On the same day that Aam Aadmi Party supporters clashed with Bharatiya Janata Party workers outside the capital’s BJP headquarters, a senior Congressman and Cabinet minister who rarely employs levity in his conversations told me that AAP could get at least 10 and as many as 20 seats in the coming Lok Sabha elections.
These, he said, could come mainly from urban constituencies in northern and western India. Most people would probably disagree with him — some of them, not many, may think AAP could get quite a few more than that but most others, like the latest opinion polls, will predict that India’s newest political party on the block could win seats that would at best add up to a single digit, and if you happen to ask the BJP about how many seats they think AAP will get, you know what the answer is going to be.
It’s not about how many seats AAP will finally win. As it is India’s elections are complex and notoriously difficult to predict. Being able to correctly predict the fortunes of a new phenomenon such as AAP is even tougher. That’s precisely why analysing Arvind Kejriwal and his party’s prospects in the same manner that you’d do for the mainstream parties such as the Congress and the BJP would be a mistake.
AAP’s formation, its style of campaigning and its ultra short, yet über eventful stint at governing a state — Delhi — shows that it doesn’t behave in a manner that resembles any of its other rivals who are in the political fray. The latter, especially the Congress and the BJP, are unerringly predictable; AAP, on the other hand, is absolutely not.
Was it really unexpected when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi vehemently pushed for the anti-graft ordinances and yet shared the dais and shook hands with a former chief minister who lost his job for involvement in an embarrassing housing scandal?
AAP-BJP clash: There must be no room for violence
Or when BJP’s Narendra Modi, who routinely critiques the UPA for being corrupt, welcomed back into his party another scam-tainted former chief minister and a crooked trio that perpetrated an illegal mining scam? On the other hand, did anyone really expect Arvind Kejriwal to go on a ‘study tour’ to Gujarat to see whether the ground reality matches up to claims about the state’s development and then try to drop in on chief minister Modi at his home?
An Aam Aadmi Party supporter wears a giant party cap during an election rally party leader and anti-graft activist Arvind Kejriwal in Ahmadabad. AP
Everything about AAP is different from others, its behaviour, its strategies and its methods: its single-minded focus on ridding India of corruption; Kejriwal’s own part-activist, part-anarchic style of campaigning; his adept use of the media, whether it is of the traditional or the social variety; or the quick embrace of technology like when it used SMS texts to create flash mobs last Wednesday to protest against the BJP. None of this is in any way similar to how mainstream political parties go about things. That’s exactly what sets it apart. And that differentiation has won support for AAP.Read:Kejriwal should contest against Modi in Gujarat, says Amit Shah
At the core of that support is trust. You can be among those who love AAP. Or among the ones who dismiss it as a gimmick. But no matter which of those groups you belong to, it’s difficult to mistrust AAP. Or doubt Kejriwal’s honesty.
His party’s means and methods — the street fighting during his Gujarat tour is the latest example — can often be hugely misguided, and unless they are reined in, such traits could even destroy the fledgling party. Yet for a swathe of citizens, AAP’s platform is the only one that evokes trust. That’s the thing that could work for it: the thing that makes it not like the others.
AAP will likely contest 150-200 seats. It would be risky to try and say how many it would win. In any case, that’s not the point. For voters in the seats it fights, AAP could be the ‘real NOTA’ (the
‘none of the above’
option that is now offered to the electorate).
In last year’s assembly elections in Delhi, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh when the NOTA option was introduced, a mere 1.45% of voters pressed the NOTA button. In the coming general elections, the ‘real NOTA’ may poll way higher vote percentages in the seats that it contests.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convener Arvind Kejriwal trying his hands on a spinning wheel during his visit to Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad on Saturday. PTI
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