In December 2012, two months after Anna Hazare announced that he was dissociating himself from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a meeting of party members at New Delhi’s Indian Social Institute picked Arvind Kejriwal as the party’s face for the 2013 Delhi assembly polls.
The following year, AAP ran a campaign in which the former IRS officer was positioned as the man who would take on the government on behalf of the aam aadmi (common man) reeling under rising inflation and misgovernance.
For them, he would go on indefinite fasts, reconnect electricity connections snapped by the authorities for non-payment of bills and court arrest. The effort paid off as the AAP’s performance in the Delhi Assembly elections shows.
Now, as the party prepares to move out of its capital comfort zone and go national, political pundits and the person in the street alike are wondering if Kejriwal, the quintessential Dilliwallah, can capture the imagination of Indians across the country.
The AAP has come a long way in little more than a year. While Kejriwal is now its most recognisable face, party members have said that the AAP’s campaign for the 2014 Lok Sabha poll will not revolve around him. “We used brand Kejriwal to build AAP’s identity in Delhi. It was Arvind Kejriwal versus Sheila Dikshit. But the brand has lived out its utility,” said Prithvi Reddy, a member of the AAP’s national executive council.
“We are at a stage where issues have taken over personalities. Now it is about the government in Delhi and how it brings about the change it had promised. The Delhi government’s decisions regarding water and power tariffs (Kejriwal has slashed both) have initiated debates about similar possibilities in other states,” he added.
Political scientist Jai Mrug believes Kejriwal’s magic might continue to work in the satellite towns of the National Capital Region like Gurgaon in Haryana and Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh. “This region has social and economic ties with Delhi. It will be easier to diffuse the party’s message and mobilise people here than in other parts of the country,” he said.
That the Jan Lokpal movement, from which the AAP was carved out, was mainly staged in the city ensured that the party got a positive push in the Delhi assembly elections. That is not likely to happen in other states which were not centres for the campaign.
“In states such as Uttar Pradesh, Kejriwal’s presence in campaigning will make a difference only in those pockets where the media has already conveyed the AAP’s message.
A big chunk of rural India, which forms a significant voting percentage, is still unaware of the AAP,” said Badri Narayan, a social historian at the GB Pant Social Science Institute, who is an expert on Uttar Pradesh politics.
However, even in states where AAP’s message is yet to make an impact, there are certain things working in favour of the Delhi Chief Minister. Manisha Pariyam, political analyst and fellow at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, who has extensively studied Bihar politics believes Kejriwal’s positioning of himself as equidistant from traditional political parties will work to his advantage when he campaigns in other states.
“Being an external player makes a difference in a state like Bihar. Local leaders are considered close to some traditional party or the other.
In such a scenario, the AAP will need a neutral face, which Kejriwal can provide,” she said.
As voices from various states indicate, the AAP’s big announcements regarding water and electricity in the national capital are having a ripple effect across the country. However, the overall verdict is that citizens would rather wait and watch the party’s performance before embracing this ‘aam aadmi’.