not very long ago, several exit polls had written the party off post the Delhi elections. A few days before the results were declared, while the political math had accommodated them, nobody could predict the overwhelming victory the AAP was looking at. The party ended up clinching 28 seats in the state polls, just four seats short of BJP's 34 and 20 seats more than the Congress' 8.
However, it is least likely that the AAP pulls a Delhi on the rest of the country in the general elections this year. While the CNN IBN exit polls have still given them 3 to 5 seats, most other polls have said that they might not get a single seat. In Punjab, however, the NDTV-Hansa exit polls predicted, they could get around 2 seats. 
The biggest shocker, however, came in the form of the exit polls result in Uttar Pradesh. Contesting from 76 seats, all exit polls unanimously show that, the party will not get a single. And the Aam Aadmi Party has just themselves to blame for the Lok Sabha debacle. Following are the five big blunders they made, which cost them the Lok Sabha polls.

1. The Delhi debacle 
A story than started in Delhi, seems like, was doomed to end in Delhi itself. Kejriwal  was quintessential AAP till the moment he finished his oath-taking speech in Delhi. Soon, after there was nearly a complete u-turn in both tone and language. The party which had positioned itself as one by the janta and for the janta, seemed to have realised that the janta doesn't a great government make. AAP's transition from being the voice of the 'aam aadmi' to the government, balancing resources and the promises made to the aam aadmi, was rough to say the least. Their free water scheme was questioned, the promise slash electricity rates didn't materialise. 
Finally, their row with the police over the Khirkee Extension incident indicated that AAP nurses a strain that is never conducive to good governance - aggression. While aggression fit perfectly on a party claiming to be challengers to established political traditions, it sat rather uncomfortably on a government. Then CM Arvind Kejriwal sat on a dharna against his own state's police force, blocking traffic, holding up the government and descending into a spectacle best suited to a bunch of anti-establishment college idealists. 
The last nail in the coffin was the stir against the Lt Governor and every other known political and bureaucratic establishment over the Delhi Janlokpal Bill. Arvind Kejriwal explained that he had quit the government in 'protest'. However, this move couldn't pack the metaphorical punch like his other 'protests' did. This came across as the actions of a man who had misappropriated the enormity of the responsibility he had so desperately sought for almost a year. By quitting, Kejriwal left a city in a lurch.

Immediately afterwards, however, he decided to fight the general elections. Delhi, it seemed from his actions, was firmly in his past. Soon, there were whispers that ambition has got better of the party which quit the job in a state to eye a bigger pie in the national politics. A job half-done in the party's repertoire, Kejriwal's party lost much of its sheen of earnestness that people were lured by in Delhi. More than a stable leader, Kejriwal seemed to appear like a serial poll contestant. Perfect for a reality show. As a political reality? Not so much.

2. Kejriwal got the opponent math wrong. Modi is no Sheila Dikshit 
Now, one has to live in a political Utopia of the most unreal kind to even think that Narendra Modi in Varanasi equals Sheila Dikshit in Delhi in 2013. In Delhi, there were murmurs of disbelief when Kejriwal decided to take on Dikshit, but the odds were firmly against the former Delhi CM. The Congress was facing a strong anti-incumbency wave in the state, it's clout further weakened by the spate of sexual violence against women. Adding to the the disappointment in the government, was the disillusionment with the state BJP leadership. To the average voting public, Congress and the BJP were in cahoots and the 'janta hai mera baap kaun hai?' tradition made all politicians look like one vicious group, hardly different from each other. AAP, in that scenario, is the enterprising outsider. The non-corrupt, clean, energetic political idealist. Votes poured in for them.

In Varanasi, the story is greatly different. Narendra Modi is not fighting ghosts of bad governance there, Hindutva fans have literally turned him into a demi-god and issues of corruption - AAP's forte - have not surfaced even once in the political narrative around the constituency. Apart from that, Narendra Modi has taken the same place in the India's national political narrative that Arvind Kejriwal had in Delhi. He has been positioned as the challenger, the slayer of the evils by his publicity machinery. And if the exit polls are anything to go by, people seem to have bought it well. 
However, the fact that Kejriwal chose to fight from Varanasi, made him look more like a political showman, than a leader of any developmental intent. And by choosing Modi as his adversary he risked being aligned with the biggest demon in the room to most Indian voters at present - Congress that is.

