Political pundits and even some members of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) were stumped by the stunning debut of the AAP in Delhi’s assembly elections. Having conquered the capital, all eyes are now set on the national stage.
“The opportunity that presented itself to us post the Delhi elections is an opportunity which comes once in a while. If we let it go, we don’t know when it will come again,” said Yogendra Yadav, Aam Aadmi Party founder member and key strategist. He was responding to a question about why the party decided to field candidates in a substantially higher number of seats than originally intended. “It (the number of seats AAP plans to contest) would definitely be on the higher end of the middle,” he said, not giving a number.
For an year-old party, the AAP made a spectacular debut in the Delhi assembly elections by winning 28 out of 70 seats. It was the first runner-up in 20 seats and routed Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, which took home 14% votes in the 2008 assembly polls.
Will AAP’s magic work nationally? Was the party’s success a combination of many socio-economic factors, which worked in its favour in Delhi, or does it epitomise disgruntlement with the way traditional politics is conducted across the country?
Middle class ditched?
The middle class constituted the primary chunk of the AAP vote in Delhi. Exasperated with the attitude of traditional political parties and red-tapism in public delivery systems, they saw a hope in Arvind Kejriwal’s promise of clean governance. But episodes such as AAP legislator Somnath Bharti’s midnight raid in the South Delhi neighbourhood of Khirki Extension and the AAP government resigning after 49 days, has left this segment in a tizzy.
“Support among the middle class has somewhat dwindled but it has not entirely discredited the party as the entry of new supporters like Ravi Bajaj and Rajmohan Gandhi indicates,” said Pradip Kumar Datta, professor, department of political science, Delhi University. With its populist schemes such as free water, subsidised electricity and its propensity to take on the Delhi police, now the real focus of AAP’s mobilisation, Datta said, is the non-middle class sections.
However, the party’s analysis is that what it delivered during its 49 days in government and its resignation for failing to enact the Lokpal Bill may have boosted its electoral prospects in Delhi and outside. “Like Delhi, I guess it will work to our overall advantage notwithstanding a lot of adverse media commentary on that (decision),” said Yadav.
(Explaining the map: Yogendra Yadav, founder member of AAP, listed states where the party has good support base and it may have crossed the threshold of viability as against states where the party wants to tap the groundswell but may have not the capacity. The classification is based on the strength of the anti-graft movement (which gave birth to AAP), the performance of various political parties and media density in a given state.)
India is not Delhi
The party’s launch in Delhi was preceded by more than an year-long anti-corruption movement. Its high-decibel campaign coupled with anti-incumbency towards 15 years of Congress rule and an inept opposition helped it win Delhi. Now, it is banking on states (see box) where the anti-graft movement was robust or replicas of the movement had been in existence. Some of its moves, such as the Khirki extension event, may have backfired but are not expected to affect the party adversely.
“If local activists replicate the AAP connection in Delhi in their respective states and districts, they are going to get traction in case they contest Lok Sabha poll on AAP ticket,” said Rajeev Bhargava, professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Given the penetration of TV and social media in the country’s urban centres, the party is hopeful of doing well in other states. Mumbai- based political analyst Jai Mrug said AAP will gain in states where there is no strong or credible leadership in other parties irrespective of whether it is a two-party or a multi-party contest. “For example, the Lok Dal, which has been inactive in Haryana, and Congress which has not shown any credible leadership in Punjab,” he said.
Wait and watch
With corruption and the decriminalisation of politics, AAP is also raising state-specific issues besides making Reliance Industries Limited the alleged embodiment of crony capitalism and claiming that the BJP and the Congress are two sides of the same coin. How well the party disseminates its message will be crucial for its prospects in UP and Bihar.
Manindra Thakur, assistant professor, centre for political studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the Hindi heartland is informed but not excited about the AAP. “Replicating AAP’s success will be difficult in north India unless a hawaa or a magical spell is created in its favour before the election,” he said.
Mrug believes the party’s ability to galvanise people based on the issues it has highlighted has reached its peak. “Now its chances depend on the choice of candidates,” he said. Three months is a long time in politics. Given its Delhi performance, the AAP just might pack a punch yet again.