Edited Excerpts from an Interview
Do you think that AAP’s success in Delhi gave you a false sense of confidence, which led to the party opting to fight from 434 seats in the Lok Sabha election? Looking back, would it have been better to focus on fewer seats in select areas?
The very assumption that our electoral debut has been a failure needs to be questioned. If you look at India’s political history, electoral debuts have been exactly like this. If you look at the BJP in 1984, they got two seats. When the BSP first contested, they got three seats and about 2 percent of the vote share. We got four seats and 2 percent of the vote share. Successful electoral debuts are always like this. You do not get too many seats. You register your presence in the country, you acquire a decent vote share, you have local leadership, you have volunteers across the country and this is exactly what we have gained from this election. So, unlike others, I don’t feel it has been a disastrous debut. I feel it has been a successful debut.
But there have been disappointments. Though we have increased our vote share, the gap between us and the BJP has widened (in Delhi). That has been a setback. Varanasi was a setback. We had hoped for a breakthrough in Haryana, which didn’t happen. But the breakthrough in Punjab was very significant, because for a new party to become politically viable in two states is not a small beginning.
What are the positives that you have taken from the Lok Sabha debut and how do you plan to build on them?
Our name has spread to all corners of the country. Yes, there were about 100 constituencies that we could not contest in, but 434 is not a bad number to start with. We have name recognition; the popularity of our symbol and Arvind Kejriwal has reached far and wide. It is more than what most political parties manage to get in the first 10 years.
Then, we have 1 lakh volunteers who gave up everything, their jobs, careers, and gave their time to our political campaign. I don’t know how many political parties can claim to have such a volunteer base. We also raised questions that were not being raised before. We made crony capitalism into an issue, we made swaraj and the idea of radical political decentralisation an issue. We raised funds through transparent means. What we raised was insufficient, but we practised the politics of using white money. And more than the vote share, we created a very large support base. For every one person who voted for us, there were four others who thought of voting for us, who said we are nice guys; maybe the next time they will vote for us. Add to this the fact that we became a viable force in a second state — Punjab. These are great takeaways; these are things to build upon.
We need patience. We have reached a stage in our organisation where we need to hold ourselves, we need to move forward, we need to move inch by inch.
Until now, AAP has been in election mode, fighting one election after another. With a lull on the horizon, do you plan to use this time to strengthen the party structure, bring in training systems for the cadres?
That is our challenge now. There are some states where there will be another round of elections, so we will focus on those areas. But in the rest of the country, we have a bit of a breather, which we can and must use for organisation building — to get greater clarity on policy issues, for training our volunteers, for building the organisation from the bottom up as our constitution prescribes. So, there is a challenge and there is also an opportunity.
AAP’s campaign model was refreshing and interesting. Where do you think things went wrong? Was it the candidate selection or campaign strategy, because people like yourself, Dayamani Barla or even Soni Sori, who have done a lot of work and have ground support, weren’t able to convert that into electoral numbers?
One of the worst things you can do after losing a match is to assume that everything that you did went wrong; that your bowling was poor, batting was poor, fielding was poor, and the captain was also lousy. This is the worst analysis. You need a more discerning analysis. The first thing that went wrong was that we were fighting our first election; we didn’t have the kind of resources, the kind of visibility, the kind of organisational depth or patronage that bigger parties have. The second thing was the presence of a very strong current for the BJP and Mr Modi. Given these two facts, I doubt that anything else would have made much of a difference.
AAP has gone in for a transparent funding pattern, where you declare all your donations. You are dependent on volunteers, who left their jobs and worked for the party. However, there are those in the party who are concerned about future funding. Are you concerned?
Of course, I am concerned. I am concerned partly because we have an open model and the disadvantage of an open model is that those who fund you can be targeted. This has already affected our fund collection in this Lok Sabha election and it could affect us in the future as well. So, this is a difficult situation that we have to deal with. However, we have gone for a white-money model and there is no question of deviating from that. Otherwise, what is the point of our being in politics if we resort to any kind of black money practices like the others.
About volunteers, my sense it that the volunteers who come to AAP are made of slightly different mettle; they have gone through sacrifices, and as long as they see the party moving in the right direction, they will keep coming.
Do you think that the biggest takeaway for AAP from both the Delhi Assembly polls and the Lok Sabha polls was that you have changed the way parties approach elections, especially the selection of candidates?
We are not here to win seats; we are not here to form the government somehow; we are not here to be part of the game of who will become the PM. We are here to change the way politics takes places. We want to make it embarrassing, awkward and unsuccessful for existing political parties to practise politics the way they do. We are here to stop business as usual. I don’t claim that we have been able to do so, but in small ways, we have made a beginning. We did make it embarrassing for political parties to give tickets to some candidates and we made it necessary for political parties to talk about corruption. I am told the NCP manifesto promises a corruption-free Maharashtra, so I would count that as one of the successes of AAP. We have opened the window, we have made the inroads, but we still have a long way to go.
There are many who felt let down by AAP’s decision to give up power in Delhi. What do you have to say to them?
In politics, we must receive feedback from the people and the feedback that we have been getting from ordinary people is that resigning from the Delhi government was a mistake. That was not our opinion at the time. I personally felt that the manner in which we took the decision was a mistake; we should have gone to the people, we should have consulted the people, but the feedback was that we should not have resigned at all. In politics, you must respect what the people tell you. So, yes, this is a very strong feedback and it has made us think, and yes, we will go back to the people.