Delhi Model. That’s what the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) wants to project, in an ambitious plan of spreading its wings beyond the national capital. The manifesto based on betterment of public facilities has worked in Delhi. Now, Arvind Kejriwal & Co are making a serious attempt to become a contender in some of the states headed for Assembly elections next year.
Punjab, where AAP finished a distant second but second nonetheless, behind Congress in 2017, remains the main target. Infighting in the ruling party and discontent against BJP stemming from the farm stir are factors it will try to capitalise on. The ‘broom’ is also eager to emerge as an entity in Uttar Pradesh and build on the inroads it made in Gujarat in Surat municipal elections earlier this year. Uttarakhand is another state where AAP feels it has a chance. It’s not ruling out Goa either, despite faring poorly in the last elections. While Gujarat awaits polls in December 2022, the other four are likely to press the button in February-March.
AAP’s expansion is based on the idea of replacing the ‘Gujarat Model’ with the ‘Delhi Model’ of governance. It wants to promise what it has achieved to an extent in Delhi in areas of health, education, electricity, transport — things that concern the common man. During a recent visit to Punjab, the Delhi CM announced that if AAP comes to power, the government will provide 300 units of free electricity to every household every month. The Delhi government provides 200 units for free, a decision which proved to be a masterstroke before the 2020 Assembly elections.
Kejriwal will visit these states and talk about the benefits of his ‘model’. However, there remain doubts whether what works in urban Delhi would be effective in rural pockets of the states AAP is eyeing. The party thinks the ‘connect’ has to be different and accordingly, it has started holding religious functions like ‘Sunderkand’ recitals and ‘Ganga Aarti’, to shed the ‘one dimensional’ tag.
Kejriwal, who does not want to be remembered solely as the CM of a Union Territory, thinks the time has come for him and his party to be electorally mature. By supporting the farmers and accusing the Central government of failure in Covid-19 management, AAP has tried to convey it thinks beyond Delhi. It has also followed an anti-BJP and anti-Congress stand. However, there are question marks over its organisational strength in terms of local leaders and general cadre in these states.
Opponents in disarray, is own house in order?
A state well-known to the senior leadership of the party. They understand the issues and demographics. This is also where AAP is the strongest outside the national capital. It has a sizeable presence of volunteers on the ground to stage agitations against the current dispensation.
Taking note of the mistake made in 2017, Kejriwal has declared there will be a chief ministerial face of the party who will be a Sikh and a ‘respected’ figure. The party hopes that Shiromani Akali Dal and BJP will be at a disadvantage because of the farmers’ protests against the three farm laws. It also hopes that the Congress crisis caused by the feud between CM Amarinder Singh and Navjyot Singh Sidhu will weaken the ruling party.
In 2017, AAP in Punjab was controlled by the central leadership even at the micro-level through observers, which was a sore point for the local leadership and did not go well with the people. In the last five years, AAP in Punjab has been hit by internal discord, with MLAs abandoning ship and leadership struggles. The party at present does not have a strong local leader. In order to fill the gap, AAP is inducting people with the hope that they will bolster its chances. However, the downside of this is, these ‘outsiders’ are causing resentment among people associated with the party since its earlier days.
Looking for an ally to take on the big guns
The biggest, most populous and politically the most important state in the country with 403 Assembly seats is where AAP has decided to take on the biggies. In a state synonymous with caste, crime and politics of muscle power, Kejriwal presents himself as the third alternative, with ideals of education and health at its core. Earlier this year, Delhi’s Education Minister Manish Sisodia, also No 2 in the party and the government, visited Uttar Pradesh and challenged Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to a debate on the education model of the state in comparison with that of Delhi.
AAP understands that in such a huge state, it cannot walk alone if it wants to even make a mark. After a recent meeting between UP in-charge Sanjay Singh and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, the former did not rule out forming an alliance, although he stopped short of saying with whom. To increase visibility, AAP is launching a membership campaign called “UP Jodo” targeting one crore members in the state.
Its youth wing, Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti (CYSS), held a 10-day ‘Rozgaar Guarantee Padyatra’ (employment walk) to gain traction among the youth and raise the burning issue of unemployment. State CYSS president Vanshraj Dubey, who walked from Prayagraj to Lucknow, said: “The youth want employment. The Yogi government promised this before coming to power, but failed completely on this front,” said Dubey.
Third force in usually bipolar fight for power
This is a rather ambitious plan of taking on BJP in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After tasting a maiden victory in the state in the Surat municipal elections with 27 seats and emerging as the main opposition there earlier this year, AAP has decided to expand base and contest all 180 Assembly seats.
Gujarat politics has always been bipolar between BJP and Congress. “There is anger against the BJP government in Gujarat. The so-called Gujarat model has got exposed in the pandemic. People had to run pillar to post for hospital beds and injections. Gujarat is one of the poorer states in health infrastructure. People are looking for an alternative that AAP can provide,” said Manoj Sorathiya, general secretary of AAP Gujarat.
The party has started a Jan Samvedana Yatra that will reach out to around 18,000 villages in the next three months. Sensing that the ‘development only’ ideology might not work outside Delhi, the AAP leadership has changed tack and held ‘Sundarkand’ recitals in various cities, sending a clear signal it will not shy away from donning the religious hat to woo voters.
CM candidate named in a bid to buck the trend
The hill state which has always seen a two-party rivalry is another AAP target. The party has announced it will contest in all 70 seats and named Colonel (retd) Ajay Kothiyal as its Chief Ministerial candidate. Before Tirath Singh Rawat resigned as Chief Minister, there were talks that Col Kothiyal would take him on if bypolls were to take place.
“The BJP as well as the Congress have failed the people of Uttarakhand. We will make the dreams of the people who fought for statehood come true,” said Dinesh Mohaniya, AAP in-charge of Uttarakhand and a three-time MLA from Delhi.
Avtar Singh Rawat, advocate of Supreme Court and Uttarakhand HC, who participated in the statehood agitation, said: “People of Uttarakhand have a history of strong affiliation to the Centre. However, with AAP banking on a war veteran and trying hard, the two national parties must watch out. AAP may not get majority, but can dent vote banks.”
To counter AAP’s free water and power promise, the state government is bringing in a proposal to provide 100 units of free electricity to around 14 lakh connection holders. Sisodia visited Uttarakhand twice in December, promising free power, eradication of corruption, health and education facilities. Doing everything symbolically right, attending Ganga Arti at Har ki Pairi in Haridwar, to promising Raam Rajya, AAP is leaving no stone unturned to make a mark in Uttarahand.
Duck last time, but to contest in all seats
Despite getting just six per cent of votes in the last Assembly elections, AAP has decided to fight in all 40 seats. “We started reaching out to people under the ‘Let’s Clean Goa Politics’ banner. People are approaching us with their issues and we are confident,” said Rahul Mhambre, convenor of the Goa AAP unit. In 2017, AAP created a buzz and contested 37 seats, without winning any.
Mhambre said people are fed up with the ruling BJP and Congress. “The 2017 election mandate was in favour of Congress, but their elected representatives sold themselves to BJP. It was an insult to the people’s mandate,” said Mhambre. There are also complaints about how the pandemic was mis-handled. Recently, the Delhi government has approved a Konkani academy to facilitate the growth and promotion of Konkani language and culture in the national capital.
With inputs from Harpreet Bajwa (Chandigarh), Sudhir Suryawanshi (Mumbai) and Vineet Upadhyay (Dehradun) | Note: Election dates are tentative