It’s now an old story, but worth revisiting: Seasoned politicians made patronising comments, sneered at them, jeered, scoffed at their chances, both from the BJP and Congress. L K Advani declared that there was no place for a third party in Delhi; Arun Jaitley thought AAP was “in dreamland”; Sushma Swaraj adviced people not to “waste” their voting power by voting for AAP; Digvijaya Singh challenged Arvind Kejriwal to get elected —even as a municipal corporator. The Congress was initially taken aback by the enormous interest and support around the issues Anna Hazare raised, but fell back on deeply cynical strategems. Even the media was distracted, diverted by the messily petulant and debilitating separation drama between Anna Hazare and Kejriwal. Lost in the subtext was the enormous groundshift of hope that had been taking place in upscale Delhi as well as its political underbelly. Most exit polls also got it woefully wrong; except for one agency, others failed even to discern that in national capital Delhi at least the game was no longer a battle between Congress and BJP. “Who is Arvind Kejriwal? What is the Aam Aadmi Party?” Sheila Dikshit thundered shortly before Delhi went to the polls. BJP’s Vijay Goel even suggested that AAP was being funded by the Congress.
AAP too got it wrong: their internal surveys showed they were going to clinch a majority that would allow them to electrify the country with quick deliveries on their key campaign promises, including the Jan Lokpal, measures that would jumpstart their national campaign when 2014 elections came around. In the end, they went awry though not as fatally wrong as the Congress. Alas, now it is too late for the Congress to change its internal pollster. Buoyed by the success in Delhi, AAP senses a bigger opportunity nationally and has announced its intentions of entering the fray. The Delhi result is sure to spur hopes in other parts of the country: for example, our Chennai edition noted that in mere three days after the Delhi results, the registrations of AAP shot up 200 per cent. Obviously, much as BJP and Congress politicians would hate to admit it, Kejriwal’s integrity and stock are a lot higher than they were before the Delhi result. The big question is how much success awaits the AAP? The size of the Delhi political laboratory is after all smallish compared to the rest of the country and the lab conditions are somewhat different elsewhere. The strong common factor is the deep disgust the voter has for politicians of the usual kind, disgust that found fertile expression in Delhi.
The biggest advantage AAP now has is that it does not have to work too hard to convince voters in other parts of India that it is possible to replicate Delhi, but the key is to identify which parts of the country. They won the Delhi elections on the cheap; fighting national elections is a much costlier business and it is not immediately clear how much the voters will fill AAP’s electoral war chest and how soon. It is also not clear what kind of an infrastructure AAP has built in the rest of the country to take on the challenge of a general election. That it is metamorphosing into a credible political force is evident from BJP’s shying away from the politics as usual in forming the government.