Early in the morning on March 11, shortly after counting was underway, the Aam Aadmi Party leadership were forced to confront the likelihood of defeat in Punjab. Ashutosh, the party’s national spokesperson, watched the disaster unfold alongside Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. “We’re still in the process,” Ashutosh said on the phone a day later, “of trying to review the situation.” It was a careful rationalisation of what, he admitted, had been a deflating, chastening 48 hours.
Kejriwal’s house, festooned with tricolor balloons and LED screens, was ready to host a party. Crowds began to gather outside but just as rapidly dispersed. AAP won 20 out of 117 seats; throw in an extra two from the Lok Insaaf Party and AAP will have 22 seats in the Punjab assembly, 55 fewer than the Congress, led by Amarinder Singh, and just four more than the reviled Akali Dal-BJP alliance. Most exit polls—barring the India today-Axis poll which predicted up to 71 seats for the Congress—suggested a photo finish. On India Today television, a bullish Raghav Chadha, the young party treasurer and spokesperson, said he would “leave politics” if AAP won fewer than 85 seats in Punjab. Unsurprisingly, Chadha did not respond to a request for comment.
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