As AAP suffered yet another debilitating electoral loss in the municipal polls Wednesday — winning just 48 out of 270 wards — the party appeared divided over the reasons behind the rout.
While Cabinet ministers Gopal Rai, Manish Sisodia and official party spokespersons maintained that “a defeat with such a margin could be attributed only to EVM tampering”, some voices within the party called for “serious introspection” and “change in the party’s political strategy and communication”.
Except party MP from Sangrur, Punjab, Bhagwant Mann, the party rank and file at the headquarters stuck with their leader.
Taking responsibility for the rout, AAP Delhi unit convenor Dilip Pandey tendered his resignation. AAP Chandni Chowk MLA Alka Lamba too offered to resign as the party lost all wards in her constituency. Malviya Nagar MLA Somnath Bharti also took responsibility for the poor show in his constituency.
In line with Kejriwal’s stand on vulnerability of EVMs, Cabinet ministers Rai and Sisodia maintained, “There is no Modi wave, this is EVM wave… EVM tampering is a bitter truth.” Meanwhile, party spokespersons Ashutosh, Atishi Marlena and Raghav Chadha took on political adversaries on television debates, questioning why VVPAT machines were not used in the municipal polls.
“I do not know what to introspect…When I go to the voters, they say they are happy with our work and have voted in large numbers for us. But when the results come, we have lost so badly. How else can we explain it, except blame it on the EVMs?” said Okhla MLA Amanatullah Khan.
A section of the party, however, called for ‘introspection instead of blaming it entirely on the EVMs. Cabinet minister Kapil Mishra told The Indian Express, “While we can keep inspecting tampering of EVMs, what the party also needs to do is look within. Such a defeat is not possible just by EVM tampering. If in two years we face such a downfall, we should then go back to the people and our volunteers, and ask them what has gone wrong. Our victory in 2015 was historic and so is our defeat now.”
“People are not talking negatively about AAP, nor is this about one person (Kejriwal). Maybe our communication strategy went wrong, maybe there are loopholes somewhere. I will go back to each household in my constituency and ask every voter where I slipped,” added Mishra.
As the party slipped from 54.30 per cent vote share in the 2015 Assembly elections to 26.23 per cent in the municipal polls on Wednesday, it clearly lost a large chunk of the pro-Congress vote bank and a section of the traditional BJP voters, who had been drawn to the idea of AAP’s ‘alternative politics’ plank.
The Congress, which won just 9.6 per cent vote share in 2015, sprung back with a 21.11 per cent vote share Wednesday. The AAP faced a setback as minorities and Dalits showed signs of slipping back to the Congress.
The AAP, through its house tax waiver promise, had hoped to break into the traditional BJP vote bank but failed to leave a mark. Senior party leaders told The Indian Express that “though Kejriwal is determined to take the issue of EVM tampering forward”, the party is likely to strengthen its governance in the capital, before looking beyond.
After the Punjab polls, the AAP was contemplating the upcoming Assembly polls in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan but with two back-to-back electoral defeats, the party is now rethinking its future plans. “We have not discussed Gujarat since the Punjab polls. It has not been shelved completely, but we will have to deliberate on a lot of issues right now,” said a senior party functionary.
A section of the party’s core leadership also opined that “the MLAs have to pull up their socks”, and the government will have to “deliver more tangibly”.