When the Election Commission of India announced on January 4 that assembly polls in both Punjab and Goa would be held on February 4, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its maverick chief Arvind Kejriwal cried foul. These are the two states it had decided to focus on out of the five where elections are being held and votes being cast on the same day in both places would mean dividing resources and campaigners.
The AAP leadership then decided that after February 4, the party’s volunteers would plunge into the Uttar Pradesh campaign to damage arch-rival Bharatiya Janata Party’s prospects. But, as the crescendo of the campaign in Punjab started building and the party diverted more and more resources to the border state, AAP had its moment of awakening: It had already announced last year that it would not contest the UP assembly elections, then to waste valuable resources and manpower to damage the BJP would mean losing focus of its larger goal: to emerge as a viable alternative to the Narendra Modi model at the national stage.
AAP immediately abandoned the idea of going to UP and decided instead to expend its energy entirely on Gujarat, where elections will be held later this year. “Only our local unit in UP will track the UP elections and give feedback to our social media team. On the ground, our focus in on Gujarat,” a member of the party’s all-powerful Political Affairs Committee told Hindustan Times.
The party has decided to focus on states where the BJP and the Congress are in a direct fight. This list for 2017 and 2018 includes Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. AAP is also trying to build its organisation in Rajasthan and a credible performance in Gujarat this year can catalyse its spread in the neighbouring desert state.
Gujarat is significant in more ways than one. It is Modi’s home state. With a 182 seat assembly, it is the first large state that AAP wants to make a serious bid in.
The party has been working on its organisational structure there, polling booth level upwards for the past four months now. A two-way campaign to gauge public mood, spread awareness about the party and identify issues that could amplify the anti-incumbency called Gujarat Azadi Andolan is underway in all districts of the western state. At the end of the campaign, the party expects to have recruited 90,000 in-charges and co-incharges and aims to get them to converge in Gandhinagar on March 26 to gherao chief minister Vijay Rupani.
AAP’s volunteers have been listing issues to corner the ruling BJP government, which has seen two chief ministers in Anandiben Patel and Vijay Rupani since Modi moved to Delhi as PM in 2014. Their focus is on farmers’ issues, healthcare and education, sources revealed.
The results for Goa and Punjab will be declared on March 11. The party is confident of a win in Punjab and opening its account in the Goa assembly. The Congress has publicly proclaimed that it is winning the election after restricting AAP to 40 seats. Even if the Congress’s claims turn out to be true, such numbers for AAP in the Punjab assembly will establish the party’s credentials as a serious political player outside Delhi and give its Gujarat plan a fillip. The Punjab campaign saw both the Congress and the SAD-BJP targeting AAP so frequently that the party occupied centre stage drawing huge crowds. It has already made the journey from being a political upstart to a feared political start-up with that campaign.