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HindustanTimes Fri,01 Aug 2014

Lok Sabha polls: Can AAP destabilise main political parties?

Smruti Koppikar, Hindustan Times  Mumbai, March 18, 2014
First Published: 12:37 IST(18/3/2014) | Last Updated: 19:58 IST(18/3/2014)

There’s little in common between Mayank Gandhi contesting from the Mumbai North West constituency, Medha Patkar from Mumbai North East, Meera Sanyal from Mumbai South, Vijay Pandhare in Nashik, Anjali Damania in Nagpur and Raghunathdada Patil in Hatkanangale. Recognised for their work in disparate fields, the common thread that binds them is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ticket they are contesting this election on.

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This diversity is the nascent party’s strength as well as its shortcoming. The AAP in Maharashtra, spread largely in urban areas, is an amalgamation of different – even contradictory – interests and people. This is partly deliberate, to allow many voices and agendas under a single umbrella, as party ideologue Yogendra Yadav pointed out while in Mumbai, and partly unplanned as the party has had to accommodate an eclectic set of people within its fold given its trajectory of growth.

Still, there’s a preponderance of left-liberals and socialists with people such as Sanyal being the few exceptions. It leads to interesting exchanges in the party’s suburban office; businesswoman and AAP back- office lead Preeti Shar ma Menon’s conversations with veteran socialist Gajananbhau Khatu are a headon clash of world views. “But we are learning by the day and are creating something,” she says.

Let’s call that something a political churn. This, in a nutshell, would be the AAP’s major contribution to the polity where it has candidates. It has so far fielded 39 candidates for the 48 constituencies in the state. Where the AAP has a strong candidate, he/she has been able to set an agenda in that constituency and alter the political discourse there to that of the average citizen. Patkar, for example, says she is now raising the issues that she always was as a social activist. “Now there is an urgency and perhaps some media attention,” she says wryly.

Political analysts say it would be a mistake to expect that the AAP will impact Mumbai, let alone Maharashtra, the way it took Delhi by storm. “The AAP will create a splash but it’s unlikely to win seats or upset existing political calculations. Its capacity is personality-driven and remains limited except, say in Medha Patkar’s constituency, where she could split the anti-BJP-Sena vote,” points out Dr Suhas Palshikar, a well-known political science professor and analyst.

Graphics:
Small, but significant parties in Maharashtra
Peasant and Workers Party (PWP)

Who will it hurt the most?
The jury is still out on whether the AAP would damage the Congress-NCP or the Shiv Sena-BJP alliances. Given the AAP’s track record of being anti-establishment, it would hurt the Congress-NCP more. But AAP candidates could take away chunks of votes from the Sena-BJP alliance too in certain seats, say analysts.

“Its influence is mainly among a section of the middle class in some urban areas. Unlike in Delhi, I don’t see it having an influence among the underprivileged and poorer classes, with someone like Patkar being the exception. This means both parties could take some hit,” says Palshikar. What the AAP has done is to take some focus away from identity politics in the state, he adds.

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The AAP focuses relentlessly on corruption in the system, and the Congress and the BJP being two sides of the same coin. “I have everyone, from the youth to women, Muslims and Dalits, coming along,” says Gandhi, “These were false divisions created by political parties to suit themselves. Ultimately inflation and corruption affects the common man or woman in the same way, whether he/she is a Dalit or a Bihari or whatever.”

The AAP leaders are aware that Maharashtra, especially Mumbai, presents a multipolar contest, with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena in the fray. But the line to party workers is to see it as a bipolar contest between all the “entrenched traditional parties on one side” and the honest AAP on the other. “We are up against all five parties,” adds Gandhi.

The method of the fight
Given that the AAP is low on monetary resources, it has evolved a system of work in which the broad guidelines are communicated to candidates and then each is given the freedom to evolve his/her campaign.

There’s the door-to-door campaigning, yatras or rallies, public meetings and the buzz campaign with street theatre and street-corner music. Patkar, for example, has chosen padyatras and jan sabhas, while Gandhi has relied on doorto-door campaigning and street theatre, and Sanyal has combined all the methods. The mainstay of these methods continues to be the idealist youngster.

The AAP may have tapped into the voters’ discontent, but can it destabilise the main political parties? While its leaders believe there’s “an upward graph” for the party, some like Patkar are glad that issues of social justice have re-entered the political discourse.

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