Lawmakers of the Capital’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will moult out of their aam aadmi image and put on a more recognisable neta look to beat a perception that voters fail to notice them because of their “simplicity”.
The charm offensive is an offshoot of the party’s debacle in the city’s municipal elections this April. The MLAs feel the party lost because people didn’t notice or recognise them in their constituencies because of their aam aadmi, or common man, image.
“I have roamed like a common man in these two years, minus the white khadi suit that politicians of the BJP or Congress usually wear,” said Seemapuri legislator Rajendra Pal Gautam, explaining the need for an image makeover to gain public attention.
He visited his constituency almost alone most of the time and with one or two supporters occasionally — unlike rival politicians whose party managers make sure they are always surrounded by a large group of followers to magnify their public visibility.
“If you don’t have that aura, people don’t take you seriously. Most people don’t recognise you, no matter how many times you move around the area,” Gautam said.
The AAP — born out of the 2011-2012 anti-corruption movement — preaches austerity, demands simplicity from its members, and discourages any spectacle such as long convoys typically associated with Indian netas or political leaders.
Delhi chief minister and AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal was the first to give up the red beacon or “lal batti”, a coveted symbol of status, on his car in 2015 after winning 67 of the 70 assembly seats in the city. He is often seen in an untucked half-sleeve shirt, trousers and sandals, or a muffler around his neck in winter; and never travels with a large retinue.
The image is said to be carefully cultivated to underscore the party’s connect with the common people, its core vote base. But Kejriwal found out during his interactions with AAP legislators after the civic poll loss about the flipside of the impression.
So, the unsaid rule for a “sober” image will now give way to a new avatar, replete with a change in demeanour, wardrobe and retinue for the AAP leaders. Party volunteers will always accompany a neta when he is meeting people.
“It’s funny but true. Kejriwalji and the party have said that every MLA will now have at least four volunteers with him all the time. Wearing the AAP’s trademark cap during public visits is mandatory,” Chandni Chowk legislator Alka Lamba said.
Another drawback emerged during the chief minister’s meetings with his legislators: word on the AAP government’s development work didn’t reach the people adequately.
Malviya Nagar MLA Somnath Bharti has an answer to this problem.
“I suggested creating a WhatsApp group of resident welfare associations to directly hear them out. This is being done by others,” he said and reaffirmed the party’s need to re-energise its public outreach programmes.