Some time back, I wrote an article on the Aam Aadmi Party (link) remarking that finally there was a true innovation in the Indian startup scene. A political party that rewrote all established industry rules and came out on top. AAP had arrived with a bang, they had had a great ‘IPO’ – the hardest part of uncertainty was over. Now they ‘only‘ had to build on their USP, which was honesty after all. Shouldn’t be that hard.
Well, a couple of months down the line – what a spectacular (and depressing) implosion this has been! The fall was not as sudden as it seems. A lot of supporters kept on believing that behind all the drama, the no-proof allegations and the self-certified team members, there was a vision to actually create value for the stakeholders. Now – all that is left is a scene reminiscent of the times when the CEO of Blackberry (RIM) kept on proclaiming that all is well & the customers are happy while in reality the users were switching over to Apple or Samsung!
Anybody remember when Lehman Brothers went bust, and took down the entire global economy with it? AAP’s claim to glory should be that it has managed to do exactly the same in a much shorter life term – it is going down, but the worse part is that it is also taking away the hope of an honest alternative with it. Arvind Kejriwal has made sure, that the next time any (allegedly) honest person rises this fast, people will think twice before voting him/her into power.
What exactly went wrong? Well as, you can tell – I am a fan of lists, so here are some possible options that come to mind.
1) The only thing AAP was ever good at was in throwing stones at others. People like us thought that this was backed by solid reasoning, rational decision making and a consistent aim for corruption free India. Well, turns out it was only backed by …stones!
This is similar to a company making a fancy landing page to get users on-board, claiming state of the art Artificial Intelligence – Big Data – Predictive Algorithms – Insert another Buzzword. When users subscribed after cancelling their original service, they soon found out there was just the landing page! I almost want to speak out, “Yehi to scam hai Arnab Ji!”
It is quite possible that AAP had no idea of how governance was done. It is easy to criticize others but accomplishing something against all odds is the actual test. When faced with real challenges, they opted for the first/easiest way out. And the point is not that AAP failed, the point is that they chose to run away before failure – that is unpardonable however you put it.
2) Power went to head – inspite of the all-powerful, middle class certified muffler.
The party and vision did start out good. But, somewhere in the power corridor, things changed. And, by no means am I saying that Kejriwal had an easy task on hand. However, the way he chose to deal with difficulties left almost no refuge for people like us to defend him. The question has to be asked that if he was still working for the common man, did he not see people pleading to stop the drama and do some work? Did he not see, the dwindling support after each new dharna?
It is quite easy to be lost in one’s own glory and perhaps this is what happened. The sudden support of masses made them feel a) Superior to everyone else; this might have led to many members walking away and b) thinking why to rule a state when they could rule the country.
I absolutely refuse to believe that none of the members tried to convince the AAP leader(s) to stay put and do the work they had been trusted to do. It is much more likely that these voices were sidelined.
One can argue that this is not too different from the other political parties, but that is a defense that AAP does not have. The precise reason why they were trusted, inspite of inexperience, was that they claimed to be different from others.
Today, they have one slogan, “If you are not chanting AAP-AAP, then you are corrupt & bought out by some corporate/political party”. Worse, their leaders don’t even want to listen or face questions. Why do that, when you can very easily call the questioner corrupt and hide away?
3) A clever ploy by Congress fooled everyone
This is a popular allegation since the beginning that AAP is nothing but the Congress B team. It is acting like one, it is taking away BJP’s vote share and it prevented BJP from forming government in Delhi. However, I really do not believe that this is/was true, if only for the reason that Congress does not have enough brains to pull off this stunt. A ridiculous amount of planning and calculation is needed to execute such a plan and I don’t think our politicians have the required skill.
4) Startup went corporate and got lost somewhere in between
This is not rare; we have often seen startups that collapse on the first attempt to scale up & go global. Even in the Indian political scene, we only have to look back a couple of years when Baba Ramdev was riding on a great popularity wave & reached the corridors of power in New Delhi. I assume everyone remembers what happened next; but just to recap, Baba Ramdev reached the national stage overnight but could not understand the changed environment. He overplayed his hand – held secret discussions with ministers on one hand and gave different speeches to his supporters on the other. And, then came Delhi Police….
Similarly, AAP was completely at ease when they were on the opposite side. Like any startup, there were no rules and anything could be done. They cornered and defeated the bigger parties by street smart guerrilla warfare. They could do anything with the cap and the ‘jhaadu’ – sit anywhere and allege anything. We (the real common man) anyway needed no proof to believe that everyone else is corrupt. Unfortunately for them, on a national stage, the mistakes get magnified. I don’t want a house; can I take two? Modi is taking chartered flights, shame on him; when is my chartered flight leaving? The media is all sold out, ‘Wo Bhagat Singh wala jyada chala dijiyega’. We are common man; toll tax? what is that?
Even as a startup the AAP had pivoted many times and changed core team members who slowly fell out of limelight. Such things are easy to forget when you are a startup – everyone knows that the final form is still under construction. However, and to the disbelief of many, they kept doing what they had done before coming into power. The revolutionary dharnas started appearing more like tantrums of a spoiled child. Needless to say, even the supporters started getting annoyed. This caused a vicious chain when each subsequent drama…err..dharna met with decreased support, which thereby made AAP look for a bigger scandal to regenerate the spicy power of masses that they had now become used to. Result = even more supporters get annoyed!
Yesterday, acclaimed journalist and onetime ardent supporter of AAP, Vinod Mehta said that he can not believe that nobody is telling Arvind Kejriwal to calm down, have a glass of water and see that they are going completely in the wrong direction. I share the same bewilderment that an activist who did all the hard work to reach this stage is throwing everything away in such a fashion.
There was a time when AAP had only one problem, that of Prashant Bhushan making random statements and others left to justify/reject them. At that time, there was Kejriwal & his excellent speaking ability to save the day. Today, Arvind Kejriwal himself is doing a Prashant Bhushan and there is no member able to undo the damage that he is causing.
5) Competition regathered and regrouped
Say what you will of Rahul Gandhi, but Congress giving support to AAP was a masterstroke! They had been demolished and their superstars vanquished, but instead of sulking in a corner and crying ‘cheating’ (which I can guarantee AAP would have done) – they challenged them to do what they promised. AAP failed and how!
The BJP itself has shown itself to be strategically strong – while there were initial shouts of protest against AAP, slowly they understood that AAP is a fuel guzzling allegation machine. They will take any topic to accuse anyone – the best strategy is to just let them be, and they will implode. Today, BJP is offering no direct counter. Narendra Modi is simply ignoring them and a frustrated AAP is desperately looking for new enemies – it found the media today. This might just be the final straw that will break the camel’s back.
6) They are still honest & committed
Okay, so here is one option that is increasingly looking impossible. AAP is still the one that everyone believed in; they are honest and want a corruption free India. Unfortunately, I can think of no words to expand this option. But hey, crazier things have happened in the world so yes, this could still be true.
Whatever be the reason and the conclusion, and even though the year has just started, Aam Aadmi Party is well on its way to win the “Biggest disappointment of 2014” award.
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