Even as it struggles on who would be its top leader in Punjab, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) claims to have nailed its poll preparation at the lowest level. Replicating the model that paid it rich dividends in Delhi, the party has tapped volunteers down to the booth level, to counter the age-old loyalties and worker base of the Congress and the SAD-BJP alliance.
Tapping the excitement that it has managed to generate much ahead of the assembly polls due in February next year, the party has built a volunteer base with a hierarchy, dividing Punjab into 13 zones.
These are further divided into three sectors each with each sector having three assembly constituencies. The sectors are further divided into circles, each circle having 15-20 booths, depending on the population. “We have five to seven volunteers for each booth, who report to the circle in-charge, and so on. Unlike traditional parties, these are not ‘paid volunteers’,” explained Durgesh Pathak, the state organisation in-charge for AAP, who also played a notable part in the party’s success in the national capital.
These volunteers are drawn in three ways, he said, “Many walk into the local offices, others give a missed call to our mobile number for registration, and we also have a helpline where people call to become members.” However, only about 25% of all these people want to work full-time or part-time for the party, while the rest want to join simply as members. “Of these volunteers, to whom we assign work (such as handing out pamphlets door to door), about half stay in the longer run,” he said. Performance and abilities are assessed in a meeting of the 13 zonal heads held “every 15-20 days”.
It was in July last that Durgesh landed here for building the party structure brick-by-brick. “By November-December, we had the structure in place,” he said. By his calculations, the AAP has around 1 lakh booth-level volunteers. “Most of them are young. Plus, we have the parallel young wing and farmer wing, taking the total to around 3.5 lakh,” claimed Pathak. Himmat Singh Shergill, a senior leader of the party, acknowledged that there was hardly any organisation on the ground when he contested the Lok Sabha poll in 2014 from Anandpur Sahib, “But now we have everything in place, and the focus is on communicating our agenda and vision. None of the volunteers is even paid for food; they do it for the love of Punjab.”
The volunteer groups interact through WhatsApp groups and SMS, constantly updating each other on the areas covered in the door-to-door campaign. “I alone am part of 200 WhatsApp groups where I get instant information,” Shergill said.
‘Parivar jodo’ technology!
For its latest campaign of targeting entire families, the AAP is using a mobile-based application. “It’s a very basic app downloaded on the volunteers’ phones; in which they feed details of families whom we have met,” said Durgesh Pathak. The app was developed in Bangalore. Data from this app is saved in a central server and can be downloaded in MS-Excel sheets by logging into the server. This includes phone numbers that are then used for mass SMS campaigns, while it also helps the party collate the information based on age, gender and other such criteria. The AAP aims to cover all households — there are 55 lakh households in Punjab as per the 2011 census — at least six times before the elections. “We did it seven times in the Delhi polls,” said Durgesh. Punjab AAP convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur claims that around 7 lakh families have already been ‘attached’ through ‘Parivar Jodo’.