While AAP workers and leaders agree that the party has national ambitions, they disagree that it has abandoned its core principles
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), it is often said, is one of the most successful 'start-ups' ever floated by an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) graduate.
Perhaps, the party chief and its national convener, Arvind Kejriwal, would scoff at his party’s comparison with a start-up. However, according to AAP leaders, "you can call it a start-up, but understand that start-ups face troubles before becoming big companies".
The AAP, by all accounts, wants to become a big company in the political ecosystem. In its initial years, it felt as if it was surefooted to become one, with an election win one year into its existence. The party also received a huge mandate in 2014, when it won 67 of the 70 assembly seats in Delhi. That was the party’s moment of glory, and an opportunity.
The jury is still out on whether AAP managed to deliver on its promises. Accounts suggest that residents of Delhi seem mostly satisfied, and are ready to give AAP another five years in Delhi.
National ambitions on hold
The AAP wants a nation-wide appeal, and it is no secret that Kejriwal nurses prime ministerial ambitions.
With that purpose, the party had begun fielding candidates in assembly elections across states. In Punjab, it became the party with the second highest number of seats in its debut elections in 2017.
In Goa, it grabbed over six percent vote share.
However, while it continued to contest elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Karnataka, even minimal success evaded it.
AAP leaders said that these losses made the party go back to the drawing board, and conclude that it needs to focus more on smaller, particularly the neighboring, states.
"A party needs resources, and a cadre that can dedicate time to party work. AAP works on donations, and while it's expanding into other states, we also recognise that according to our resources, we need to focus on smaller states," Ajinkya Shinde, an AAP leader, told Moneycontrol.
These states primarily include Haryana and Punjab. The former is where it has struck an alliance with the JJP, while the latter is where it is battling in-fighting. AAP leaders privy to the developments in both states say that they are confident of making a mark. "In Punjab, we are very sure of two Lok Sabha seats, at least," an AAP leader in Punjab said.
Let alone national ambitions, AAP’s aim of expanding into Punjab and Haryana will not happen unless the infighting is stemmed.
High-profile exits from the party’s decision-making bodies and political committees, such as Yogendra Yadav and Ashutosh, have dented the party and Kejriwal’s image.
In recent times, AAP's cadre and its leadership have been unconvinced with the party's push to seal an alliance with Congress in Delhi.
Meanwhile, the party's Punjab unit has been reeling under factionalism and suspensions. While it managed to emerge as the main Opposition party in the state during the 2017 assembly polls, eight of out of its 20 legislators resigned in 2018. Similarly, two out of its four Members of Parliament have left the party to form their own fronts. Almost all of them have blamed Kejriwal's functioning for their decision to leave the party.
Observers have stated that AAP has moved on from its original purpose— of being a party with a difference, of "changing the system"— in its pursuit for national relevance.
While AAP workers and leaders agree that the party has national ambitions, they disagree that it has abandoned its core principles. "Our work in Delhi speaks for itself. We promised development, and we have managed to deliver it," a party functionary said.
"Statehood for Delhi is going to be our topmost priority," Shinde said. "This means that the law and order, the police, is in the Delhi government's control, unlike today. Moreover, people are also convinced of its advantages," he added.
The party has also established networks across Delhi, Haryana and Punjab through social media, call centres and door-to-door campaigning. This, AAP leaders say, has provided the party with a headstart, particularly for the forthcoming Haryana assembly elections."Every election that Arvind Kejriwal has closely involved himself in has been fought as if the future of the party is at stake," the first functionary said. "This time it's no different," he added.