The Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) 3,000-square foot office on the sixth floor of a multi-storied building at Ahmedabad’s Navrangpura is perhaps far bigger than what the outfit requires these days.
Except when an occasional press meet is held, the office normally bears a deserted look with no more than 10 members loitering around at any given point of time.
A huge poster of Delhi chief minister and party convener Arvind Kejriwal with an emblazoned message “Bhrastachar-mukt Gujarat humari maang nahi per zidd hai” (Graft-free Gujarat is our determination, not just demand) adorns the entrance to greet visitors. But since the setback the AAP faced in the just-concluded five-state elections, including in Punjab and Goa, the number of visitors to the office has dwindled.
Hoping to challenge the ruling BJP in the home turf of its two most towering leaders – Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah – in assembly elections scheduled later this year, the AAP suddenly is facing an existential crisis in Gujarat.
If the party office is largely deserted, the morale of party men is predominantly despondent. The first casualty of the recent electoral reverses was a planned show of strength in the capital Gandhinagar on March 26. Kejriwal pulled out at the last moment and the show turned out to be more of a damp squib. Many among those who made up the sparse crowd left with grudges. “Let alone snacks, the party could not even pay for bus fares because of a tight budget,” an activist said.
The headwinds facing the party have blown away much of the hype over the AAP’s electoral prospects in Gujarat. The party is still planning to contest all 182 seats, but doubts over the AAP’s realistic chances in the state are growing.
AAP spokesperson Harshil Nayak, however, remains upbeat. “Punjab was a setback. AAP’s Gujarat members were expecting victory there. We did not wrest power, but we did creditably. We are now focussed on Gujarat,” Nayak told HT.
Die-hard AAP volunteers are continuing to go door-to-door across Gujarat with a 13-point questionnaire on what the electorate wants: Lower electricity tariff, free loans for students or higher minimum wages among everything else. The party is seeking to read the voters’ mind to strike the right chord when the campaign kicks off.
The volunteers are also educating the voters about the party’s election symbol: Broom. “We need to make ‘jhaadu’ familiar among people as at the end of the day, votes come through the party symbol,” Nayak pointed out.
The party lacks a state-wide structure and does not even have a state president. Instead, it has divided the state into seven zones under zonal in-charges and allotted a team of 10 members for every assembly constituency. They also have an in-charge for every 20 polling booth. The party also has some 200 offices – big and small – across the state.
The hard work on the ground, the AAP believes, will help to tap into the “disenchantment” with the BJP government in the state and translate into votes. “Our numbers are growing,” pointed out Nayak. Though no more than 3 years old in Gujarat, the party claims to have 7 lakh members in the state, compared to BJP’s 1 crore.
Opponents, however, say AAP is past its sell-by date. “After defeats in Punjab and Goa, their poll talk rings hollow in Gujarat , said BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya.