Will the real Aam Aadmi Party please stand up?

  • Aarish Chhabra, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Feb 22, 2015 20:07 IST

Romance is often ridiculed. Naiveté is almost never seen as a quality. And the talk of doing something different is met with rolling eyes. We are cynical people.

It took one year for Arvind Kejriwal to turn that around. It’s appropriately poetic, then, that he took oath on the day that he had resigned last year. It was Valentine’s Day. The sheer scale of abuse by the army of the Mighty Messiah was brought to the ground by the sheer scale of the Aam Aadmi Party’s victory. It was a fairy tale.

Like all things romantic, there’s much talk of taking this fairy tale further and further now.

Pollsters say the AAP will next capture Punjab, where it won its four Lok Sabha seats last year even when it was humiliated elsewhere. The assembly elections are two years away, but, in a snap poll by the agency C-Voter released a couple of days ago, 56% of the respondents thought the AAP would come to power in 2017. Just 9% believed the Congress would win; 8% backed the state’s junior ruling partner BJP, while only 5% thought that the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) would get a hat-trick. In more music to AAP ears, 80% of the respondents said the absence of the party’s top leaders such as Delhi CM Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia would not diminish the prospects in Punjab.

While the party’s state leaders are busy denying that they are in the chief ministerial race, the poll dealt with the question. Asked to name the best candidate for CM, 27% respondents favoured Congress MP Captain Amarinder Singh, and 26% chose AAP MP Bhagwant Mann. Only 14% picked Navjot Singh Sidhu of the BJP, while current deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal got a mere 2% approval.

The contest, thus, should be between the AAP and the Congress. More cautious analysts predict a hung assembly, even as the grapevine goes as far as to say there will be a royal exodus from the Congress to the AAP, making it a sweep for the ‘jhaadu’ (the broom, its masterfully-chosen poll symbol).

In short, this is the pop perception: If assembly polls are held today, the AAP will win hands down, and Bhagwant Mann will be the CM!

Well, romance is a risky game.

Actually, there are elections happening right now in Punjab. Civic body elections that are more in tune with what the AAP claims to stand for — a transparent civic administration that deals with day-to-day issues of the common man. And the AAP is missing in action.

While the C-Voter poll says 61% respondents backed AAP’s decision not to contest the municipal elections, it appears to be a case of people thinking like pollsters after the Delhi tsunami. On the ground, the party’s importance in the voter’s mind can be gauged by watching the campaign.

Yes, despite not being in the contest, the AAP is on campaign posters of many independent candidates. Not only are photos of Kejriwal, Mann and even the missing-in-action MP Harinder Singh Khalsa being used at places, but even the popular slogan, ‘Ab chalegi jhaadu’, can be heard.

As to why the ‘jhaadu’ itself is not on the EVM, the party says it did not have a proper organisational structure in Punjab to fight the civic polls. It has cited Delhi as an alibi, saying the aim was to take the Capital first.

No reason has been given for why the party could not — or did not care to — build an organisation in a state that had kept it relevant after its Delhi resignation fiasco. In Delhi, the party realised the need to go micro, and rebuild from the ground up, while in Punjab it has remained missing even on big issues.

There is a plan now to start a mass contact programme after the civic polls, whereas it is these polls that could have given AAP the power to impact people’s lives more directly. An MP or even an MLA cannot be expected to solve problems such as a dug-up street, a non-functional streetlight, a leaking water supply line, or help in issuance of certificates. It is the job of efficient councillors and robust civic bodies.

A party that wants to work at the grassroots knows this. Why, then, was AAP in Punjab scared to engage with issues of the street? Hadn’t Punjab already shown its intent to give it a shot even at the height of the Modi wave?

Political calculations clearly dictated its stance of putting all its eggs in one basket, in Delhi. But perceptions and calculations can only carry you so far. If the voter is to go by performance, all of the AAP’s eggs are still in the Delhi basket. No one’s predicting doom. The AAP in Punjab indeed carries the image of a lion-hearted rookie challenging old monsters who thrive on politics of patronage. And it may still win the assembly polls. But, by not contesting the civic polls, it has lost an opportunity to work on the ground and show what it really stands for. aarish.chhabra@hindustantimes.com

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