The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led by Arvind Kejriwal burst onto the national political scene in February 2015 with an astounding victory in Delhi. Bagging 67 of the 70 seats in the assembly poll was an unprecedented mandate in the national capital.
Now, two years later, AAP faces another major test in the Punjab assembly polls on February 4.
The party had won four seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, taking well-established players, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress by surprise and hasn’t looked back since.
Riding on Kejriwal’s popularity, AAP has not only been drawing impressive crowds at its Punjab rallies, but also managed to get a few defectors from other parties.
But can it do a Delhi in Punjab? Though a lot seems to be going for the party, as things stands today, it would not be an easy feat.
That is because Punjab is different from Delhi in several ways – and so is its politics, as Kejriwal and his core team would have found out by now.
AAP was born out of a pan-Indian anti-corruption movement that had Delhi as its epicentre, and was quickly accepted in the city. Punjabis, known for backing the underdog, also welcomed the rookie party with open arms in its first parliamentary outing two-and-a-half years ago.
Though AAP contested over 400 Lok Sabha seats across the country, the four seats it won were all in Punjab. It benefited from two parallel anti-incumbencies — a two-term Congress rule at the Centre and the SAD-BJP combine’s eight-year stint in the state.
The party has gradually consolidated its support base, emerging as a serious contender in the conventionally bipartisan politics of Punjab.
But Kejriwal’s core team — mostly non-Punjabi strategists — is seen as ‘outsiders’ and at one stage was even accused of sidelining state leaders. The party leadership has had to bring the ‘Punjabi leaders’ to the forefront.
Besides, the party is yet to name its CM candidate in a state where politics is primarily personality driven. If the SAD-BJP alliance has five-time CM Parkash Singh Badal, the Congress is being led by former CM Capt Amarinder Singh. Even the earlier speculation that AAP may name Kejriwal as its CM candidate was an interesting but risky political proposition, as Punjab has not had a non-Sikh CM since its trifurcation five decades ago.
AAP had come to power in Delhi with a clean slate, riding on the Anna movement goodwill and populist promises. But its 22-month rule has been riddled with controversies and unending battles with the Lieutenant Governor or the Centre. AAP’s rivals in Punjab have been quick to pick on its Delhi track record. After its stupendous political show at the historic Maghi Mela in Muktsar, the internal squabbles have exposed its lack of cohesion and affected its poll momentum.
If Kejriwal and team somehow win this battle, they will celebrate more than just a state election -- it would silence those who dismiss their Delhi win as a flash in the pan.