AAP’s second phenomenal victory in Delhi gives rise to the possibility of the party taking another shot at becoming national again. The party’s origins and identity are not Delhi specific, and hence seem potentially scalable to other parts of the nation. Of course, this isn’t easy.
Mayawati and Sharad Pawar both held promise of having national appeal, as the cause of Dalits and farmers was expected to have resonance nationwide. However, this didn’t eventually happen. Even AAP tried it before, and barring some success in Punjab, its attempt didn’t work the previous time.
However, despite tough odds, now more than ever is a stellar chance for AAP to go national. Such resounding victories against the formidable BJP twice, is no joke. The second big win also wipes clean AAP’s tags of being ‘anarchist’, ‘activist’ and unable to govern. You don’t win so big unless you can run the place, and it seems like AAP ran the city quite well, or at least made its citizens happy.
Why now? Vacuum in the opposition space, the economy being in doldrums, and the passing of the NDA government’s honeymoon phase (even though BJP still remains popular) are all reasons why it is a much better time for AAP to expand now than five years ago.
Some of the criticism AAP earned in the past was warranted. The party spent too much time criticising BJP, blaming the LG and hating on the PM. It complained about what it couldn’t do, played victim and focussed less on what it could do.
However, that AAP listened to feedback and underwent some sort of a reinvention made a difference. It wouldn’t have been easy to calm down, and resist the temptation of taking on the PM or any of the BJP ministers when they made controversial statements. It’s easier and more fun to tweet against BJP than to repair roads and fix schools. But they did, and won again.
They earned their chops or credibility as a functioning government. After all, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also ran Gujarat for over a decade before being considered a credible alternative. In India, unless you are born to blue blood, people make you pay your dues before they accept you as a contender for the high chair.
Has AAP fully earned its dues? Probably not. It may need another term to show it can focus on work at hand and is not overly ambitious. However, AAP’s spectacular margin of victory and the political vacuum created by a diminished Congress make now seem like a good time to grow.
The method with which AAP scales up is also extremely important. Odds are against it, so any misstep could halt its plans. Here are some factors to consider.
- Understand that national party doesn’t mean all-India party. Even the gargantuan BJP has little presence in three southern states. It only recently gained traction in Bengal and the Northeast. AAP National just means AAP in three or four states for now. It has to pick those states with care, and promise a simple yet radical agenda in a newsworthy way that the state is craving for. Tie-ups or downright poaching of Congress leaders, frustrated with the top leadership but still having organisational ability in their regions, will help.
- Share power. The single biggest reason parties can’t expand is the leader who is hesitant of creating other stars in his party, who could become potential threats to himself. AAP, however, cannot grow as fast if it doesn’t get other mini-stars on board and Kejriwal can share real power with them. There have been too many use-and-throw cases in AAP and with that reputation, starlwarts will be wary to join. ‘To share power yet keep it all under control’ is a skill AAP has to learn to reach places.
- Adopt the Delhi model of governance. Take a leaf out of PM Modi’s strategy, the Delhi model of governance has to be outlined and circulated around the country, if not in the right forums around the world. What did Delhi do right? How can we take it elsewhere? From what is seen so far Delhi has been about WHEE – water, health, electricity, education. Spread this simple WHEE model to as many places as you can.
- Stay away from ultra-liberals. The ultra-liberals are educated, articulate, speak good English and are frankly, very aspirational. Indians, at a deep level, want to be validated by such people. This gives them disproportionate influence. They will praise you at first, but then will make you dance to their tunes for maintaining their validation (like expecting you to go to JNU, for instance – not the best idea to win an election). Unfortunately their ultra-progressive, extreme, New York style liberalism cannot win an Indian election. AAP learnt this, and out came the nationalism and Hanuman Chalisa, albeit in mild, acceptable doses. As it goes national, AAP will have to be more loyal to the mood of the people than the will of the elites.
- Constant reinvention. IAC became an activist AAP, which then became an angry AAP, which then transformed to a governance focussed AAP. AAP is small enough to keep changing with the times. No matter what the roadmap to go national might be now, something will happen that will require them to change again. As long as reinvention remains in AAP’s DNA, it will thrive and grow.
Our country needs a strong opposition and any attempts in that direction should always be welcome, even by BJP supporters. Indian democracy is more important than any one party, and let us hope AAP helps strengthen it further.