Can Arvind Kejriwal deal with his own success? Will AAP burn out?

A lot of people were wondering whether there would be any future for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) if they failed to win at least five seats in the Delhi Assembly elections.

Some of that worry dissipated when the exit polls predicted the party to win 10-20 seats out of the total 70. But the voters had something else in mind.

According to the latest trends, AAP and BJP are almost neck and neck at 29-32 in favor of the BJP.

So the worry about AAP being relegated to the footnotes of history are over. But there’s another worry – can AAP handle its own success?

The Delhi election numbers indicate that AAP filled a huge vaccum in Delhi — that of a left-of-center party that middle class Indians can look toward. Middle class, urban Indians have been relieved of the Hobson’s choice between a seemingly corrupt, dynastic and cynical Congress Party and a right-of-center, Brahmanical and sometimes retrograde Bhartiya Janata Party. No wonder they are celebrating in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.

If things go according to the natural course, it is almost inevitable that AAP will emerge as the party of choice for middle class Indians who want a modern, competent, non-corrupt, non-cynical and modern political party.

But there is one big hurdle before Kejriwal & Co really aspire to live up to that ideal.

And that hurdle lies as much in what made AAP and Kejriwal attractive as in the natural ‘entry barriers’ that any new political party must face in a country like India.

Kejriwal is a nice guy — sharp and sensitive. But he is also an introvert. He’s systematic, cerebral – but can he handle the weight of the expectations of a 100 million Internet-savvy and extremely demanding Indians? More importantly, can he keep his flock together?

New Delhi was, in many ways, an easy victory. For Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia, the jhuggi-jhopdis (slums) of the Indian capital is home ground. This is where they have been holding dharnas, rallies, anti-corruption drives and protests for a decade. It was not as difficult to pick 70 candidates from a group of hundreds of people who have been associated with the anti-corruption NGO Parivartan for several years. So too, volunteers for door-to-door campaigning.

But outside Delhi, in places like Mumbai and Bangalore, the AAP has no such institutional mechanism to fall back on.

Most of the activists in these places are veterans of the India Against Corruption Movement that started in 2010. More worryingly, the group saw a large number of people join them when AAP, the political party, was launched a year ago. Most of these people have no track record of working in an anti-corruption movement for a long time.

Many of these ‘activists’ are still active only online.

Of course, there are many sincere and well-meaning members of the AAP in these areas, but are they ready for ‘prime time’? Will they have the conviction, and the gumption, to say no when a large political party makes a call and offers Rs 100 crore for switching? Will they be able to resist the temptation of easy money when they are in positions of power?

The Congress had the freedom movement and the BJP has the RSS — two ‘filters’ that kept people who merely had power and money, rather than service and ideals, in their minds out of the system.

What will AAP fall back on? How will it find the right people outside Delhi?

Assuming some bad apples will creep in, and they will, can AAP still retain the trust of its well wishers?

Will Arvind Kejriwal grow out of his well-meaning, but overly-sentimental approach to economics and policy — something that has been wrongly termed as cheap populism by cynical political pundits? Will AAP truly replace the Congress Party as THE Left of Centre alternative for urban Indians, and eventually for India as a whole? Or will it crash and burn under the weight of its own success?

The coming days will tell.