On the other hand, Kumar Vishwas decided to take on Rahul Gandhi - yet another heavyweight. While their move might be high on symbolism, fighting the favourites in this polls is very low on pragmatism. Also, given these are some of the most visible faces, they could have easily won if they chose a constituency and their opponents well.

3. A battle too many Needless to say, the AAP spread itself out too thin. 
Fighting 400 seats was indeed ambitious, but in terms of resources and reach, the party had taken on a task they couldn't have possibly handled too well in the given time. By planning a grand national splash, the party missed the bigger picture - it failed to see how it was starting to sound like yet another run-off-the-mill political party devoid of its trademark attention to detail. 
Say for example Uttar Pradesh. The party's poll pitch sounded uncannily like that of others - corruption, development, communalism etc. There was very little UP-specific content in their campaign, something that could serve as a hook for them to latch on to a voter-base largely disinterested in their politics. Unlike in Delhi, AAP could be a BJP or a Congress in Uttar Pradesh. In fact Kejriwal went the whole Hindu-pleasing route by visiting temples, taking a dip in the Ganga etc. Also, like the CSDS-Lokniti tracker showed, the caste equations played a decisive role in this year's election, something that the AAP completely missed touching upon in Uttar Pradesh.
 In Delhi, the party had drawn 70 specific constituency-specific manifestos indicating the depth of their involvement with the state. Voters were convinced that the party had taken the trouble of studying their problems anew, as opposed to spouting rehearsed mothballed promises. However, in the Lok Sabha polls, the party had little time to focus exclusively in each state, forget each constituency. Most of its resources - physical and social media - were spent backing the star candidates. So, while we know Shazia Ilmi, Kejriwal and Kumar Vishwas, no one knows about most other contestants fighting from the 73 other constituencies in Uttar Pradesh.

In Delhi, the party had drawn 70 specific constituency-specific manifestos indicating the depth of their involvement with the state. Voters were convinced that the party had taken the trouble of studying their problems anew, as opposed to spouting rehearsed mothballed promises. However, in the Lok Sabha polls, the party had little time to focus exclusively in each state, forget each constituency. Most of its resources - physical and social media - were spent backing the star candidates. So, while we know Shazia Ilmi, Kejriwal and Kumar Vishwas, no one knows about most other contestants fighting from the 73 other constituencies in Uttar Pradesh. 
Apart from a handful, most voters have no clue either about the party or about the candidates. Add to that the fact that they are most likely to be associated with quitting the Delhi government within 49 days of coming to power. Arvind Kejriwal, unlike Narendra Modi, couldn't travel to most states and campaign for its candidates leaving them to fend for themselves. Basically, in most of all the 400 seats, AAP is a party with no recall value, something that the voting masses have little understanding or empathy for.
4. PR slips, the curious absence of Prashant Bhushan and the restrictions of social media 
Beyond Twitter and Facebook, the loud, heated battleground for the political creatures of our times, lies an India which queues up to vote, come hail or storm, an India whose responsibility doesn't end with insulting each other on Twitter. That India actually holds the keys to any party's fortunes in the general elections. The Aam Aadmi Party leaned heavily on social media to rustle up a healthy wave of empathy for them in Delhi - several Twitter handles, email, newsletters, Facebook groups, Whatsapp messages etc.
 In Delhi and its rapidly growing smartphone generation, AAP was a hit. People followed their Twitter handle, shared vidoes and generally worked up a frenzy around them much like they did during the anti-rape protests, the anti-corruption movement etc. Delhi was a voter-base that could be reached out through the social media. But Amethi? Or even for example, Saharanpur. The social media winds weaken the moment they leave the frontiers of urban space - and that is what Kejriwal's party tripped on in the LS polls campaign. 
Add to that stray YouTube video suggesting that party leader Shazia Ilmi might have actually canvassed for votes on the basis of religion. Or Somnath Bharti accusing Ugandan women of being drug peddlers and prostitutes - thereby failing Bharatiya standards - in Delhi. AAP seemed to have acquired most of the vices all the other parties they are battling, have. It came across, even to the urban followers, as misogynistic, proud and clueless. 
AAP's social media machinery, not only failed to turn heroes out of all its candidates, it failed to successfully control the damage done by its more popular leaders. Then again, sedate, mature voices like Prashant Bhushan's went uncannily missing from the chaos, making the AAP sound like a bunch of chaotic teenagers out on an adventure trip. These are people amusing to watch. But vote? A strict no-no. 

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