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Can Aam Aadmi Party expand beyond Delhi?

The AAP needs to focus on the next 12 months that could make or mar its future prospects on the political scene, and that of its chief Arvind Kejriwal.

March 27, 2021 / 09:46 AM IST
Aam Aadmi Party

Aam Aadmi Party

As it prepares to mark a decade of its inception next year, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) faces one of its most difficult years as a political entity in 2021-22. Its future plans should, however, worry the Congress more than its apparent political rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

On March 24, the two Houses of Parliament on passed a Bill that is set to curtail the autonomy of the Delhi government that the AAP has run consecutively since February 2015.

Once the law comes into force after the presidential assent, the Delhi government will further become a glorified municipal corporation, and the AAP would need to expand its political footprint with greater urgency in other states if it wishes to sustain its longevity.

The AAP is a rare phenomenon on the Indian political scene as it professes to be an umbrella centrist party not backed by any particular caste or community.

The AAP is also a rare opposition party to have stopped the juggernaut of the BJP in the assembly polls of a state, not once but twice (in 2015 and 2020).

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Hinduism And Governance

It is no less a fascinating political detail that this success has come by displacing the Congress as the default ruling party of the city-state of Delhi.

The BJP, barring the first five years of ruling the newly-formed Delhi government from 1993-1998, has effectively been the default Opposition in the 28 years that Delhi has had a legislative assembly.

The AAP in Delhi has succeeded in projecting itself as a party of benign Hinduism whose leitmotif is efficient governance in contrast to the BJP’s aggressive Hindutva.

In its 2020 Delhi assembly polls campaign, the AAP had answered the BJP’s aggressive ‘Jai Sri Ram’ Hindutva by turning to ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’.

Ironically, months before the polls, the AAP supported the repeal of Article 370, stripping Jammu & Kashmi of the status of a state and bringing it under central rule.

Future Tense

All that is now in the past. The AAP needs to focus on the next 12 months that could make or mar its future prospects on the political scene, and that of its chief Arvind Kejriwal.

The civic bodies of Delhi, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) — it is actually three separate civic bodies after it was trifurcated in 2012 — is one of the most resource-rich in India, and is scheduled for elections by April 2022.

It is currently run by the BJP and falls under the jurisdiction of the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, and not the city-state’s government.

Just as the Congress had held the reins of power of the Delhi government for most of the years since 1993, so has the BJP in the MCD. The AAP has seemed intent on mounting an effective challenge to the BJP in the next year’s MCD polls. It remains to be seen if the AAP still does that or looks for other states to expand.

Project Expansion

After its win in the Delhi assembly polls in February 2015, the AAP leadership strategised that the party should focus on expanding in some of the smaller states where the electoral contest is primarily between the BJP and Congress, while stay away from states where regional parties are stronger.

In the 2017 round of assembly polls, the AAP had put in much energy campaigning in states such as Goa and Punjab. The AAP emerged the principal opposition in Punjab, relegating the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) to the third spot. In Goa, the AAP bagged a 6.3 percent vote share, respectable enough for a debutant party — which was more than the 4 percent gap between the vote share of the winner BJP and the Congress.

In February-March 2022, the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur are scheduled for polls. By the end of that year, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh will also witness polls. Apart from UP, all other states have primarily been bipolar contests.

Punjab And Goa

The AAP launched its election campaign in Punjab with a public rally that Kejriwal addressed in Moga on March 21.

The SAD is currently discredited as they supported the farm Bills initially and have severed their alliance with the BJP. Neither is the BJP likely to be a factor in the polls. The AAP could again emerge the main challenger to the Amarinder Singh-led Congress.

While its state unit chief, two- time Lok Sabha MP Bhagwant Mann is effective, he lacks the charisma of a Navjot Singh Sidhu and state-wide network of Singh. The AAP would need a face in Punjab.

In Goa, the AAP could prove to be a spoiler for the Congress again. AAP Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh has gone about putting in place a good network of the party in UP as well. With most of its leaders in UP, including Sanjay Singh being from upper castes, some believe that AAP would hurt the Congress there.

Interesting, however, would be AAP’s campaign in Gujarat, which goes to polls in November-December of 2022.

AAP in Gujarat

In the civic polls last month, the AAP won 27 seats in the Surat municipal polls, second only to the ruling BJP, which won 93 of the 120 wards. The Congress drew a blank. Subsequent to the win, Kejriwal held a roadshow in Surat.

In the 2017 assembly polls in Gujarat, the Congress had given the BJP a scare, winning a majority of the state’s rural seats. It was the BJP’s good showing in urban areas, particularly its sweep in Surat that had saved it the blushes in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

If the Congress has hopes of a revival of its fortunes from Gujarat, as had happened to an extent in 2017 onwards until December 2018, a three-cornered fight in the next assembly polls in Gujarat could upstage such a plan.
Archis Mohan is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

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