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Party poopers?

Parties draw the wrong lessons from the AAP's success

Business Standard Editorial Comment  |  New Delhi 

The success of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi elections and the decision by its national executive to contest as many Lok Sabha seats as possible in the forthcoming general elections will unquestionably change the equations used to predict electoral outcomes. But in which direction things will change is anybody's guess. One possibility is that the Delhi outcome reflects a strong anti-incumbency trend away from the ruling Congress reinforced by a more pervasive cynicism against politics-as-usual, which worked against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well. If this is indeed the case, the implication for the larger elections is that if there is an anti-incumbency vote against the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), it will work to the benefit of the AAP, thus denying the BJP its full impact. The latter will find it difficult to anchor a coalition, opening up the possibility of a third front, with perhaps the AAP itself as an important component, assuming it is willing to associate with the other parties on the roster.

However, there are other scenarios that need to be considered as well. Many observers see the AAP's strategy of mass contact as being viable in urban concentrations, thus limiting their prospective electoral gains. Even in this set of constituencies, not all will offer the kind of conducive environment that Delhi did. Regional parties have robust structures in many cities, which will provide some resistance to the AAP momentum. Going by this logic, its gains are likely to be concentrated in relatively urbanised states and that too in areas in which the older parties haven't maintained their organisational structures. The unknown in this scenario is about who the anti-incumbency will be targeted against. Will it be entirely against the UPA, or will the ruling party in the state also pay a price? In short, any plausible scenario in which the AAP's Delhi success is taken into account complicates the act of predicting outcomes.

Clearly, though, other parties are already drawing lessons from the AAP's success. There are both "right" and "wrong" lessons. The right one would be that the AAP's key contribution to the political process is that it has demonstrated the power of open access and participation of, well, the aam aadmi, or the common man. Other parties would do well to completely revamp their human resource strategies in order to remain competitive. Unfortunately, state governments seem intent on drawing the wrong lessons - for instance, the decision by the Maharashtra government to discuss ways of reducing power tariffs and the promise of free water in Hyderabad. These examples and others that are bound to follow are based on the premise that it was the populist agenda of the AAP that brought it victory rather than its anti-corruption platform and the genuinely inclusive approach to membership and responsibilities. The fact that Delhi has a fiscal surplus and can afford at least some of these measures - whether they are right or wrong is a separate matter - does not seem to register with the fiscally stressed state governments that are going down the same road. What is obvious, though, is that every party is now in a back-to-the-drawing board mood, with very little time to rejig its strategy.

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First Published: Mon, January 06 2014. 21:40 IST
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