New Delhi, India - India’s anti-corruption party, Aam Aadmi Party, has been reeling from the crushing defeat in the last month’s parliamentary elections, with many senior AAP leaders have resigned citing lack of inner-party democracy.
The party, which caught the imagination of the country’s youth nearly two years ago, seems to be struggling for its survival as its leader, Arvind Kejriwal, has come under attack for making decisions without consultations.
Senior AAP leader Rajmohan Gandhi told Al Jazeera that despite the mistakes made and the unrealistic expectations that were held, the party has the potential to bounce back as an effective opposition party.
In an interview with Al Jazeera's Baba Umar, Gandhi - the grandson of the legendary freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi - defended AAP's decision to have resigned from the Delhi government.
He also spoke about how the party underestimated the Bharatiya Janata Party leader and new Prime Minister Narendra Modi's wave but lauded AAP's performance, which he says, had little resources and short time unlike the BJP.
Al Jazeera: Why did you join the AAP and not any other political party?
Rajmohan Gandhi: The AAP is a grassroots movement; thousands of people have sacrificed their time, money, giving up their jobs and business, for a very necessary and good cause, and I felt I should support this remarkable movement by joining the party and contesting elections.
Al Jazeera: Has it changed anything in your life?
Rajmohan Gandhi: I was already committed to these values and goals, but I was pursuing them outside a political party. I am now very happy to be associated with a like-minded political party.
Al Jazeera: What was the feedback you got back from the electorate?
Gandhi: Neither the Congress party nor the BJP was willing to fight the power of big money or corruption. The AAP struck a very deep chord with the people. The people wanted end of corruption.
Al Jazeera: Despite raising issues that were identified with common man, you lost the polls. Are you disappointed?
Gandhi: I am a seasoned man. I am not surprised or not unduly disappointed by such things. In elections, it is sometimes like a gamble, you may win or you lose. It is part of life.
Al Jazeera: And what went wrong?
Gandhi: Nothing went wrong, but Narendra Modi [Bharatiya Janata Party leader and India's new Prime Minister] managed to persuade many people in India that his party, the BJP, could replace the Congress government; we were too small a party to offer that hope.
People wanted to remove the Congress-led government and have a new party. And Modi marketed himself very well. The marketing requires both skill and money. He [Modi] had both. He [Modi] hired some clever people both in India and outside.
But above all, he had access to enormous amount of money, including the corporate money. So, money, corporate support, the failure of the Congress government, and his own clever marketing, these made his [Modi] large victory possible.
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Al Jazeera: Is your party introspecting, like holding a grand meeting and discussing what exactly should have been the party’s strategy in the polls?
Gandhi: At the moment, there is this question of what happens in the Delhi state assembly elections. But we are thinking, we are reflecting…. So of course there are opinions about whether we should have left the government in Delhi or not but in my judgement that is a relatively small factor. The big factor is the Modi wave, behind which of course, there was clever campaigning and lots of money.
Al Jazeera: So how can a party like the AAP triumph in future without accepting the money and corporate backing?
Gandhi: We did succeed. Just five months ago, we succeeded in Delhi. To do it on a large scale is not easy. But we will get our chance. It may not happen tomorrow but it will happen.
Al Jazeera: You had limited resources, yet the party decided to contest on more than 400 parliamentary seats? Did the AAP overvalue itself?
Gandhi: The idea was to build a national presence. Maybe instead of 400 plus we should have contested for 100-150 seats. But unlike other parties, the AAP is not confined to a region or to a caste. It's an all India party and we wanted to keep that picture alive. But maybe 400 plus was too many.
Al Jazeera: And there was no agreement on who should be given the tickets to contest?
Gandhi: On the issue of tickets, with every party, there are always disputes.
Al Jazeera: Modi sold his Gujarat model to the Indian people, he only talked about how he handled the Gujarat state, don't you think AAP could have focused on its strong areas like Delhi and then next time sold the same model of governance to people across India?
Gandhi: But we were there [in Delhi] for only 49 days.
Al Jazeera: Was it a mistake for senior AAP leaders to contest from outside Delhi?
Gandhi: See this is being wise after the event. We always have clever ideas after something has happened. And Arvind Kejriwal [AAP chief] challenging Modi in Varanasi sent a very good message across India. The BJP has been planning it for decades. Ours is just a two-year-old party.
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Al Jazeera: Was Kejriwal’s decision to contest against Modi a political suicide?
Rajmohan Gandhi: I think to have won over 200,000 votes in such a short time was not bad. All others were way behind us in Varanasi such as the Congress party. Imagine a new man from a new party goes to a new city [Varanasi] and gets 200,000 votes. The BJP has won from the city four times in the past elections. It was a Hindutva candidate contesting from the Hindus’ holy city, so it’s not surprising for the BJP to have won from the place. In fact, it’s remarkable that Kejriwal came second. So, the decision to contest from Varanasi was a good decision.
Al Jazeera: But on most of the 400 plus seats that you party contested, party candidates forfeited their security deposit. Wasn’t there any discussion on selection of candidates?
Gandhi: Everything happened so quickly. All of us were busy with our elections. There was no physical possibility of discussing all these matters. So, major decisions had to be taken in a very short time by the people who were exceedingly burdened by questions and demands.
I am not giving an excuse but I am talking about what the situation was like. There was no time to reflect on all these issues separately, calmly at length. There were quick decision and not-satisfactory consultations.
Al Jazeera: Some AAP supporters feel Kejrwial shouldn't have resigned from the Delhi government?
Gandhi: I disagree with that view. But we can agree that Kejriwal may have made one or two mistakes in decisions. It’s not a question of irresponsibility, it’s a question of making mistakes, which human beings always do, and he has admitted his mistakes.
Kejriwal’s intentions were very honourable. And to think his government could have continued indefinitely is so naïve. It was a minority government. Any day the the Congress and the BJP could have tumbled the government. Yes Kejriwal could have delayed the decision. But it was not up to him to remain the chief minister of the Delhi. He thought before the rug is pulled from underneath, it’s best to resign.
Al Jazeera: Didn't members of the AAP protest his move?
Gandhi: Yes. It was largely his decision, and others were doubtful.
Al Jazeera: Some observers say the AAP is a one-man party where a top-level person can ignore others’ calls? Is it true?
Gandhi: No it’s not. We speak frankly about his mistakes. No other party would. Do people say in the Congress party that Rahul Gandhi made a mistake? No. Kejriwal is our star figure but he is a human being. And we speak frankly to him and we can speak frankly about him.
Al Jazeera: Where do you see the AAP in next 10-15 years?
Gandhi: It has the potential to become the most effective opposition party in the next few years and in the long run it has the potential to become the ruling party.
The space the Congress party is vacating is for the AAP to fill. If Congress party remains on its present road, and we also remain on our present road, we will fill that space.
Follow Baba Umar on Twitter: @BabaUmarr