Interview: Atishi Marlena

‘We were not seen as a viable alternative’

Print edition : June 13, 2014

Atishi Marlena. Photo: Meeta Ahlawat

Interview with Atishi Marlena the Aam Aadmi Party.

“WE enjoyed a huge support base, but it is a fact that we were not viewed as a viable alternative even by our own supporters in this election”, said Atishi Marlena, national spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party, about Lok Sabha Election 2014. Now is the time for the party to regroup and build up from the huge volunteer base that it has acquired in the process, she told Frontline in an interview. Excerpts:

After the fantastic debut in the Delhi Assembly elections what went wrong for the party? Looking at the large number of candidates the AAP fielded, it was clear that the party felt a huge surge of support for it across India.

It was a huge disappointment for us also because we were expecting the party to do better than this. Delhi certainly came as a big disappointment because we were hoping to win at least two to three seats here. Elsewhere also we expected our candidates to do better than they did. But our performance has not been all that bad either, considering the fact that we are hardly a year and half old as a party and it was our first Lok Sabha election. Winning over 2 per cent votes nationally and four seats in the very first election is no mean achievement.

As for the reasons for doing below our expectations, I have no qualms in accepting that the BJP went about its campaign with meticulous planning. They planned everything with such surgical precision, starting from the selection of candidates to running the campaign and even managing booth level activities. We were not viewed as a viable alternative by even our own supporters despite the huge support base we have.

Do you think there is a danger of the volunteer base going away from you?

That danger is certainly there and it will be a challenge for us to keep our volunteer base intact. The party now needs to go all out to keep their morale high and revive the people connect we had. We need to explain to our volunteers and supporters our future course of action, to keep them engaged and galvanised. Looking at the state of affairs in the Congress party, we are the main alternative nationally. Despite the fact that we have not won too many seats, we need to play the role of the main opposition party.

Was it a bad idea to contest so many seats? Even the BJP contested fewer seats than the AAP. If you had contested only in key seats you may have got better results than what you got by contesting too many seats.

We definitely have a lot of thinking to do along lines like “what if”. There are many questions that we would be asking ourselves, and I am sure we will be coming up with a good programme for action after we have all put our heads together. We have much to cheer about, though. Punjab, for example, has given us a lot of hope. In Delhi, we are at the second place in all seven seats and in some Assembly segments we have greatly increased our vote share. Once we have analysed the results thoroughly we will know which way to go.

What are the next elections that the party is thinking about now?

Delhi and Haryana definitely and some seats in Maharashtra. We know one thing for sure. We are in it for the long haul and we have made a good beginning. So there is a lot of hope for the future.

Barely a few months ago, the party got such tremendous support from the people and you managed to dislodge the Congress government in Delhi because people saw you, and not the BJP, as an alternative to the Congress, but at the national level you were not seen as an alternative. What went wrong?

Perhaps the Lok Sabha elections came too soon. Perhaps the dynamics in Delhi are different from that in the rest of India, we will know soon. But the way the BJP went about the campaign is also the reason. They managed the election from all angles: starting first from the development plank, to getting the caste arithmetic right, to ensuring polarisation by whichever way it suited them. Besides, people’s anger against the UPA government was so intense that they wholly went towards the alternative which they thought was viable at the moment. Many factors could have contributed to the perception why we were not considered a viable alternative. Maybe the way we quit the Delhi government was too soon and too abrupt, maybe we were not able to communicate our stand to the people properly. Now is the time for us to introspect and chalk out our future course of action.