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Why AAP Remains A Startup Mystery

The Aam Aadmi Party is no doubt the most disruptive political startup yet. But it has its share of skeptics who do not see it going the distance

Photo Credit : Shutterstock

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The jury is still out: will he go on to become a Sachin Bansal of Indian politics or will he eventually turn out to be Rahul Yadav of housing.com? There is one thing that everyone agrees about the founder of Aam Aadmi Party and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal: he has undoubtedly proven himself and his movement to be a powerful disruptive force. Kejriwal is the man who delivered the first ever electoral blow to Narendra Modi. Prior to the 2015 Delhi assembly elections, Modi had never lost an election where he personally led the campaign.

Latest opinion polls from Punjab suggest that AAP will either form the government there in 2017 or emerge as a powerful opposition party. There seem to be indications that AAP might put up a decent performance in Goa early next year. And of course, Kejriwal makes no secret of his ambitions to take on Modi in his home turf in Gujarat in late 2017 when elections are due. A creditable performance in Gujarat will undoubtedly propel Kejriwal as one of the main rivals of Modi in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. As the Patidar agitation has indicated, the BJP in Gujarat is facing anti-incumbency.

Media professionals like Saba Naqvi who lean towards AAP seem convinced that Kejriwal projects an aura and a simple ferocity that appeals to average citizens who feel let down and betrayed by traditional parties like the Congress and the BJP. The manner in which he swept the Delhi assembly elections in 2015 despite having “abandoned” the job after 49 days in 2014 is shown as proof that voters are willing to give him another chance because they are convinced he means well. People like Naqvi are just sympathetic. His real force multiplier comes from an army of supporters whose online and social media presence rivals that of Modi’s supporters. For them, Kejriwal is the messiah who is destined to change the destiny of India.

And yet, there are many political analysts who think that Kejriwal and AAP resemble an over-ambitious startup that is in serious danger of imploding. His biggest advantage and strength has been the uncanny ability to discover a new market and lay claim to it. Multitudes of young Indians genuinely believe that he is both capable of changing the rotten system that is controlled by an even more rotten ruling establishment. As an ambitious startup, AAP has also not faced any serious fund crunch so far. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers have provided funds to run party campaigns. In another masterstroke, Kejriwal has leveraged control over the Delhi government to unleash an advertising blitz concentrated on states where AAP is planning to contest elections.

But can this startup go on to become a political unicorn? Former associates like Shazia Ilmi who contested two elections on an AAP ticket doesn’t think so. According to her, Kejriwal was a different person during the Anna movement. Even when AAP was launched as a political party in late 2012, it started off as a truly democratic and egalitarian party. But it seems a coterie emerged along the way and AAP started mirroring the worst traits of traditional political parties. That was why Ilmi left, as did many others.

There were many who remained in the party to fight for what they believed in. This included founders Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav. But soon after victory in the Delhi assembly elections, Kejriwal engineered a coup that resulted in a nasty and messy exit for the duo. A startup needs teamwork even more than established organisations. To that extent, this is a big weakness that AAP must rectify if it hopes to survive and succeed in the long run.

But the Achilles’ heel for Kejriwal and AAP seem to be customer satisfaction. Ever since AAP took over in 2015, Delhi has been confronted with periodic and repeated bouts of crises. The most recent and embarrassing was when the city was besieged by chickenguniya and there seemed to be no solution in sight. Every time Delhi faces a governance crisis, Kejriwal and AAP go on to blame the Modi government for not allowing it to function properly.

In fact, many analysts feel that Kejriwal has often gone overboard when it comes to targeting Modi (One of his tweets called Modi a psychopath and a coward). Kejriwal has not spared even prominent media professionals who have questioned his governance track record calling them ‘dalals’. No doubt, blind supporters of AAP take whatever Kejriwal says as gospel truth. But in the meanwhile, the customer, the Delhi voter who reposed overwhelming faith in AAP, is both puzzled and worried. Some will evidently think Kejriwal is being victimised and harassed. But no customer anywhere in the world will keep buying excuses about dirty and evil rivals sabotaging a company’s efforts to deliver quality.

At some point, Kejriwal and AAP have to deliver to be able to eventually emerge as a unicorn. Otherwise, they face the danger of going the way of Rahul Yadav of housing.com.

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@GuruSutanu