Has the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) gained or lost by quitting the government in Delhi?
There are two ways of answering that question. If AAP wants to spread its wings beyond Delhi to other states ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, it is probably better off because its top leadership will now be free of its administrative responsibilities in Delhi and can move around all over India. Of course, it is another matter whether a Rakhi Birla will enjoy the same rapport elsewhere in India: Birla, for instance, might have been used more optimally holding the fort in Delhi and strengthening AAP among the Valmiki community, which brought her to the assembly.
AAP argues that the proposition presupposes they had a choice in the matter. They say they didn't want to lose the government but as passing the Lok Pal Bill topped their priority list and both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) blocked its passage, they had no choice but to bow out of the government. If they'd had the government, they could have done a lot of good: but they were not ready to compromise on the legislation.
The Congress and the BJP both say they had nothing against the Bill, only the way it was sought to be introduced. It should have been routed through the lieutenant-governor. Instead, AAP tried to hustle it through the Assembly only to escape the responsibility of enacting other legislation and implementing their promises.
So one argument could be that AAP has actually lost by losing the government. That is the overwhelming view among its more educated voters. They are disappointed that AAP has turned out to be a querulous, argumentative bunch of single-minded individuals and are determined not to vote for them a second time around. But there is another - larger - group of voters that believes the party did the right thing by not yielding, and supports the stance that both the Congress and the BJP are parties of the corrupt and the self serving.
The important thing is, in Delhi, at least, AAP has lost time. There is hardly any doubt that Delhi will be under President's Rule for at least six months. Since there is no chance of the Ordinance imposing the President's Rule in Delhi being ratified or rejected by Parliament in the next two months, elections to the state Assembly cannot be held until then. Therefore, clubbing the Delhi elections with the general elections can be ruled out.The new Lok Sabha will now decide whether President's Rule should end after six months or continue for another six. The earliest polls for a new Assembly are likely to take place in late 2014.
By then what the nature of AAP will be, is hard to say. It can be safely assumed that their rivals are not going to sit back and twiddle their thumbs. The general election victory (and defeat) will have intervened. AAP's momentum would have slowed down. And other parties will be on an electoral high.
Little wonder then, that AAP is furious and has challenged in court the L-G's decision to keep the Assembly in suspended animation (rather than instantly declaring elections once the government resigned). They can sense that loss of time is loss of political momentum, and loss of support.
If the central government is to regain lost ground and credibility, it needs to act fast. Road-building, power and the water situation need to be stabilised without any further loss of time. The people of Delhi need visible reassurance that a government is at work - even if it is not an elected one. The police needs to be responsive.
AAP's greatest asset was its claim of efficiency. With the summer approaching rapidly, both water and power will be major efficiency challenges. To be sure, corruption is an issue. But no one wants a government that is pure as driven snow but can't govern for toffee.
A young woman who had voted for AAP said: "I don't think I will vote for them again because it will be a wasted vote". If Parliament is also badly hung, and AAP persists with its position that if Congress is cholera, BJP is plague, then in Parliament, too, they will serve only to block and prevent legislation. Will they support government legislation (whatever the government) on, say, higher education? Will they support reservation for women? What about national security issues?
Already, the decision to not occupy government houses elicits little reaction. Soon other issues that AAP is raising will also become stale and passe - especially if they are co-opted by other parties - unless the party embarks on politics that is practical and do-able.