AAP Gets Ambitious, To Play Poll Games Beyond Delhi

Nothing wrong with having political ambition but AAP had tried to expand its base outside the national capital five years ago as well.

The Aam Aadmi Party is spreading wings and plans to contest polls beyond Delhi in states like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and Gujarat scheduled to have assembly elections in 2022.

Nothing wrong with having political ambition but AAP had tried to expand its base outside the national capital five years ago as well. The exercise was not much of a success. The 2022 battle is not going to be easy either.

In the six poll-bound states, power has rotated between the traditional players Congress and BJP and it remains to be seen how AAP will carve out space for itself.

Further, the lack of a strong organization and a popular face may prove to AAP’s limiting factors against the resourceful BJP, which rules five of these states, and Congress, which holds power in Punjab.

AAP’s standard response to such observations is that the Delhi model of welfare measures like improved government schools, mohalla clinics, free water, and electricity up to a certain limit, would find favour among the voters in these states as well.

AAP was born in 2012 out of activist Anna Hazare’s 2011 anti-corruption campaign targeted against the Congress-led UPA at the Centre. The party came to power briefly in 2013 when Hazare’s close aide Arvind Kejriwal became chief minister with the help of the grand old party.

Two years later, AAP swept the 2015 Delhi elections winning 67 of 70 assembly seats, limiting the BJP to just three seats and marginalizing the Congress, which could not open its account.

The mistake of propping up the first Arvind Kejriwal government in 2013 and then allowing AAP to hijack its traditional vote banks still haunts the Congress old-timers who often label the rival as the BJP’s B-team.

Interestingly, between the first and the second full terms of the Kejriwal government in 2015 and 2020 respectively, political observers noticed a sharp change in AAP’s approach towards the BJP-ruled Centre which transformed from being confrontationist on almost every issue to a conciliatory style. AAP members explained this change as the maturing of their political leadership, something the Congress refuses to buy and the BJP plays down.

AAP, which was desperate to ally with the Congress in Delhi and Punjab ahead of the 2019 national elections, could not hide its dislike for the grand old party last year.

AAP had slammed the Congress over infighting between Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot instead of the BJP which was hopeful of benefiting from the political crisis.

Kejriwal, who had contested the 2014 Lok Sabha polls against PM Modi in Varanasi, maintained silence over the Shaheen Bagh protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and had little to say about the communal clashes in east Delhi last year.

Punjab was the first success story for AAP where the party made its debut in 2017 and became the main opposition by winning 20 of the 117 assembly seats. The party won four of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab in 2014 but came down to just 1 in 2019.

In the recent Punjab local body polls, held in the backdrop of massive farmer protests against three farm laws, AAP did not get much response. The ruling Congress emerged as the big gainer.

However, AAP winning 27 seats in the recent local body polls in Gujarat, the home state of PM Modi, and union home minister Amit Shah, has surprised many and provided a booster to Kejriwal’s expansion plans.

AAP bagging municipal seats in Surat is worrying for the Congress which has lost its key Patidar votes to the new outfit. The Delhi chief minister staged a roadshow in the coastal city on February 26 to consolidate the gains.

Soon after the 2020 polls win in Delhi, AAP had launched a membership drive in politically crucial UP but took almost a year to decide whether or not to contest the 2022 assembly polls.

Over the past few months, the party’s Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh has been trying to float in the heady mix of caste and religion-based UP politics as the state in charge.

Singh, who has been trying to get traction among the angry farmers in western UP, has invited Arvind Kejriwal to stage a roadshow in Meerut soon.

In Goa, AAP had faced a complete washout in its debut assembly elections in 2017 but has been playing up its win in the Benaulim local body poll in December 2020. In the coastal state, AAP is gaining at the expense of the Congress, which hit a self-goal recently by announcing it was ready to join hands with Kejriwal’s party to defeat the BJP.

After Congress lost power to the BJP in 2017, despite emerging as the single largest party in the Goa assembly polls, 12 of the grand old party’s 17 lawmakers joined the saffron party.

However, AAP too has its share of infighting in Goa. In December last, former state convener Elvis Gomes (the party’s chief ministerial face in 2017) and former general secretary Pradeep Padgaonkar had quit saying the party was being remotely controlled from Delhi and had abandoned its core values.

In Uttarakhand, AAP is trying to balance out the Kumaon vs Garhwal regional factor in state politics and attacks both the Congress and the ruling BJP for neglecting the hill-state. AAP did not contest the 2017 assembly polls in Uttarakhand which gave a majority to the BJP.

The party is following a similar strategy of targeting both the BJP and the Congress in Himachal Pradesh, where it opened an office in the capital Shimla recently.

AAP’s initial forays into Haryana, which shares border with Delhi, did not bear results though in 2012-13 Kejriwal-backed nominee Ashok Jain had won the Mangrol municipal poll in Rajasthan against BJP and Congress candidates.

In Haryana, the AAP is struggling to find space given the presence of the ruling BJP-JJP combine, Congress, and INLD. AAP had given the charge of state to Naveen Jaihind in 2016 after suspending founder-member Yogendra Yadav for anti-party activities. Yadav now heads his own outfit Swaraj Abhiyan and is busy organizing the farmers against the three contentious farm laws.

AAP had contested the 2019 Assembly polls in Haryana along with Maharashtra but failed to make a mark.

Though the party initially adopted a wait-and-watch policy towards the farmer protests at Delhi’s borders last year, it quickly changed tracks and came out in support of the peasants to avoid being labeled a BJP ally.

Beyond the cultural melting pot of Delhi, how AAP manages the rough and tumble of state politics, remains to be seen.

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