The silver lining obviously is that the AAP succeeded in winning four seats in Punjab. We will analyse the reasons for this excellent victory by and by. In Delhi too even though the AAP did not win any seats it did improve on its vote share from the assembly elections in December from 29.3 % to 32.9 %. Unfortunately the BJP increased its vote share in the same time from 34.4 % to 46.4 % riding the Modi wave and garnered most of the vote share lost by the Congress from 24.6 % to 14.7 % and also by other parties. Thus, it does not seem as if the people of Delhi have deserted the AAP because it deserted them by resigning from the Government after just forty nine days as is being claimed by many. Since three of the BJP legislators including its Chief Ministerial candidate have now been elected to the parliament they are in less of a position to form a government than earlier with only 29 legislators. Therefore, it seems likely that there will be another election to the Delhi Assembly soon. If that is the case then the AAP will have to fight hard to convince people to give them the vote that will transfer from the Congress which by now has become thoroughly discredited. As things stand coming to power in Delhi is a must if AAP is to further consolidate its position in India and build up an alternative political formation that can win power through the elections. For this the AAP in Delhi will have to jettison some of its waywardness and realise that the people will vote only for concrete betterment of their lives and not for high moral values only.
However, what is of greater concern is that out of the total 434 candidates of AAP, most have garnered a few thousand votes only. Even the activists of the people's movements, who have some mass base, have not been able to get many votes with Medha Patkar topping with 76451 votes which is still way below the proportion required to save the deposit which is one sixth of the total votes polled. Actually the chances of their victory were low from the beginning given the fact that they had very little resources in terms of human power and money. But in most cases even the members of their mass organisations did not vote for these activists leading to a piquant situation where these members preferred the established parties instead. This is a long standing problem of mass movements and even the AAP tag could not solve it!!! Principled politics where money is not expended in large amounts and issues of sustainable and equitable development and corruption free governance are raised does not seem to hold any water with the electorate because they feel that such candidates will not win. Why is it that they electorate is swayed by the high decibel campaigning of the mainstream political parties and the tall claims for economic development and prosperity that are being made by them?
The reason is that we in the people's movements do not have the resources to spread our message of alternative equitable and sustainable development and corruption free governance or even implement some pilot projects to show how this is feasible. The people these mass movements work with are the poorest of the poor and so they cannot contribute much and in a global scenario controlled by rapacious capitalists it is very difficult to get funds from outside. It is from this frustration arising from the inability to get their message across to a large number of people over such a long time, that so many activists were enthused by the prospect of getting into the Lok Sabha on an AAP ticket. But even the AAP in Delhi which had started off this rush for getting into the Lok Sabha failed to do so because it faced a resource crunch this time vis-a-vis the BJP and the Congress, both of which spent huge resources on their campaigning, especially through TV and print media. In fact with the end of the elections and the poor results there is now a financial crisis for the AAP because donations have declined drastically and the expenses of running a party in an expensive place like Delhi continue. The volunteers are all tired after fighting two consecutive elections on shoestring budgets and are now apprehensive of having to fight yet another election for the Delhi Assembly shortly making it three elections in a row within the space of just one year. If crowd funding, which has sustained the AAP so far, begins tapering off then that is the beginning of the end of the AAP. Thus, the performance in Punjab is heartening. Like in the case of Delhi during the assembly elections earlier, in Punjab too the electorate had become sick and tired of the corrupt and oppressive rule of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)/BJP combine and since the Congress too was discredited, it voted for AAP in such large numbers. The ground organisation of the AAP was not very strong and neither did they have resources in terms of volunteers and money but still the people voted for the party desperately seeking an alternative as it had done in Delhi earlier. Thus, there is a need for introspection within the AAP and it should not take the electorate for granted. Instead of trying to go for big bang reforms which are difficult to implement, the basic agenda of clean governance and cheap service delivery which were the simple promises of AAP should be fulfilled and the AAP will have to convey this to the voters prior to the assembly elections in Delhi so that the party base can be strengthened. MLAs are ex-officio members of various oversight committees like health, education, police etc and they should actively pursue these channels to tackle corruption in the six months or so that they now have before elections. Moreover, the MLALAD funds can be utilised to build infrastructure. While fighting principled battles over corruption and going to jail for them may get media attention, they will not get votes any more as is now becoming clear. For this the AAP in Delhi will have to put its head down and work among the masses to provide them with immediate relief. There are also indications that the decision making in the AAP is controlled by a select few and there is a lack of inner party democracy. All these issues need to be cleared up and a clear structure of the party has to be set up.
While it is important to get into the legislatures and the parliament and the AAP has succeeded in doing so, there is little chance of this being replicated by most mass movement activists presently who neither have the resources nor the popular appeal that is necessary. Possibly a system of proportional representation may provide a better chance but given that the Congress and now the BJP have both benefited from the first past the post system which has given them far higher proportions in terms of seats while getting much lower vote shares, it is unlikely that they will agree to a change in the system. The BJP especially has benefited heavily this time as it has gained the highest seat share to vote share ratio for forming a government in the history of independent India due to the fragmentation of the votes between its opponents. If a third front had materialised before the elections with a clear choice for Prime Minister then the parties like the Samajwadi Pary, Bahujan Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal United would have fared much better. But personal ambitions of the leaders prevented this and they are now marginalised. In fact the AAP too rode on a high horse refusing to ally with any party branding them all to be corrupt!!! And everything was staked on Arvind Kejriwal fighting Narendra Modi in Varanasi. Ultimately the hugely more well funded campaign around Modi proved to be a much better selling proposition than that of the AAP and Kejriwal.
Where does that leave the people's movements and the principled politics that they practice? Well there is no alternative to working doubly hard at the grassroots to build up conscious mass bases that are as sceptical of the possibilities of sharing centralised power as many of us activists who root for decentralised politics are. The battle is tough no doubt given the immense control of the media that the mainstream parties and the corporations have so that they easily drown out our forlorn voices but there is no alternative to practising principled politics at the grassroots over the long term because it is unlikely that we will be able to garner the kind of resources that are required to win elections and run political parties except in a few places. It also remains to be seen whether all those who stood for elections and their volunteer supporters who all joined AAP in a very informal manner will cohere in future into a full fledged political party. Especially since there is a wide spectrum of ideologies of these people and they have mostly joined AAP because of its promise of sending them to the Lok Sabha and not because of an agreement with all of the party's policies and programmes or its concentration of crucial decision making at the top among just a handful of leaders.