In Retrospect

Gaining ground

Having established a stronghold in diversely populated Delhi, and emboldened by a mammoth victory in Punjab, the AAP is progressing with a simple strategy of primarily focusing on the upcoming assembly elections — also eyeing the ‘national party’ tag ahead of the 2024 General elections

Gaining ground

The Aam Aadmi Party has been diligently working on gaining ground support in states that are due for election in 2022, through roadshows, word of mouth communication and merger of local political parties, as per two senior officials of the party. With the party's eagle eye set on the 2024 General elections, it will need all the facilities that it can lay its hands on –– the most important milestone is getting the 'national' party status and the perks that come with it.

The party has appointed a state coordinator and state election-in charge in all states. Maybe they aren't that visible in all of the states and union territories but the presence is there, a senior party leader said. A step towards increasing its vote share to six per cent in at least four states is the way forward for it.

"The immediate and total approach of the party is not Lok Sabha elections, rather it is the next assembly elections in different states," Deputy CM Manish Sisodia said while speaking to Millennium Post.

"We do not have an old legacy like the Congress or the BJP but since we emerged from a movement, people joining with hope in their eyes is AAP's legacy itself. We have given hope to people hence they are joining us," he said.

The party, which is currently focusing on the assembly elections in Gujarat, will address issues like unemployment, expensive electricity and rampant corruption that have stalled the development work there. Some of the promises in the polls will be to generate more employment opportunities and improve the living conditions of the aam aadmi (common person).

"We've just started there, it'll take time to understand the people and problems. We will address several other issues too after we conduct more internal surveys and understand the needs of the people," he said while adding that the general requirement of the people is more or less similar across states. "Job, clean water, power, safety, and the end of corruption gives rise to more economic growth and opportunities for the youth and that is what the 'aam aadmi' needs," he said.

Once a regional party is declared a national party by the Election Commission, it can use its party symbol to fight all elections and also becomes eligible for a party office in the capital; for AAP, the latter has been fulfilled already. By acquiring the status of a national party, the AAP will have a better chance to perform and win the Lok Sabha elections in 2024, as compared to the poor performance seen in 2014. The perks of being a national party include better broadcast time in Doordarshan during general elections; the party can also nominate up to 40 'star campaigners' during the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Once the AAP is recognised as a national party by the Election Commission of India, it will be entitled to two sets of electoral rolls free of cost at the time of revision of rolls, and its candidates will get one copy of the electoral roll free of cost during general elections, along with telecast facilities over Akashvani. Therefore, even though AAP's bigger goal is to win the General elections, winning the assembly elections and getting the "national party" recognition is what will make the party inch closer to its 2024 dream. Also, the facilities of being a national party will help boost its performance.

For a regional party to become a national party, it requires two per cent seats in the Lok Sabha which is equal to 11 seats from at least three different states, or it should have 6 per cent vote share in at least four states in the assembly elections and win four Lok Sabha seats in any state. It should additionally be recognised as a state party in four different states.

The Kejriwal-led AAP needs at least 11 Lok Sabha seats from three states but, as of now, it has none. AAP's focus in Punjab was addressing issues related to electricity, clean water, end of corruption etc., which appealed to the residents of the state and has given the 'movement party' a chance. "Our work politics has been helping businesses to grow and development has taken place in the capital, the fruit of which we are reaping in Punjab as well," Sisodia said.

AAP is aiming to secure Gujarat or Himachal Pradesh in 2022 and will focus on Rajasthan, Telangana, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram to gain more Lok Sabha seats and increase its overall vote share. The party has already established visibility in every state by opening a formal office there. However, some states are being focused more compared to others.

"The amount Bhagwant Mann has worked in Punjab right after getting elected in the last few days, especially to end corruption, people are noticing it. Such kind of work is our strength and that is our camping angle," Sisodia said. AAP will contest Lok Sabha but the path to it will be decided by how the party performs in the assembly elections across different states.

"We can't have two different plans –– one for state and one for central elections –– rather our strategy is simple. We believe in work politics and focusing on assembly elections, the way forward will be decided by our performance in the state elections. Our strength is our work," a senior official from AAP said. AAP may not technically be a national party but it is a national expression, people all over the country talk about it, the deputy CM said.

The advantage AAP has is that it first secured itself in the capital where the population is a mix of people coming from different states. "The demography in the city is varied and when people go back to their original state, they talk about the work being done here which has helped us largely to spread through word of mouth which is the best form of advertising," AAP's MLA Somnath Bharti said.

