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  Metros   Delhi  17 Apr 2017  Will the Delhi party go on?

Will the Delhi party go on?

Published : Apr 17, 2017, 5:30 am IST
Updated : Apr 17, 2017, 5:39 am IST

Battle-weary Aam Aadmi Party needs a win in the capital’s municipal polls after trying to expand across India under chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal (Photo: PTI)
 Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal (Photo: PTI)

Almost two years after the national capital chose to elect a fledgling political party led by Arvind Kejriwal over seasoned players, the Aam Aadmi Party faced a series of defeats in the recent Assembly elections. The AAP’s poor show in Punjab, made worse by not winning even a single seat in Goa, has left the party “demoralised”.

In Delhi, the party’s candidate lost his  deposit in the recent bypoll on the Rajouri Garden Assembly seat. This will be used as a referendum by the AAP’s political rivals in the civic polls in Delhi scheduled on April 23.

The party is on the defensive and has blamed former legislator Jarnail Singh, who quit the Rajouri Garden seat to contest against Shiromani Akali Dal’s heavyweight Parkash Singh Badal in Punjab earlier this year.

All eyes are on the 272 municipal wards, where AAP for the first time will be contesting against the biggies — Congress and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (in civic bodies).

Though many parties are in the fray, political analysts predict a triangular contest between the AAP, the BJP and the Congress.

With the recent drubbing in the Punjab and Goa Assembly elections, many analysts have concluded that the AAP’s meteoric rise that had captured the imagination of Delhiites by storming to power in the Delhi Assembly elections in 2015, has finally stopped.

The recent expose by the Shunglu panel’s report elaborating the decisions taken by the AAP dispensation without taking approval of the Delhi lieutenant governor will only act against the party before it makes its debut in the civic polls.

The panel led by former Comptroller and Auditor General V.K. Shunglu was formed to probe alleged irregularities and nepotism in appointments in Delhi government departments.

The AAP is at the juncture where if it fails to clinch considerable number of seats in the municipal elections, it will be under constant attack from the opposition, including the Congress and the BJP – the parties which are already entrenched in the system.

The AAP’s good performance in the civic polls has become even more crucial. It does not want to be reduced to an aberration in the political scene after its dream to rise as the quickest political expansion in the country took a beating. The party had a dream run in Delhi in 2015 when it shocked its opposition by winning 67 out of 70 Assembly seats.

The AAP proved its mettle when it caused an upheaval in Delhi’s political scene by defeating the then chief minister Sheila Dikshit by over 25,000 votes in 2013. Despite having no experience in politics, the new party was able to win 28 seats in its first term, seven seats short of the magic number required to form a majority.

However, the number did not matter as the party’s chief was able to become the chief minister after receiving support from the Congress, which had won eight seats, only to step down after 49 days because the Jan Lokpal Bill was not passed in the Delhi Assembly.

Eventually, the national capital was kept under the care of former lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung, which only worked in the AAP’s favour.

The party emerged stronger by demolishing its opposition and posting a resounding victory in the city. The AAP’s meteoric success buoyed its confidence to expand to states, which proved to be a disaster. The AAP was unable to even open its account in Goa, while it finished a distant second in Punjab, where it was predicting a majority.

At a point when the morale of the party volunteers is sunken and many legislators have turned rebellious, the AAP desperately needs to win the upcoming civic polls to save itself from imploding.

In the run-up to the polls, the party is neck deep in controversies. A political storm has erupted over the Shunglu panel report that slammed the AAP dispensation of “gross abuse of power” – from nepotism to financial irregularities. The report has provided potent ammunition to the BJP and the Congress.

The chorus for Mr Kejriwal’s resignation has only gotten louder with both the BJP and the Congress demanding that a Central Bureau of Investigation report should be launched against him.

“There are serious charges of corruption and nepotism. We demand that a case under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act be filed and the home ministry ask the CBI to investigate,” Delhi Congress president Ajay Maken has said.

The AAP has dismissed the findings as a concerted effort to malign its image.

The civic polls could be a game changer for the AAP if it is able to wrest the numbers. The elections will also decide Mr Kejriwal’s popularity graph in Delhi after two years of his rule. The AAP is banking on achievements such as reduced power tariff, free lifetime supply of water and path-breaking initiatives such as “mohalla” clinics which provide free primary medical treatment to Delhiites.

It is also, however, grappling with serious charges including two Cabinet ministers being removed from their ministries, many legislators being jailed, abuse of public funds for self-promotion, alleged irregularities in placing advertisements, and repeated showdowns with Mr Najeeb Jung over a host of administrative issues.

A senior AAP functionary said that it will be crucial for the party to win the civic polls in order to avoid an implosion.

“The loss in the MCD polls could result in deep fissures within the party,” he said. Another AAP worker said the party has started to function like other political parties with the central command taking all decisions. “Earlier, there was access to the party leadership and even to the party chief Arvind Kejriwal. This has become difficult,” he said, adding that the party has no room left for voicing opinions. The AAP, which is campaigning vociferously against the BJP-ruled corporations, has been unable to do much on the ground.

The party has been unable to launch any major infrastructure projects in the last two years, and development work including installation of CCTV cameras and Wi-Fi remains unfulfilled.

When social activist Anna Hazare launched the anti-graft movement in 2011, little did anyone know that the movement would establish Mr Kejriwal as a political leader and go on to form the AAP.

It is to be seen in the civic polls on April 23 whether the party, which clinched 29.5 per cent vote share in its first term in Delhi and 54.3 per cent in the second term, would be able to repeat the feat.

AAP launched in Nov. 2012 after Kejriwal and Anna Hazare fell out on whether to convert “India Against Corruption” into a political force.

AAP made electoral debut in 2013 Delhi Assembly polls. With no party obtaining majority, AAP formed a minority government with support from Congress.

When chief minister Arvind Kejriwal could not introduce Jan Lokpal Bill in Delhi Assembly, the AAP government gave up power after 49 days of formation.

AAP fielded 434 candidates in the 2014 general elections. 4 won, all in Punjab. AAP then became recognised state party in Punjab.

Arvind Kejriwal contested against BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi from Varanasi. The current Delhi chief minister lost that election by a margin of 370,000 votes.

In the 2015 Delhi Assembly elections, AAP won 67 of the 70 seats, while the Congress did not win any. Kejriwal vindicated in stepping down earlier.

AAP contested the Assembly polls in early 2017 in Goa and Punjab. It lost on all seats in Goa. Its alliance with Lok Insaaf Party won 22 seats in Punjab.

Wrong side of the law
Many MLAs in the first year of the Delhi government in 2015 were arrested. Some of them:

  1. Former Delhi law minister Jitender Singh Tomar was arrested in June 2015 following complaints by the Bar Council of Delhi that his degree was allegedlyforged
  2. Surinder Singh was arrested for assaulting a New Delhi Municipal Council worker. The victim had said the MLA assaulted him for trying to evict encroachers.
  3. Akhilesh Pati Tripathi and Sanjeev Jha were sent to judicial custody in a rioting case and attack on a police station. They allegedly created a ruckus on GT Karnal Road.
  4. Mahendra Yadav was arrested for rioting. The MLA and his supporters blocked traffic in protest against the rape of a three-year-old girl.
  5. Sandeep Kumar was removed in August 2016 after a CD allegedly showing him in a compromising position with two women surfaced

Tags: aam aadmi party, arvind kejriwal, bypoll, rajouri garden assembly constituency, cbi
Location: India, Delhi, New Delhi