Preeti Sharma Menon. (Hindustan Times/File)
Preeti Sharma Menon. (Hindustan Times/File)

After Surat success AAP targets Mumbai civic body polls

‘Surat today, Mumbai tomorrow’, read the tagline of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the city as they celebrated their remarkable performance in the Surat Municipal Corporation, where they won 27 seats in their debut election
PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 12:10 AM IST

‘Surat today, Mumbai tomorrow’, read the tagline of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the city as they celebrated their remarkable performance in the Surat Municipal Corporation, where they won 27 seats in their debut election. AAP has now set its sights on the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections scheduled next year.

The AAP has announced that their next battle will be BMC polls where it will contest all the 227 seats. The BMC is one of the prestigious civic body, boasting an annual budget of approximately 39,000 crore - the richest in the nation and its budget outstrips that of several smaller states in India. An impressive performance in Mumbai will give the AAP a chance to relaunch the efforts to build a base in Maharashtra where the party has failed so far.

AAP leader Preeti Sharma Menon, who has been appointed in charge of the BMC’s campaign, said the party will repeat its Surat performance in Mumbai. “Mumbai and Surat share similar work culture and have almost similar civic issues. Like Surat even the people of Mumbai want an alternative which the AAP will provide,” said Menon.

However, both former party leaders and political experts doubt this claim saying Mumbai is a different case altogether.

“The AAP does not have any known face nor an organisation to fight these polls effectively. The party has no base in Mumbai,” said Sunder Balakrishnan, who had fought the Lok Sabha 2014 elections from Mumbai south-central constituency on the AAP ticket.

Balakrishnan blames the interference from the Delhi leadership for this sorry state of affairs. “We had built a strong Mumbai team in 2015 which was working very efficiently but this was dissolved overnight in October 2015 by the Delhi leadership. Had this team been allowed to continue, we would have been a strong force by now in the city,” he added.

Similar is the contention of another former top leader who put the onus on Surat success solely on the support given by the influential Patidar community. “The main factor was the disenchantment of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) with the Congress party as it ignored serious candidates from the community and hence they all backed the AAP,” said the former leader who refused to come on record. “In Gujarat, the BJP has vanquished all opposition parties and Surat had a very good AAP team, However in Mumbai, the ruling Shiv Sena is challenged by the resurgent BJP and even the Congress has its strongholds. There is no one in the AAP’s current team to create that space in Mumbai,” he added.

However, Menon defends the AAP saying that the coming months will be challenging and the party is geared to take the bull by its horns. “We will start exposing the ruling Shiv Sena and demonstrate how they have looted this city for decades,” said Menon. “We are also going to target the slums dwellers and show them how the BMC has deprived them of basic facilities like proper roads, water supply as well as clearing the garbage. Many Area Local Management (ALM’s) teams, as well as NGO’s, are joining us and we are opening local offices across Mumbai,” said Menon. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has appealed to many of the supporters to come forward and help the AAP in the BMC elections.

The AAP, which was founded in 2012, boasted of several leaders in Maharashtra like Medha Patkar, Anjali Damania, Mayank Gandhi, Preeti Sharma Menon, Subhash Ware and Wamanrao Chatap. They also ran a campaign with allegations against top leaders like Chhagan Bhujbal, Sharad Pawar, Ajit Pawar and Nitin Gadkari.

Riding on this euphoria, AAP contested all the 48 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls but lost very badly as 47 of their candidates lost their deposits. There were rumblings in the party as the Delhi leadership refused permission to the Maharashtra unit to contest the state assembly polls which were held within the few months after the Lok Sabha elections. After this, most of the leaders deserted the party making the party irrelevant for years. However, the situation improved a bit when the party contested the 2021 Maharashtra Gram Panchayat polls and won 145 seats.

Political expert Hemant Desai says AAP will be confined to single digit in the BMC polls. “There is a space in Mumbai for AAP but they have not been able to capitalise it. We have hardly seen them agitating for various issues like fuel hike or electricity bills,” said Desai. Similar is the contention of political commentator Surendra Jondhale, who said that problem for the AAP is which constituency to target and their political programs. However, they have not been able to strike a chord with people. “The Shiv Sena has a solid grassroots network and is supported by the Marathi speaking population while the BJP has a disciplined cadre backed by the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and boasts of Gujarati and North Indian vote banks. The Congress may be down but still has a presence in its strongholds. In such a scenario where does AAP stand and whom does it woo?” questioned Jondhale.

Ahead of the Mumbai civic polls early next year, the parties are gearing up. The BJP has unveiled ‘Mission Mumbai’ to win the BMC while the Sena has started preparations at its shakha (local branch) level. The Congress now has a new team with trade union leader Ashok (Bhai) Jagtap as its Mumbai chief. Jagtap is an aggressive and known face.

Menon says that after the formation of the party in 2012, the party won Delhi within a year. “Delhi had all unknown fresh faces who are now well known and the same will be repeated in Mumbai also. We will showcase our Delhi government model where we have revamped the entire education and medical facilities and affirm our commitment to do so in Mumbai also. Everyone is aware of our success in Delhi,” said Menon. Menon says that since the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) will not contest elections together, the AAP will benefit in a multi-cornered fight. The AAP has started webinars every weekend to raise money to fight the polls.

However, an AAP senior Maharashtra leader said that it was too late for the party to start now. “Our opponents are well equipped both in muscle and money power and know the art of electioneering very well. Our volunteers still have to get on the ground and gain the confidence of the citizens. The problem with us is that the Delhi high command did not take Maharashtra seriously till now and attempt to infuse strength in our outfit. There are people waiting to join AAP and work but there is no encouragement from our end,” said the leader who is heading a committee in AAP.

Problems for AAP

1) AAP does not have a known face in Mumbai to lead the campaign.

2) AAP has no organisational network. Till now of the 227 just 35 ward presidents have been appointed.

3) AAP faces a resurgent BJP, ruling Shiv Sena and Congress, which is now having a new team.

4) AAP is confined to the upper and middle class and still has to penetrate the slums which make a majority of the Mumbai population.

5) There is constant interference from Delhi.

6) AAP still is playing its mascot Arvind Kejriwal as a trump card by highlighting the achievements of his Delhi government in its main campaign theme.

7) AAP has lost a galaxy of leaders like Medha Patkar, Anjali Damania and Mayank Gandhi.

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