The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) may have hit the headlines by running a spirited campaign against bigwigs such as BJP’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, but exit poll predictions do not paint an encouraging picture of the rookie party’s performance.
In its Lok Sabha election debut, the Arvind Kejriwal-led party may win just 0-6 seats, according to exit polls out on Monday. Riding on its stellar debut in the Delhi assembly elections late last year, the 18-month-old party, however, contested more than 400 seats across the country, notwithstanding its lack of presence in many states.
Kejriwal has himself taken on Modi in Varanasi, while party leader Kumar Vishwas challenged Gandhi in Amethi.
But, if the exit poll predictions come true, getting the ‘national party’ status is a far cry for the AAP.
To get the coveted tag, according to rules, a party should secure at least 6% of the total votes polled in a minimum of four states and should have at least four members in Lok Sabha, or its candidates should be elected from at least 2% of the total number of parliamentary constituencies in not less than three states.
“Contrary to expectations, Haryana is not looking too good. Punjab has emerged as a big surprise. The AAP has done pretty well there. We’re also doing well in states such as Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
“But Delhi remains AAP’s prime focus. Varanasi and Amethi are only Part A of the overall strategy. Much will depend what happens at the Centre,” said a senior party functionary.
"If the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) gets full majority, it would be interesting to see if the BJP stakes claim to form government in Delhi, which is currently under President’s rule.”
With the AAP drawing flak from political rivals over the resignation of Kejriwal’s government in mid-February, there are apprehensions about a dip in the popularity of the ex-Delhi chief minister.
The AAP functionary, however, said, “Kejriwal continues to enjoy a hero’s status. One way of understanding this is the Delhi campaign (for Lok Sabha polls). Sonia (Congress president Sonia Gandhi) and Modi held one rally each in Delhi. Kejriwal turned up in all seven constituencies in the Capital and got much bigger response.”
He said one of the reasons behind the Kejriwal government's resignation was the opposition on the part of outside support provider Congress as well as the BJP.
“People have raised questions on why we quit the government in Delhi in just 49 days. There are some who think we should have continued. But had we done so, we would have been confined to Delhi. We took a risk and went for the Lok Sabha elections.
“But don’t forget that the BJP and the Congress didn't let our minority government function. We're sure that whenever elections are held in Delhi, we would do much better,” the AAP leader added.
Ravi Ranjan, assistant professor at the political science department in Zakir Husain College, Delhi University, said the AAP had sacrificed its government to achieve national influence.
Ranjan, who is also an affiliated fellow of the Developing Countries Research Centre at DU, added the AAP’s notion of alternative politics in Indian democracy was at stake.
“If they win a few states, it will be a big reward. Otherwise, their appeal will not be taken seriously in the future. Kejiriwal himself has taken a big risk by fighting against Modi in Varanasi. If he wins, it will be a moral defeat for both the BJP and Modi. If he loses, people will not take Kejriwal’s future challenges very seriously.”
But, what made Kejriwal move away from the familiarity of his Delhi stronghold to contest from UP?
“If the AAP had not taken on Modi in Varanasi and Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, the party would have been completely ignored in this election and we would have lost the momentum,” another senior AAP functionary said.
In Varanasi, Kejriwal is hoping to repeat his Delhi performance when he beat three-time chief minister and political heavyweight Sheila Dikshit.
Party insiders, however, said a win-by-losing strategy could be the rookie party’s Plan B.
“If we don't win but do well, we can cash in on the Delhi and Haryana assembly polls slated for later this year. It's a long battle after all,” the party leader said.
Ranjan said the AAP could play a crucial role if it performed well and a Third Front government was sworn in at the Centre.
“But always remember, the AAP has nothing much to lose. If they perform well, their good results mean an unstable Third Front government where the AAP may be playing crucial role. In case of a bad performance, all they will lose is their chance of returning to power in Delhi.”