The AAP announced that on April 14 it will lead a 'padayatra' in Telangana and, immediately after that, the BJP announced that it would also lead a 'padayatra' led by Amit Shah. "So, you see nobody is taking us lightly. One move we announce and there is a counter move by the opposition," Bharti said, adding that had they been taken lightly, MCD elections would not have been cancelled, and even the Prime Minister is taking the AAP seriously. The AAP has emerged to lead with the hope that the country's politics will be on education, a good governance model, and the welfare of the people, he said. The AAP will take the Kejriwal model of governance to every house and have lots of door-to-door campaigns in Telangana so that every village could be touched upon by the party.

The party launched a membership campaign on April 2 in Telangana where the party's focus will be in 2023. Within two days of its launch, it had 900 volunteers signing up.

There are several leaders who have joined the fast-growing party but it has maintained its own method of filtering leaders who join it, according to the senior leader.

"So, when a name comes to us, we do a background check. There should not be any corruption allegation against the leader. We also check for their views on religion and caste politics as we strictly don't entertain one-sided views," the leader added.

"We will delay the formation of a government rather than launch a candidate who harbours communal hatred," another senior leader said.

The sweeping influence of the BJP engulfed almost the entire political landscape within the country, bit by bit, ever since it came to power in the Centre in 2014. A parallel story was unfolding, as an antithesis, where the Congress was consistently ceding ground to the BJP and other regional players — leaving people devoid of a national alternative, a gap that is seen to be detrimental to the interests of a democratic nation.

Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP's) dramatic but well-planned rise as a potential national alternative offers a glimpse of hope, a sigh of relief rather, to keep the spirit of political contest in a democracy alive. It is true that Arvind Kejriwal, at least for the time being, is being seen as a face who could be placed opposite Narendra Modi in the future, potentially.

AAP's rise, however, will be grossly underestimated if it is seen as just the rise of an alternative face. It has, most importantly, thrown open to us an alternative agenda — a spine, so to say, for the opposition against the BJP juggernaut. It has constructed an agenda that talks of basic issues related to public life, romanticised it and made it resonate among the voters. This initiative sets Kejriwal's efforts apart from that of many others whose fight was mostly based on face value. Whether AAP will succeed or not in presenting an alternative to the nation, is a question better left on time, and to the people of India. But one thing is for sure, AAP has shown elections can be fought and won on issues related to health, education and sanitation; and that polarisation and communal frenzies are not the only way.

Views expressed are personal

In the national firmament

After the glorious victory in Punjab, the Aam Aadmi Party has been rapidly trying to increase its footprint in different states. With the high-profile inductions, several 'padyatras' in different states, and several additional responsibilities being given to promising party leaders, the AAP's national expansion has been unfolding swiftly.

The AAP currently has under its wing over 6 per cent vote share in three states –– Delhi 53.6 per cent in the 2020 assembly elections and Punjab 42 per cent vote share in the 2022 state elections and 6.77 per cent vote share in Goa 2022 elections. In Uttarakhand, AAP so far has a 3.4 per cent vote share and just 0.3 per cent in Uttar Pradesh. It needs to secure one more state and needs more members in the Lok Sabha to enjoy the privileges of a National Party.

"The AAP's internal survey during the 2019 General elections showed that 17 per cent of the voters had wanted Arvind Kejriwal as the alternative and since then the party has only grown, so that figure has presumably gone up the ladder," a senior party leader said.

A boon to AAP is also the merger of the Haryana Democratic Front (HDF) and other opposition leaders that have joined hands with the party. "Around 80 per cent of the joinees are from Congress as they are abandoning the sinking ship, and the remaining are from the BJP or local parties. The former congress leaders will pool in the support that the old INC would otherwise get," he said.

The party's senior leaders have come to an understanding that Rahul Gandhi has lost his significance and that the BJP has grown "too comfortable" with him as a weak rival, but now that he is no longer seen as an opposing candidate at all, AAP has a better chance. For quite some time the question remained –– if not Rahul Gandhi then who? And people could not fathom an alternative but AAP, with its gradual spread, has embedded Kejriwal's face as a suitable candidate. "The fight in the country is moving towards Kejriwal VS Modi with the Delhi CM constantly remaining in the highlight on national air time in most channels. People are discussing Kejriwal as an alternative which is extremely crucial at this stage," the senior leader added.

Another important question that the party has been discussing is the narrative that it will give out once it approaches the General elections for which the stage is being readied. The Hindutva or Bharat as a Hindu state has been deeply rooted by the BJP in the voter's mind and AAP, as it stays away from religious politics, has introduced its 3-pillar ideology –– Desh bhakti or Staunch nationalism, hardcore honesty and humanity — recently announced by the party's national convenor to erode the Hindutva narrative.

The Delhi Government's ambitious scheme — Mukhyamantri Teerth Yatra Yojana — is an inclusive scheme where free pilgrimage for senior citizens from the capital can be availed by all. Each religious community has been included, as the pilgrim sites for Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs among others have been made available. Such measures taken by the AAP government will help strengthen its narrative and the party will launch more schemes that make its ideology concrete.

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