AAP’s limited foray into Gujarat is a sign it is maturing
The party and its tallest leader Arvind Kejriwal are beginning to realise and profess that politics is the art of the possible.analysis Updated: Oct 20, 2017 16:41 IST
After planning to launch into the Gujarat assembly elections all cylinders blazing and then at one point abandoning the fight altogether, the Aam Aadmi Party has finally decided to make it a limited foray.
There are a number of reasons why AAP will enter the electoral fray in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah’s home state. But trying to form the next government in the state is not one of them. And in doing that, the party is showing signs of wisening up and learning from its recent electoral losses.
AAP has its eyes set on the next Lok Sabha polls and assembly polls in states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka that precede the general election. To begin with, the AAP brass simply wants to keep its flock together for that. The local unit of the party has been raring for a fight for more than three years and not contesting the elections would mean disappointing the cadres in Gujarat to the extent of losing a sizeable portion. Two, AAP’s bargaining position vis-à-vis other parties in a future coalition will be decided by the number of seats it can win in the Lok Sabha elections.
Though the party has always positioned itself as equidistant from both the BJP and the Congress, AAP will be willing to join an anti-BJP coalition in 2019 or whenever the next Lok Sabha polls take place. And the indication for that came from none other than Delhi chief minister and AAP national convenor Arvind Kejriwal at Congress leader Manish Tewari’s book launch last fortnight.
“Whether opposition parties will come together or not, that is arithmetic. That is also necessary in electoral politics but a churning is taking place. The coming election will not be opposition versus BJP. It will be BJP versus the rest of the country,” Kejriwal said at the function where he shared the stage with BJP’s Yashwant Sinha and Tewari. AAP and its tallest leader are beginning to realise and profess that politics is the art of the possible.
In the realm of the possible, AAP believes it can cash in on the anti-incumbency against the ruling BJP there, target specific groups -- like the Dalits, Muslims, farmers and Patidars -- and poll enough votes to stay in contention for being a national party. To be able to focus on Gujarat, it has decided to stay away from Himachal Pradesh, where elections will be held in November.
AAP is in power in Delhi, the principal opposition in Punjab and polled 6.3% votes in Goa in February. (To be recognised as a national party by the Election Commission, a party needs to have secured six per cent of the votes polled in four states – whether in the general election or the assembly election – and won four seats to the House of the People). Though it won’t change much on the ground unless it wins seats in the assembly, unlike Goa where it drew a naught, crossing the magic mark of six% will help AAP cross a psychological barrier and serve as a booster for its cadres. AAP leaders privately admit that the debacles in Goa and the Delhi municipal polls earlier this year saw several party volunteers leave.
So far, AAP has just declared 21 seats in the state where it will field candidates. The eventual number will be close to 50. AAP strategists feel the party can dent the Congress and try and wean away some of the anti-BJP votes from the party that has played opposition in Gujarat’s bipolar polity for over two decades now. The Congress has already begun accusing AAP of dividing the anti-incumbency vote in Gujarat with its state in-charge Ashok Gehlot saying in a recent interview that AAP should withdraw from the contest and not divide Congress votes in the country’s interest.
But AAP rejects the suggestion as undemocratic. “The Congress did not act as an active opposition for 22 long years and allowed the state to slip under the BJP,” says Harshil Nayak, party spokesperson. “AAP’s support in the last two years to issues concerning the farmers and marginalised communities and the agitations we organised have brought the anger against the BJP to a boil.”
“Contesting Gujarat will help the AAP shed its image of an urban governance party. If it feels it can attract certain sections of voters, it should test the waters in the elections,” says political analyst Abhay Dubey of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), a Delhi-based advocacy group. Two surveys by CSDS have pointed out that the Congress is closing in on the BJP but the gap has not gone down drastically except among the Muslims and Dalits.