The Aam Aadmi Party is on a high. And it has reasons to be. On December 08, 2013, the party with broom as its election symbol literally swept the Congress party in the Delhi Assembly elections and stunned the BJP by winning 28 seats in the 70-member House. Its convener, the 45-year-old Arvind Kejriwal defeated the three-time chief minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit, and became the seventh CM of Delhi in just over a year after launching the AAP.
It cannot be denied that the new party captured the imagination of the people of Delhi with its innovative style of campaigning, with its anti-corruption plank and with its promise of changing the way politics is done in India. They talked of people’s participation and clean governance, and when offered outside support by the Congress which won eight seats in Delhi, they went to the people and sought their opinion on government formation.
It’s almost been a fairy-tale launch for the AAP. No wonder buoyed by the success in 2013, they have now set their eyes on 2014. Notwithstanding the fact that the BJP is hoping to come back to power at the Centre after a decade and notwithstanding the fact that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity has been growing in the country, they sincerely feel that there is an unprecedented excitement and buzz about the AAP.
Thus the decision by them to take the national plunge and fight in almost 300 seats in the upcoming General Elections this year. As they say – make hay while the sun shines. Which brings us to the question – can AAP make an impact in Lok Sabha polls and can it repeat its good showing in Delhi at the national level? After what happened in Delhi where the Congress, BJP and the opinion makers did not give them much of a chance, not many would want to hazard a comment about their prospects at this juncture. But one thing can be said for sure – it’s going to be an uphill task.
For a start, how are they going to take on regional leaders and players? How is it going to tackle Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s BSP in Uttar Pradesh, Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, Naveen Patnaik’s BJD in Odisha, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD and Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) in Bihar or for that matter Narendra Modi’s BJP in Gujarat. And how is it going to deal with caste, religion, linguistic and region factors at the state level, which still exist, even though we may not like it? For instance, the Marathi manoos factor which all political parties in Mumbai play upto. Plus the humongous task of finding 543 people with clean image and impeccable integrity.
While one can never say for sure, but what worked in Delhi may not necessarily work at the national level. AAP launched its campaign in Delhi in the backdrop of Jan Lokpal movement. Delhi was the venue for the anti-corruption agitation in 2011 and it helped AAP that it chose to fight its first election from the national capital. The fact that Congress was facing double incumbency in Delhi – of Sheila’s government and that of the UPA – went in their favour. The support from the media, especially electronic, who captured their every move helped. Would AAP have had the same success in Delhi if the venue of the anti-graft movement had been in some other state? It’s a point to ponder upon.
The AAP knows that to succeed at the all-India level a political party needs to have a strong cadre, strong leaders in the state and a strong organisational structure, all of which requires time and money. And at the national level it will not be enough to portray themselves as anti-establishment and committed to root out corruption. The AAP will have to spell out its views on handling the economy of the country, inflation and price rise; its take on foreign policy, how it proposes to deal with Pakistan and the United States; how it will address the issue of Naxalism, terrorism and separatism; what does it think of Centre-state relations and creation of states like Telangana; its plan regarding agriculture, farmers and rural India; its vision on education and job creation and its ideas on women’s safety among other things.
And before that it has to deliver in Delhi first and show the people of this country that it is capable of governing. It is one thing to come to power and completely another to rule successfully. Pure rhetoric and a press conference a day will not help. A case in point – to the credit of the AAP, it delivered on two of its poll promises of giving free water and cutting power tariffs after assuming office. But questions are also being raised as to whether they are compromising on good economics for populist schemes and how good is subsidy for economic growth.
When Arvind Kejriwal spoke in the Delhi Assembly just before the trust vote, he sidestepped these questions raised by members of Congress and BJP and instead delivered an emotional speech. But a party who harbours national ambitions has to eventually take up hard questions and cannot play on the emotional quotient for long. Also, AAP leaders like Prashant Bhushan saying that a referendum should be held in J&K on the issue of the removal of Army from the state for internal security does not help their cause.
Though Kejriwal said on record that Kashmir is an integral part of India, it raises questions as to whether some of AAP leaders hold separatist views. Bhushan has made similar comments in the past too. He had once said in Varanasi that a plebiscite should be held in J&K to determine whether the people want to stay with India or not. They will also have to give convincing answers to assertions by certain quarters that they are ‘communists’ in disguise.
It cannot be denied that the AAP needs to develop an ideology, and now, and go beyond mere rhetoric. They still have a long way to go and to travel that distance they have to tread carefully. They have to clear the air about the accusations that are being levelled against them that they are being used by the Congress to spoil the chances of the BJP. Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar did say that his party sees AAP as an ally.
AAP formed the government in Delhi after Kejriwal said that they would never take the support of either the Congress of the BJP. But they went ahead with government formation saying that the people had wanted them to do so. That’s all very well but didn’t the AAP centre their campaign around the ‘corrupt’ Congress? They have to accept the fact that as long as they are running the government with Congress, they’ll always be under the scanner. Questions like what’s happening to the probe regarding corruption charges against Sheila Dikshit will be thrown at them.
Also, they want to fight in all the seats in Haryana in the Lok Sabha polls but will they raise the issue of land deals of Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra in the state, a matter that they have raked up in the past? And if they do, what happens to their government in Delhi? Going into the election mode they have to counter these questions head on.
At the same time, it cannot be denied that the AAP has generated a lot of interest and they have given BJP a scare of sorts. Even if they do not win enough seats to form the government at Centre or be kingmaker for that matter, they may end up cutting into BJP votes, something that one suspects the Congress would be hoping for.
The common man, reeling under price rise and inflation and increasingly disgusted with corruption voted for the AAP in large numbers in Delhi, in spite of the fact that they were a rookie party without any experience. Will the joyride continue and will the AAP bridge the gap from state Assembly to Parliament – just a couple of months and we will have the answer to this question.