Pre-poll survey predicted an Aam Aaddmi Party win, but the historical sweep stunned pundits. AAP's chief strategist Ashish Talwar, who is a member of Arvind Kejriwal's core team, managed meetings, road-shows and booth management. As the landslide euphoria begins to settle, he tells HT what worked and how. Excerpts:
AAP's booth management took its opponents by surprise. What all went into it?
For a party that has to be built brick-by-brick, only long-term planning works. Arvind initiated the mobilisation of booth-level volunteers by appointing gali-prabharis in July 2013. By the time, we contested our first election in November 2013, we could ensure basic minimum presence - 15,000 volunteers for 3,500 polling premises comprising 12,000 booths. We went for an expansion even before the Lok Sabha elections. This was really a game-changer. After 18 months of continuous work we finally had 3,000 people managing 35-40,000 volunteers at 12,000 booths. Our colleague Durgesh Pathak played a stellar role in this entire process and he along with Dilip Pandey ensured our success on the ground.
Despite the challenge of shedding the 'quitter' tag, Kejriwal seemed to have an instant connect with the public. Did the party plan it that way?
When he interacts, people open up because they identify with him. In that sense, he is a total voter converter. If people see him in person, take selfies with him or hear him, it works. So the idea was we should not waste resources on big rallies but hold meetings in each assembly seat. I like to call them VSJS - Vidhan Sabha Jan Sabhas, where the public is only from that particular constituency. As the campaign progressed, the crowds increased. Some 800,000 to 1,000,000 people heard Arvind speak at 110 VSJS.
And the delay in holding fresh elections obviously helped?
Yes, we had an early start. After Arvind resigned in February 2014, the Centre didn't hold fresh polls for a year. And the delay worked in AAP's favour. We started preparing in June itself. We were also first off the block in announcing candidates. Unlike in BJP, there was no confusion in AAP. Right from the word go, we wanted 'paanch saal Kejriwal'. There was a singularity of purpose.
In 2013, the roadshows that you planned for Arvind Kejriwal were a great success. Was the switch to public meetings a strategic one?
Last time, we started canvassing in July, so it was a five-month campaign. For this election, we had only two months so we held only one mega roadshow that was held for Arvind's nomination.
The party seemed to rely completely on Kejriwal…
He is our biggest leader. But in total 620 meetings and roadshows were conducted by all our star campaigners such as Bhagwant Mann, Kumar Vishwas, Sanjay Singh, Manish Sisodia, Yogendra Yadav, Ashutosh, Dilip Pandey, Vishal Dadlani, Gul Panag, Jasraj Jassi and many others. I must mention that Bhagwant Mann and Sanjay Singh were our most prolific campaigners holding the maximum number of meetings. Also, Kumar Vishwas's entry in January gave a fillip to the campaign and some of his meetings had crowds in five figures.
What was the strategy in areas like rural Delhi where AAP had failed in 2013?
There are thirteen seats of Delhi dehat and in 2013 we had drawn a blank there but in 2014 Lok Sabha, our performance was much better because many new entrants had joined the party between December and March 2014. We launched various frontal outfits. Once elections were announced, all ships sailed in the same direction
AAP gave tickets to many who came from other parties, and also to entrants…
Searching for candidates wherever required was the responsibility of our colleague Sanjay Singh, so he can answer this question better. But I would like to clear the air about new entrants into the party. When ticket distribution took place, AAP as a political party had existed for two years and one set of these entrants had been with us for almost a year. In fact of the 15 tickets that are said to be given to newcomers, only six are new entrants who joined post-Lok Sabha elections.
What next for you?
I have never asked for any party position but believed in doing whatever work is given to me. After the Lok Sabha elections I had taken a four month break, even this time, I might do the same but I haven't decided yet.