The day the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) lost the MCD elections in Delhi, Outlook reached out to the party’s top leaders for their responses—both on the proximate causes and their reading of long-term prospects. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, deputy CM Manish Sisodia and senior minister (transportation and rural development) Gopal Rai were, however, huddled at the CM’s residence from the moment the trends suggested a clear defeat for AAP. The Delhi municipal elections, it was widely felt, would not go in the AAP’s favour. Reeling as it was from the triple whammy of defeat in the Punjab and Goa assembly elections plus the loss of a seat in a recent Delhi bypoll (to the BJP) had not helped morale. The Delhi voter was clearly slipping away, taking with him the party’s ambition to hold sway in territories beyond.
While the top leaders were still locked in brainstorming 48 hours later, Outlook spoke to two MCD election candidates of AAP—one winner and one who lost. Here is what they think about their party, its leadership style, the verdict, their mistakes and the road ahead. A report in their own words:
I got 6,300 votes. So I am a losing candidate for AAP. I never felt during the last six months that we would lose. I didn’t foresee defeat in the final leg of campaigning either. What I saw was plenty of anger among the people. This ward includes an unauthorised colony, one JJ cluster and Sectors 15 and 18. These two sectors have 43 parks, big and small, and none were being maintained properly by the BJP-run MCD. Trees are leaning onto people’s balconies—that’s how long they haven’t been pruned.
Sector 15 has 35,000 residents of whom 22,000 are voters. It has not one recreation center, nor a single public toilet. I raised all these issues in my campaign and I could see people connect to it. But Prime Minister Modiji came in at the last moment to campaign and a wave welled up in his favour. This I realised only after the election results. During my campaign, I continuously felt the election was over issues—on things that matter to people, which I continuously talked of.
I was in the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement; I am a founding member of AAP. My spirit is completely with the party. I know we have done a lot of work. I know that people acknowledge this too. But this election was not fought on work. It was also not as if people had very high expectations of us that we had somehow failed to fulfill. No. What has happened is that people started feeling ‘Arvind Kejriwal talks a lot about Modi’. This they did not like. That Kejriwal spoke against demonetisation, that he criticised the BJP government’s other big decisions, was not liked by people. In 2014 Modiji won a big mandate and those who supported him then still appreciate his leadership. They got angry and felt alienated from us when our leaders criticised him.
Here is what happened in these elections: the 33 to 40 per cent who voted for Modiji and the BJP returned to that fold, upset by our leaders’ criticism. Not that what Arvind Kejriwal said was wrong. Demonetisation had affected people. But was it the right thing to oppose it? After all, the same people had voted for Modi. Those criticisms from our side did not make good politics.
Kejriwalji did the right thing, but he catapulted Modi to victory. The 33 to 40 per cent janata demonstrated how they can defeat us. In fact, in Delhi, the BJP has ended up with more voters than its core base. That’s because a lot of people are under Modiji’s influence—log unse prabhavit hain. When we spoke against him, it kept reinforcing our image as negative to their eyes.
If this election had been fought over “issues”, we would not have lost. AAP’s Sanjay Singh came to campaign for me and a good crowd gathered at the meetings. People sometimes cried before us, telling us they had never dreamt they could send their children to private schools. So, I know our work is appreciated. People say AAP is a party of the poor, but we are also pro-business and help all groups. We only feel that the poor require more support, so we help them first. We aided the economically weaker sections access education, set up mohalla clinics and worked on public transportation, while not raising taxes like VAT. The central government had banned e-rickshaws, which we opposed, thus securing employment for thousands.
In my election, some unfair means were also used against me. A rival released a doctored audio of a voice like mine, recommending a candidate from another party. This happened on the very day of polling. Of course, that made a difference to my chances. I did complain to the Election Commission, but to no avail. That said, the result was still a shocker. There was a wave in Modi’s favour in Delhi. Now I will try to make our party stronger by tackling our shortcomings.