The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) arrived with a bang five years ago. But its growth has been quite like the stock of a promising company, whose IPO was a blockbuster on the share market, but fortunes keep oscillating every year. When the party was formed this day five years ago, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal championed himself as the mascot of the common man and captured the imagination of the people — and, soon enough, the Assembly in Delhi. He catapulted himself from an anti-graft activist to a politician, with an appeal that cut across urban and rural areas. But Kejriwal’s influence now seems to have waned and is confined to the national capital. A recent survey by Pew Research Centre, a US-based fact- tank, states that in 2015, the “favourable view” for Kejriwal among Indians was 60 per cent, but fell to 39 per cent in 2017.
In the last five years, it has fought four Assembly polls (in Delhi in 2013 and 2015 and in Punjab and Goa in 2017) but made its mark only in Delhi. The defeat in the other states seems to have severely dented its national ambitions. Its plan to be an alternative to the Congress hasn’t borne fruit either, with the Congress soundly defeating AAP in Punjab. AAP had earlier announced it would contest the Gujarat Assembly polls. Kejriwal and his team even campaigned in the state several times. But it is now contesting from only a limited number of seats there. When it comes to party matters, Kejriwal has maintained his tight grip on the outfit. Old timers recollect that there was a time when AAP posters had nine faces—of Kejriwal, co- founders Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, Labour Minister Gopal Rai and party leaders Kumar Vishwas, Sanjay Singh, Pankaj Gupta and Ilyas Azmi. Today, Kejriwal is the only face of the party. Bhushan and Yadav were sacked from the party after they questioned Kejriwal’s style of functioning while Azmi quit the outfit after being allegedly sidelined. Poet-turned-politician Vishwas shares an uneasy relationship with the leadership. “The party has obviously floundered and failed to even approximate any of the key ideals it held out—clean politics, good governance and possibility of a viable opposition. The party built on this spirit is as good as dead,” Yogendra Yadav, now the president of a new political outfit, Swaraj India, told PTI.
The party’s strategy of positioning Kejriwal as the “only strong rival” against Prime Minister Narendra also seems to have failed. Kejriwal, a vociferous Modi-baiter, now avoids attacking him directly. But how has the party and its leadership grown over the last five years? Has it been able to meet the people’s expectations after the victories it registered in Delhi in 2013 and 2015? Sanjay Kumar, a political scientist with the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), said the party is certainly growing as AAP has in the last five years formed a government in Delhi twice and is the principal opposition party in Punjab. “If you look at people’s expectations after its victories in Delhi, it may appear that they have not grown, but look at their performance in Punjab. They have garnered over 20 per cent votes and are the principal opposition party in the state,” Kumar said. In terms of leadership, Kumar added, Kejriwal’s ratings have gone down in the last three years. This year alone, apart from Punjab and Goa, the party faced a humiliating defeat in the Rajouri Garden by-poll and MCD elections. It has, since then, started focusing more on Delhi.
But are party stocks on the decline after the MCD poll rout on its home turf? Kumar refers to the party’s first major success in Delhi since the 2015 assembly elections, the Bawana bypoll, which AAP won with a margin of over 24,000 votes. “The Bawana victory (in August 2017) does not indicate a decline,” he said.